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Photo courtesy of the office of Senator James Sanders Jr.
Photo courtesy of the office of Senator James Sanders Jr.

BY KIRSTEN E. PAULSON

State Senator James Sanders Jr. held his monthly Community Clergy Breakfast on Oct. 30 at First Presbyterian Church in Far Rockaway.

These breakfasts are training sessions aimed at educating clergy and faith-based leaders across his district and giving them the tools and information they need to help themselves and their congregations. Guest speakers are invited to each breakfast to discuss a different topic.

This month’s speaker was Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, the pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Butts, who has been a pastor for the last 45 years, is the chairman of a nonprofit that is responsible for over $600 million of commercial and housing development in Harlem. He also helped establish the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change.

Butts says that the foundation of the work he does in the ministry was set by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he heard as a young man. King’s dream was a blueprint for him, a way to promote social welfare and justice.

“The dream represents a prophetic vision,” he said. “You cannot expect to be engaged in a prophetic ministry without struggle.”

Butts recalled the story of a woman who lived on a fixed income and was in danger of losing her rent-controlled apartment to private development. Butts worked with the City Council member for the area, who introduced legislation that would require private developers to partner with a community-based organization before taking over property.

“Guess what we are?” Butts asked. “That’s what a church is—a community-based organization, and then that community-based organization was eligible to purchase that property for $1, and that’s essentially how we ended up developing over 2,500 units of affordable housing.”

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