Left Justified: 50 years of Rockford Urban Ministries celebrated May 24

Stanley Campbell

By Stanley Campbell

In 1962, the United Methodists hired a prophet to run Rockford Urban Ministries (RUM). The Rev. Edsel Ammons’ voice could shake the rafters. His job: shake up Rockford’s west side.

In 1962, the city had gerrymandered their black population into two different wards so they did not have enough votes to elect their own alderman. After visiting many neighborhood and city leaders, the Rev. Ammons persuaded the church to lobby for a redrawing of the ward boundaries. The African-American community elected Victory Bell in 1965 as their first representative to the city council.

The second director of RUM was the Rev. Charles Jordan. He led the first integrated march through the city after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Jordan also instituted outreach programs for truant youth. The program, Shepherd of the Streets, was the precursor of many early youth programs.

The Rev. Ammons went on to become bishop of Detroit, and the Rev. Jordan became the Iowa Bishop of the United Methodist Church.

When I was hired in 1985, RUM had fallen on hard times. I was the first lay non-United Methodist director.

RUM will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year May 24, beginning at 7 p.m. JustGoods fair trade store, 201 Seventh St., hosts the program. We will share some songs and stories, and dedicate a Verl McNamara sculpture.

The speaker for the evening will be the Rev. John Allen Boryk. He came to Rockford in 1988 from Harvey, Ill. He says he was an “urban minister,” but the bishop moved him to Rockford “out in the middle of cornfields.” He remembers school redistricting and closing West High School. He became president of the RUM Council three years later when we helped Zion Development shut down the adult book store on Seventh Street.

RUM was also concerned with the overcrowding of the juvenile detention center (it was downtown behind the old jail), so we helped to back a referendum to build a new facility.

The Rev. Boryk was involved in the initial fight against the casino. Tom Grey, a pastor then from Galena, Ill., set up a meeting between the United Methodist bishop and then-state Rep. Zeke Giorgi, D-Rockford. John Allen Boryk remembers Zeke called Bishop Sheldon Duecker “an agent of the underground” because he did not want the state to legalize gambling.

The Rev. Boryk also remembers the most controversial issue as being our support for a needle exchange in Rockford. The need was there, as shown by the increase of HIV/AIDS spreading among the IV drug users. “Back then, a clean syringe cost $10 on the street.” RUM, with a lot of support from area drug counseling and medical facilities, set up a small outreach on Seventh Street that became quite controversial. The Rev. Boryk will talk more about that, and advocate for the church to get involved in the needs of the city.

Our 50th anniversary celebration is free and open to the public.

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

From the May 9-15, 2012, issue

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