LIMA — Something wonderful happened Sunday deep in the south end of Lima. The Rev. Bryan Bucher says he’ll never forget it.
Members of two different churches — one predominantly white from affluent Shawnee Township, and the other from an economically distressed neighborhood that is home to the largest African-American church in the city — merged together for a worship service and found they weren’t so different after all. When the service concluded, members of both churches were seen exchanging phone numbers or setting up lunches with each other.
“We asked them to get to know each other and they took it to heart. They realized they had a lot in common,” Bucher, the senior pastor of Shawnee United Methodist Church, said of the gathering at Philippian Missionary Baptist Church.
The service came just months after a national study placed Lima as No. 7 in a ranking of the 10 worst places to live for African-Americans. The study was done by 24/7 Wall St., an internet research company whose findings have been reported in national publications such as USA Today and MSN Money. The study based its results on criteria such as disparities in income, education and employment.
Bucher believes the study highlights an immediate challenge to Lima’s leadership, whether they are members of the clergy, local government or business community.
“There’s never been a better time to reach out to all corners of our community,” Bucher said. “When a part of the community is not doing well, it impacts all of us. The only way we’re going to improve the quality of life in Lima is to intentionally seek to do that.”
Perception is truth
The Rev. B. Lamont Monford, pastor of Philippian, said walls need to be tore down to even get to the root of the problem. Monford said he isn’t a “numbers guy” and isn’t in a position to confirm or deny the study’s finding. However, he said regardless if they are true or not, the perception is there.
“The reality is the perception that blacks don’t have the opportunities,” Monford said. “I think Lima is very unique, and we have to think outside of the box.”
In order to do that, Monford said territorial wars needed to come to an end in the city.
“At the end of the day, we have to be willing to join forces with others. We can’t do it by bringing in some consultant. We need to figure out how we are going to come to the table and make it better,” Monford said.
That is the same message being delivered by the Lima Urban Economic Development Group, which was formed about a year ago.
“There is way too much disparity, and if we continue to stay in that light, then it harms all of us,” said Lorenzo White, an African-American businessman who is a member of the Urban League. “You can’t be in leadership and then not want to speak. You have to have some goals and objectives, and you have to be willing to sit down and listen.”
Surprised by mayor
White is disappointed that Lima Mayor David Berger has yet to address the three-month-old study done by 24/7 Wall St. He was joined by former Perry Township trustee Frank Lamar and the Rev. H.F. Taylor of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in echoing displeasure. All three men said they have helped with Berger’s mayoral campaigns in the past and are surprised the mayor has stayed on the sidelines.
“I’m concerned because we all live in this community,” White said. “I know Mayor Berger well, but I’m concerned because he’s lived here, what, 25 years now? He needs to speak. If you’ve been here over two decades, you need to be part of the solution.”
Lamar noted, “The mayor is the CEO of the city of Lima, and he needs to show more leadership. There’s a lot to be desired with the way the county operates, too. When I walk into the courthouse – and I don’t know how many employees they have – there are very few minorities there who work at the courthouse.”
The Lima News attempted to talk with Berger about the study, but he declined.
For change to happen, the very definition of a leader needs to be redefined, said the Rev. David Roberts, pastor at Cornerstone Harvest Church, one of the most racially diverse churches in Lima.
“The moment you look to an individual, it is out of your control,” Roberts said. “Those stats that they used in this survey, I was one of them. I was a latchkey kid before they had even given it that name. I did something about it. … Why complain about the problem instead of doing something about it? More options means empowerment. People have lived through bad things and terrible breaks, but you can turn your life around.”
Roberts believes everything is based on what is inside a person.
“It is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Roberts said. “If you think everything is against you, you will self-sabotage your life. I am sensitive to other people’s personal experiences, but I believe with the right mentality, you can overcome anything.”
What needs done
White wants Allen County’s leaders to engage with one another about the problems.
“You are in an elected position, and you have a responsibility to see that everyone is able to grow and develop, and you need to have everyone participate. I’m not here to beat up on anybody. We spend way too much time talking about our differences instead of how to come together to solve problems.”
Taylor said people shouldn’t wait to meet. It needs to happen now.
“I’ve been in this city for over 30 years, and I’ve pastored two great churches here. When I first came here, I saw some cooperation between the majority community and the black community, between the police departments, which were very much integrated with a black chief, with the board of education, with black members on the board, and the social justice committee. I saw people willing to work for social justice in our community. That was 30 years ago. In the 30 years since, I’ve just seen decline.”