GARY | The lessons Floyd Flake said he gives to other ministers from the pulpit aren't very different from what distressed urban cities need to do to improve their circumstances.
Flake, a New York-based minister and former congressman, told more than 500 people at the Genesis Convention Center on Tuesday it is important to have transformational leadership and for religious institutions to break down silos they have built in communities such as the Steel City.
The 66-year-old Flake was the keynote speaker at an event featuring Gary Mayor-elect Karen Freeman-Wilson's plans to revitalize Northwest Indiana's second-largest city. The Times Media Co. organized the event and was one of its sponsors.
Flake even joked he soon may return to Gary because of the large amount of redevelopment opportunities that exist.
"It's not about what Gary has been, it is about what Gary can become," said Flake, who is senior pastor of the 23,000-member Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal, or A.M.E., Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, Queens. Flake also is a former president of Wilberforce University in Ohio and an author.
The church and its subsidiaries boast an annual budget of more than $34 million, but he said that number was the result of having a plan after moving to Queens in 1975 and being interested in improving areas outside of the church.
Flake said being able to land federal buildings and develop senior housing required the ability to form partnerships not only with people in different political parties, but also with city, state and federal officials. He said it is also important to understand it is up to the people of the community to want conditions to improve, even though residents and public officials may seek expertise in other places.
Flake admitted he wasn't able to get all the entities on the same page of his economic development projects, but once people saw the progress of the various business ventures, many later wanted to participate. Similar to a sports team, residents want to be part of a winning community that is able to provide a safe place to live and has the ability to educate children living there, he said.
"You've got to push back against the opposition because everybody isn't for you or with you when you're trying to be transformational," Flake said. "Transformational means change, and there are a whole lot of (people) who don't want change because they have found a level of security in the place where they are. ... You have to get past the selfish motives of the people who feel like they own Gary."
Education has to be high on the list of any city attempting to revitalize itself, Flake said. He also pointed to the success he's had in opening a private Christian school through the church about 30 years ago. He said the students have reading comprehension scores far beyond their grade level.
In planning for the future, Flake said it's critical to be open-minded and interested in grooming young people for leadership roles.