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Announcing new grants for Accessibility Reinvestment Grants

Announcing new grants for Accessibility Reinvestment Grants

We celebrate that at Churchwide Assembly 2019 there was overwhelming support by ELCA voting members offering guidance and solidarity for the future direction of the denomination.

Accessibility Reinvestment GrantAuthentic diversity and being a sanctuary body demonstrate our care and concern for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. While we are saddened that individual racism exists, we are acknowledging that ignoring the past is painful and that our collective sin can do substantial harm in systemic ways that are uncalled for. I’m thankful for our practice of corporate confession and believe the entire church will benefit.

In response, ELCA Disability Ministries introduces a new grant opportunity for ELCA congregations in diverse and divested communities for an Accessibility Reinvestment Grant. Applications will be accepted through Oct. 15, 2019, at for up to $25,000 for small-scale property and large-impact programmatic plans. Questions can be directed to

What is a divested community, and what do persons with disability and ethnic members of the ELCA have in common?
(by Carol Josefowski, coordinator for ELCA Disability Ministries)

I’d like to share a personal story about what is meant by a divested community…

As a child, I grew up in Harvey, Ill., a diverse yet segregated town 20 miles south of Chicago. Each week on my way to church I passed by a weathered historical marker honoring Amanda Berry Smith, an African American woman freed by her formerly enslaved father. Smith relocated to Harvey after joining the AME Church and losing her husband in war and three children to unexpected deaths. She was sometimes referred to as the “Singing Pilgrim” and felt called to preach, evangelize, foster-parent and author a newspaper prior to 1893, when she founded the first orphanage in Illinois for black children. This sign in a vacant lot caused me to reflect about another special home close to my grade school that had yellow tape around it; some referred to it as the halfway house. People with disabilities, often veterans, lived there temporarily until they were independent enough to find adequate and affordable housing, but sometimes there were strong warnings in the front yard stating, “Persons preparing for release from prison or mental hospital reside here.”

My curiosity continued to grow when I entered seventh grade. A mile-long walk to Lowell Longfellow (from my quiet, residential white neighborhood) took me through an industrialized area where large Latinx families lived in small apartments, then under a viaduct of freight and commuter railways to my schoolyard, surrounded by boarded-up windows, a vacant fire station, sidewalks with holes and roads with clogged sewer drains causing frequent flooding. While my family and church tried to prepare me for such disparities and taught me appreciation for culture and ethnicity, there was a spirit of discontent by neighborhood friends walking to school with me. Privileged parents eventually resorted to driving children to school, rallying for weekly excused-tardy notices for white children arriving 30 minutes late and voicing distrust toward Dr. Bluford, a black male principal, whom I admired. Another eye-opener was entering high school, where I was bused in the opposite direction to a more affluent, newly built building; my grade school was 99.8% white, junior high was 70% black and high school was initially 100% white. I was shocked by gym classes introducing me to golf, archery, swimming and bowling three days a week — a stark contrast from the two years of one-day-a-week calisthenics in recycled gym uniforms experienced the prior two years. I remember wondering about former classmates whom I seldom encountered again.

As a college student, I heard some ask, “Isn’t Harvey a blighted South Side city?” I had difficulty trying to share what I liked about my community or explaining what I now know as “white flight.” Between 1975 and 1990, Harvey housing values dropped as much as 75%. Between 1985 and 2015, there was a 30% decline in population. Upon returning to Chicago after seminary (2008), I learned that Detroit, St. Louis and Gary, Ind., had similar histories. Shifts in industry and deregulation of banking laws such as the Community Reinvestment Act (1990s) exacerbated neighborhood divesting in disproportionate ways. Such communities continue to experience ongoing business, church, school and social service organization closures contributing to greater economic downfall that especially impacts people of color and people with disabilities.

People living in divested communities share common life experiences — simply finding a grocer, library, pharmacy or medical office nearby is problematic. Residents in divested communities become isolated, more reliant upon government subsidies or generous givers, and subject to low-income, part-time jobs without insurance, whose employers are at risk of going out of business themselves. While poverty hits many areas of the country, I suspect you would not be surprised to learn that most impoverished (small, medium and large) urban communities are predominately black and brown residents, some of whom live with disabilities. Congregations are not unaffected; in response the church opens its doors wider, pays village taxes and utility bills despite slow emergency-response times, and serves many neighbors coping with unreliable transportation and some police surrounded by colleagues who racially profile and disregard traffic signals in pursuit of so-called suspects of crime. Divestment can lead to relocation by some, concentrated poverty preventing relocation for others, and depression and compassion fatigue for many.

Disability Ministries is walking the 60-day journey toward justice with the ELCA, and its first steps include reinvestment in divested communities and congregations. If you’d like to join us, email and visit

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