Working for the community: A profile of a civic leader

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The Rev. Dr. Leon Finney is pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church and Chief Executive Officer of the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation (WCDC). Founded in 1971 by its parent organization, The Woodlawn Organization, WCDC’s mission is t

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The Rev. Dr. Leon Finney is pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church and Chief Executive Officer of the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation (WCDC). Founded in 1971 by its parent organization, The Woodlawn Organization, WCDC’s mission is to engage in community based economic development activities. Over the past three decades, WCDC has organized the investment of $300 million for mixed-income residential and commercial development in Chicago’s most economically depressed neighborhoods.

In February 2009 the Chicago Urban League honored Finney as its first recipient of the coveted Community Organizer of the Year Award. He holds masters degrees in Economics and Theological Studies, and a Doctorate Degrees in Public Administration and Public Administration.

Wanda Carter: You were a Chicago Defender news boy at one time you wrote articles for the Chicago Defender.

Rev. Leon Finney: My uncle Luke Helm first introduced his son and my cousin to the Chicago Defender. He sold the papers while serving as a Pullman Porter. My cousin and I sold [papers] door to door on our block. My first Chicago Defender article was printed in February 1959 titled “Rise of the Black Bourgeoisie”. The article focused on how the Civil Rights Movement was gathering steam across the south but not so much among Chicago’s Black middle class.

WC: How has the recession impacted WCDC’s efforts to build or rehabilitate existing affordable housing?

LF: Due to the recession, our successful east 63rd Street Columbia Pointe development has been stalled, however, we’ve built and sold 39 homes to a mixture of low, moderate, and middle income buyers within a ten month period. Clearly, home ownership continues to suffer through the third year of recession. Our plans were to build a total of 200 single-family detached homes, now we must rethink our plans. On the other hand, we were able to begin the renovation of the 148 town house Park Shore East Cooperatives at 61st and Stony Island for a total cost of $13.8 million dollars. The financing permitted us to retain the development as an affordable complex for low, moderate and middle income families. Another positive outcome has been an excess of 171 construction related jobs set for March 2012 because of this project.

WC: This past summer, the community of Woodlawn was designated a CHOICE Neighborhood by HUD, what does this mean for the future of Woodlawn?

LF: To be designated by HUD as one of six CHOICE neighborhoods as a results of a national competition means that the years of consistent hard work and dedicated leadership by TWO, WCDC, WPIC, WECAN, MAGIC, POAH, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) and the University of Chicago paid off. Woodlawn has now been awarded $30 million to stimulate additional affordable housing development in the community. We foresee a housing renaissance as the designated funds are used to leverage additional private and public investments in our community. We see, our plans for the Woodlawn Promise Community Schools program involving nine public schools being a direct beneficiary; as you know this effort was led by our late Bishop Arthur M. Brazier. We see refocused Columbia Pointe being a direct beneficiary as funds are used to stimulate affordable home ownership and rental homes along east 63rd Street. We believe we can leverage these funds to help attract private investment to acquire a minimum of one hundred Woodlawn area foreclosed homes per year. We hope to achieve four things: 1) create construction jobs for area residents, 2) return the homes to the market as affordable thus homes for low and moderate income families, 3) return the homes to the property tax rolls, and 4) seriously address the problem of blight and crime associated with vacant and vandalized properties.

WC: You are not only the President of the WCDC, but you are the pastor of the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church and a long-standing civic leader. Talk about some of your community efforts in these roles.

LF: My heart is still very much rooted in my role as the Pastor of the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church. In this role, I have been blessed to serve our congregation of 500 through teaching the principles of our faith during our weekly services. This year we laid the foundation to open our first church food pantry to help address the problem of hunger and malnutrition so prevalent among the poor and African American families. We have taken up the challenge set forth by Mayor Emanuel to address the “food desert” issue accordingly this spring you will see one half an acre of land under cultivation producing vegetables and fruit. Our church is teeming with activities for the youth of our community and we see a sharp reduction of violence in the 4 block area surrounding our church. This spring we will continue our annual college tours to Historic Black Colleges as we assist the next generation of leaders to gain access to a college education.

In my role as a civic leader, I helped to organize and sponsor the African American Legislative Re-Map coalition (AALR). It was the task of this to assist in the drawing of a new legislative map that must be legally undertaken after every 10-year census is taken. The last time I worked in this effort was in 2000 and in that instance we were able to assist in the drafting of the map that made it possible for then-state Sen. Emil Jones to become the President of the Illinois Senate. Once in that position, President Jones was able help to launch the successful effort to elect state Sen. Barack Obama to the United States Senate. The rest is history; Obama is now the President of the United States. Who knows what good things might come from the 2011 legislative map? But one thing is for sure, our map successfully met the Republican challenge and is now the official map for the State and the United States Congress.

Rev. Dr. Leon Finney is also the host of the radio program “Another Perspective” on WVON-AM/1690 (www.wvon.com) on Saturdays from 4pm – 5pm. You can also watch a video broadcast of the show every week on http://www.youtube.com or on his Facebook page – Dr. Leon Finney.

Wanda Carter has been a business and media consultant over the pass 16 years. Currently, she is the publisher of the online publication – Chicago Communicator Newspaper – http://www.ccnewsmedia.org. She is also the Executive Producer for Omnibus Roundtable and Woman2Woman television programs airing on CAN TV and Evanston Community Media Center stations respectively.

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