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Seventh Avenue Travels to Harlem
by Seth Kugel, New York Times, 6/8/03
When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg attends an event, he is accustomed to being the center of attention. But on Thursday morning at the Abyssinian Development Corporation's annual leadership breakfast in Harlem, the mayor was outdressed and outpaparazzied by a phalanx of fashion moguls.
They were all there to see André Leon Talley, editor at large of Vogue and author of "A.L.T.: A Memoir," be honored for his work in helping to revive Harlem. He is a member of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the development corporation.
Among the designers there were Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta and Manolo Blahnik, an impressive crowd for a 7:30 breakfast of cheddar grits with red eye gravy and bread pudding in the Great Hall at City College. The breakfast, which drew 620 people, raised $670,000.
In 1986, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III made an impassioned plea from the pulpit of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church. He asked parishioners to have faith in Harlem and to show their faith by working together with one another and with the church to rebuild their community. He reminded them of Abyssinian's 190-year tradition of risk-taking and fighting for social justice, civil rights and economic equity for black Americans.
The agency's institutional philosophy is simple: Abyssinian Development Corporation does not do things for people, but equips and empowers them with the tools to do what is needed themselves. The annual consolidated agency budget of $7 million supports programs in five areas: housing, economic revitalization, human services, education and youth, and civic engagement.
Since 1989, ADC has leveraged a $50,000 foundation grant and a humble basement office at Abyssinian Baptist Church into over $150 million of investments in Harlem with a staff of 55. Abyssinian Development Corporation's achievements may be primarily local, but its exemplary programs are internationally recognized. The agency is one of the most well regarded community development corporations in the nation, attracting the attention of the media, policy makers and other US cities. As evidence of this, in recent years, ADC has hosted delegations from the United Kingdom, South Africa, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovakia, Germany, Poland and Croatia-who sought our perspective on community and economic revitalization. In addition, ADC is viewed by many in the faith-based community as a laboratory for learning how to leverage the strength of anchor religious institutions to build community in inner-city neighborhoods. Thus, we are visited and contacted by countless emerging church-based development groups seeking advice on the "how-to's" of community development.
This year, the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development honored ADC for its contributions in the field of community development. Last year, ADC was awarded $1.4 million dollars in grants from the US Department of Commerce and Education to develop community strategies to make technology more accessible to residents of central Harlem. In 1999, it was one of three organizations out of a field of 150 to receive, along with Chase Bank, the Social Compact Award for innovative private-public partnerships. In recognition of its many successes, in 1997 ADC was the recipient of one of ten Sustained Excellence Awards given by the Fannie Mae Foundation after a competitive process involving 176 CDC's. In 1996, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation selected it to be one of five agencies to participate in the Neighborhood Partners Initiative, a seven-year comprehensive community change initiative. The American Institute of Architects (New York Chapter) has even given ADC an award for the quality of its housing design.