In the heart of Los Angeles, USC’s Center of Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) is harvesting revolutionary African American church leaders. Passing the Mantle (PTM) is a three year old program, cultivated by the Rev. Eugene Williams, founder of Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations, and Donald Miller who is the executive director of CRCC.
“We feared that the legacy of the black church was at risk regarding civil rights and its participants, if the seniors did not pass it on to the next generation,” says the Rev. Cecil Murray, who leads the program. Murray has been a part of civic action for many years, ministering at First AME Church in Los Angeles for 27 years. The African American church has a reputation of being the backbone of the community by meeting the needs of the people. PTM is organized to teach church leaders how to serve their surrounding neighborhoods by creating civil action projects and providing them with essential resources.
The mentorship program addresses prevalent topics like gang violence, single parent families, poverty and youth intervention. Murray says, “The gang violence is getting out of control. If churches, black and brown do not reach out, there will be police suppression.” He also emphasizes the need to reform former prisoners as they are released into society.
The Rev. Mark Whitlock, PTM’s coordinator, recognizes the need for this kind of program saying, “Historically, the black church has provided programs for the homeless, provided housing, and served as God’s hand inside the community. The black church should not take the risk of taking God’s hand out of the community project by keeping it in the walls of the church.” Murray explains that the church has become too comfortable within her walls and avoids interacting and being involved with surrounding communities. “If they only stay in the religious establishment, much of our culture will be lost,” says Murray.
The program has grown and gained popularity with mega churches like Faithful Central Bible Church and West Angeles Church of God in Christ, as well as many other local churches.
Frank Jackson, a leader on the ministerial staff at New Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Inglewood, graduated from the program.
“(PTM) is one of the better experiences I’ve had in my ministerial career,” says Jackson. The minister integrated his education and resources he learned from the program into his already flourishing church ministries.
“It would probably take 15 to 20 years of research to obtain what I learned in the five day period,” Jackson says enthusiastically.
The program is a five day intensive instruction course that is held on USC’s campus. Tuition is $500, which covers lodging at a five star hotel, food and all study materials. Most sessions are offered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with mentorship assisted project planning that goes on well into the night. PTM is currently funded by the James Irvine Foundation California Perspectives Grant.
Community leaders like Sen. Mark Ridley Thomas, the Rev. Jeff Carr and Attorney Connie Rice have worked with PTM’s students regarding economic reform and gang prevention.