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Saving black churches: Seattle group partners with developers to generate funds

The Nehemiah Initiative shows church leaders in the Central District how to re-purpose their properties by partnering with developers to bring in money.

SEATTLE — A group in Seattle's Central District is working to save what's left of the neighborhood's black churches.

The Nehemiah Initiative was created to show church leaders in the CD how to re-purpose their properties by partnering with developers and architects to bring in revenue.

Leading the initiative is Bishop Garry Tyson of Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church. He has been working with affiliate University of Washington professor Donald King and students from the College of Built Environments to come up with some ideas.

"Since I’ve been here in Seattle over the last 10 years, there have been 12 African American churches that have moved out of the Central District," Tyson said. "They were literally forced out of the Central District. It’s happening in every urban community in America. God is being gentrified."

Credit: Courtesy: Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church

Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church has been in the Central District for 74 years, with Tyson leading for more than 16.

When money was becoming tight for his church, giving up was a last resort.

"We can’t sell our power," he said. "Property is power."

That’s when the initiative was born.

"[A way for churches] to live their vision, maintain their property, receive some income and be able to have some sustainability within this community," said Tyson.

Not too far from Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church is Mount Zion Baptist Church, about 130 years old.

Reverend Dr. Phillis Beaumonte is Mount Zion’s archivist. She said during times of racism and segregation in America, black churches in the Central District were a beacon of hope.

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"Where African Americans have met and strategized, discussed, prayed about some of the oppression that African Americans were experiencing," said Beaumonte.

She has been a member of the congregation for over 60 years.

"The black community that existed during the time that I grew up has now been scattered," she said."It's very unfortunate who is left in Seattle. We are reminded that God has all power in his hands and that’s where our hope is that his will, will prevail."

Tyson hopes to take the Nehemiah Initiative national in the future.

"Some of us will move – that will be the only option to move – but we want to at least offer African American churches other options other than moving," he said."The reality is you can face it, or you can fix it, and so we decided that we were going to face what [was] happening."

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