Left Justified: 45 years of Rockford Urban Ministries

Forty-five years ago, the first “RUM” (Rockford Urban Ministries) director kicked racism’s butt in this city. The Rev. Edsel Ammons got the Methodist churches to lobby the city and change the ward lines electing the first African-American alderman. Edsel went on to become bishop of Detroit.

I now work for Rockford Urban Ministries, the social justice arm of 25 congregations. Rockford District, Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church started RUM in 1962 to take on urban problems. The RUM Council is now ecumenical and encourages interfaith activities. RUM will be celebrate its 45th Friday, June 22, at Christ United Methodist Church with dinner and a free program.

Charles Jordan was the next RUM director, appointed in June 1966. He started the Westside Community Organization (WESCO), which helped stop “block busting” by realtors using racist tactics to buy and sell west-side houses. WESCO also encouraged “greater inclusiveness” in the school district in 1969 (this was ignored).

The Rockford Register Star has only one “RUM” article in their archives: the Rev. Jordan leading the first integrated march shortly after the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jordan went on to become United Methodist bishop of Iowa.

Shepherd of the Streets was started to work with dropouts: Bob Kraft and David Hauman led those efforts, which laid foundations for a number of youth programs.

The Rev. E. Maynard Beal worked from 1972 to 1981 on community organization, race relations and school desegregation. Maynard and his lovely wife, Jean have returned to live in Rockford (OK, as snow birds!). I met him in 1976 as RUM was taking on the “red-lining” issue. Rockford banks were “drawing a red line” around neighborhoods, refusing loans for home improvements (hint: it was usually south and west of the Rock River). I helped research mortgages, and I got my first community organizing training in this RUM/West End Revitalization program.

Maynard also remembers me as a student coming to United Way, asking for support for the Rock River Valley food Pantry. They turned me down, saying the need was not there. He put me in touch with social service workers who had “pantries” in their office closets, and “if there was a real food pantry,” the agencies would use it.

RUM also hired an attorney who took the Rockford School Board to court for segregating and demeaning the education on the west side of town. This was way before People Who Care. In fact, the agreement finally reached would have prevented the later, more expensive lawsuit. RUM’s attorney did not charge the school board, and the board reneged on the agreement once RUM had to let the attorney go. Live and learn.

When I was hired, RUM had fallen on hard times. They could not afford a clergy, and I wasn’t Methodist (I am a “generic” Christian, having found my faith again at a Keith Green concert in 1984—thank you, brother Scott!). But having a part-time job that helped me learn about my newfound beliefs was a godsend. Twenty-three years later, I am enjoying watching miracles occur, speaking about social justice issues, and writing for this newspaper (it’s part of my job).

You are welcome to join us for the 44th dinner (cost $20, or $30 if you want to be an “angel”) this coming Friday, June 22, at Christ United Methodist Church, Highcrest and Alpine. The free 7 p.m. program features Bishop Joe Sprague, one of the more liberal leaders in Christendom (and you know Jesus is very liberal, thank God).

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

from the June 13-19, 2007, issue

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