Photo caption left to right: Rev. Anthony Haynes, David Robinson, Erica Staley, Tanesha House, Jim Piper, Rev. Timothy Wright III
Ministers in the region who are working with Manufacturing Renaissance came together in September to build the faith community’s support for manufacturing as a tool for social inclusion and sustainable community development. The gathering of the Ministers for Manufacturing Committee of the Chicagoland Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC) on September 21 addressed how local ministers can mobilize their communities on manufacturing issues including training, jobs, and ownership succession.
Push for national legislation
The meeting was held at a timely moment. This was the first meeting of Ministers for Manufacturing since the pandemic started. Topics included the vital role of the faith community in the growing effort to pass current national legislation that will create a more “bottom up” and equitable manufacturing sector in this country. Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky has introduced the Manufacturing Reinvestment Corporation Act, which is expected to come before Congress this fall. The $20 billion proposal will include support for community-based manufacturing renaissance councils that address intersecting crises of racism, climate change, and economic inequality, especially in Black and Brown communities.
The Act strongly reflects the input of Manufacturing Renaissance and reflects the thought leadership, prototype development, and policy advocacy work the organization has been doing since the early 1980s. This year, the Renaissance has been instrumental in convening a wide-ranging national coalition that informed and supports this Act. The coalition has met with Rep. Schakowsky, other key legislators, and economic advisors in the White House.
At the ministers meeting, Manufacturing Renaissance Executive Director Erica Staley shared the underlying “high road” values of the organization that drive its work. These values emphasize a long-term commitment to the manufacturing sector, community and the environment; innovation, and a commitment to the continual enhancement of employees’ skills as a strategy for success.
The meeting was an opportunity for the Renaissance to build support in the faith community for manufacturing policies that can expand the middle class, increase inclusion and equity, promote sustainable development, and build stronger education and workforce systems.
Jim Piper, President of Bellwood-based manufacturer Matot, Inc. and a member of CMRC’s Executive Council, shared a personal story about his experience in the field and “our national need to reinvest in manufacturing.” He said he would welcome ministers who want to tour his company’s facility.
Later, Rev. Timothy W. Wright III, Minister of Justice and Economic Development at UCC Trinity Gary, spoke to the meeting. Wright served as Commissioner of Economic Development for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Director of Domestic Policy for President Bill Clinton. Rev. Wright said that expanding the manufacturing sector “is going to require the churches, the faith community to carry this thing forward.”
Clergy who attended the meeting later shared their view of what is at stake and the role of the faith community in promoting manufacturing in our communities.
“This is the right time to bring manufacturing back,” says Rev. Herbert Brooks, Jr. of St. John MBC in Joliet. “Manufacturing jobs are part of the American fiber.” Rev. Brooks adds that he’ll be “sharing the agenda for manufacturing in this community.”
“People who work in the sector can be prepared for a wide range of opportunities,” he says. “Manufacturing teaches skills for a lifetime. A job can be taken away – but a skill can’t. “
Father Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Agatha Church in Chicago’s North Lawndale community, says that “clergy are really focused on how to get jobs in to our communities. It’s about helping men and women achieve some sense of dignity and work, and be able to provide for their partners and families. This issue directly affects those in our congregation and communities.”
Father Dowling said this effort will help his parish build on efforts it is already engaged in, including outreach efforts to work with inmates in Cook County Jail to rebuild their lives and prepare for jobs. The parish also mentors over 100 families in the community on finding jobs and other issues.
Rev. Tanesha House, Senior Principal Consultant of InsightFuelEd Consulting, says that setting up manufacturing councils around the country would “be an ideal way for communities that are marginalized to have opportunities to thrive.”
Rev. House emphasized the strong role that clergy play in promoting the health of their communities. “The church is responsible for making certain that community members are getting their needs met. That includes taking a standing on how communities can rebuild with manufacturing. At the end of the day, no one wants a community that is plagued with violence or a lack of income. Let’s focus on manufacturing and how we can create viable jobs and careers for people in our communities.”
In the coming months, CMRC and Ministers for Manufacturing members will have many opportunities to participate in this movement, including advocacy and faith community-building days. Rev. Anthony Haynes, Chairman of Ministers for Manufacturing and minister for the River Jordan Ministries on Chicago’s South Side, stressed the urgency of this moment as he spoke to participants in the meeting. “We are at a point,” he said, “where we need to have boots on the ground to organize this movement.”