Miami Law's Historic Black Church Program, the only historic black church program in legal education, premiered its annual oral history documentary film project at the University of Miami Newman Alumni Center and the Greater St. Paul A.M.E. Church on April 26 and May 2, respectively. The film highlighted the histories of approximately ten out of the sixteen Historic Black churches of the West Grove. The project is a campus and community partnership with Miami Law's Center for Ethics and Public Service, the Ministerial Alliance, Ransom Everglades School, and the University of Miami School of Communication. It is a cutting-edge opportunity for students to learn more about and help assist the West Grove, a once thriving African-American community that is now a distressed neighborhood.
Reverand Jeffrey N. Hamilton, President of the Ministerial Alliance, praised Miami Law students for "assisting the Black churches in preserving their histories." The students, he added, "have been and will continue to be a blessing to the community of Coconut Grove. We thank God for blessing us with a group of young people who have the community at heart."
Now in its third year, the Historic Black Church Program is engaged in many pro bono activities to benefit the West Grove churches and affiliated nonprofits. Miami Law students, for example, are completing community-based research working papers. Students research topics requested by the Ministerial Alliance, and the final products are valuable tools for action and education. These papers provide resources to the community on various issues such as how to accomplish actions such as shutting down drug houses and establishing Community Benefits Agreements with developers.
Professor Anthony Alfieri, Director for the Center for Ethics and Public Service, explained that the goal of the working papers is "not only to provide support for faith-based, nonprofits working in the Grove, but also to provide a kind of catalyst for the organization and mobilization of the community as a whole."
The Program also leads seminars which help expand the institutional ability of West Grove nonprofits to serve their community. For example, the program recently presented a training seminar on nonprofit governance to the directors and officers of Greater St. Paul's Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that purchases and renovates dilapidated rental housing to meet the needs of low-income residents and to safeguard the community from blight.
Right to Education Workshops are also offered and explain general information on the right to education, special education, and disciplinary rights. These workshops take place at church youth ministries in the West Grove on Sundays.
The Program is also developing a campus-community engagement project. Through presentations and panels, the Historic Black Church Program introduces members of the Ministerial Alliance and other related nonprofits to a wide range of university resources including faculty from the Schools of Architecture, Communication, and Education. Consisting of panel discussions and monthly colloquia with UM faculty, the presentations enable the community to learn of the important academic resources and services available to it.
The Historic Black Church Program was recently recognized as an important partner in the community. Last summer, Professor Alfieri was elected to be a Director representing the Historic Black Church Program on the Coconut Grove Ministerial Alliance's Board of Directors, a nonprofit coalition of the black churches in the West Grove.
"This is an incredible honor for us," said Professor Alfieri, "and demonstrates that law students can develop cross-cultural competencies and lawyering skills in pro bono collaborations with low-income communities of color."
Deacon Christopher Hudson of St. Matthews Community Church added: "The collaboration between the law students and the Coconut Grove Ministerial Alliance is vital to the restoration of Coconut Grove Village West to its once vibrant thriving community which will not only benefit the residents but bridge the gap between the surrounding communities."
To learn more about the Program and the West Grove churches, please click here.