I think my life may have been built around cooperative economic activity on just about every level. This way of life led to flourishing based on everyone having a voice and ownership. I don’t believe my mom would have been able to raise us alone without our community and a place where we received and gave to others fluently. In practice, cooperative economics gives ownership and voice to all of its members as they provide service and support to one another, and the profits or benefits are then shared by all owners.
I first picked this up in my Black church as I witnessed multiple chicken dinner sales that benefitted families, the caterer, and the church. Dinners would be sold at a reasonable price that families could afford, the volume made it feasible for the caterer to buy in bulk, some of us would be hired to serve. Friends and I made money during our high school years waiting tables, prepping, and cleaning up after events. A percentage went to the church, which benefited everyone. I was not alone. This chicken dinner economy was a way many Black churches built buildings, paid pastors, and funded activities, including benevolence in the community.
Secondly, my church started a credit union where members opened savings accounts and made deposits each week. This then allowed the credit union to make small loans to members as needed. My first loan of 500 dollars came from this credit union.
This economy was also present in my neighborhood, as the local corner store owner allowed families to have tabs for groceries and pay them on their payday. In neighborhoods where jobs were scarce or low-paying, this made access to food easier and made families more likely to get their groceries from the corner store instead of the larger stores because of the credit access.
I remember neighbors going in together to buy lawnmowers and expensive tools that they shared. Life and economics were closely aligned, and this created a greater quality of life. We were community, not individual existence.
There are aunties, uncles, and mamas all over who had very little resources and lacked access to banks and lenders that still built cooperatively. They built churches, launched and supported businesses, funded home repairs, music venues, little leagues, and so much more. The shared benefit of watching children and places flourish was absolutely amazing. I remember special shopping districts like the 52nd Street Strip in Philly flourishing when I was a kid. The owners, consumers, and job markets were supported by the Black community where it sat.
Here is my thought. If economics could be established through cooperative practice in times of deep racism and poverty spread wide in certain communities, there may be something there worth exploring. Perhaps we should let go of some of our individualistic thoughts around money, giving, and finance. We could pursue more as an aggregate.
We are bringing together folks who are already doing this and who are figuring out how to help others do this in San Antonio, February 26-28. Join this movement.
Our content curator, Kevin Jones, tells me, in line with cooperative economics, we have several sessions on shared ownership; the growing movement of employees, not just the bosses, owning the business. That movement is having a moment now, and our conference is on top of it.
We also have sessions on community ownership of commercial real estate and innovative housing solutions that link giving with homeownership. That cooperative economy I grew up with is reemerging and will be on full display in San Antonio.
Originally published here.
About Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber
Leroy Barber has dedicated 30 years living and working towards what Dr. King called “the beloved community.”
Leroy starts projects that shape society. In 1989, burdened by the plight of Philadelphia’s homeless, he and his wife, Donna, founded Restoration Ministries to serve homeless families and children living on the streets. In 1994 he became Director of Internship Programs at Cornerstone Christian Academy. Leroy was licensed and ordained at Mt Zion Baptist Church where he served as Youth Director with Donna, and also served as Associate Minister of Evangelism. In 1997 he joined FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta, GA working with the Atlanta Youth Project to serve as the founding Executive Director of Atlanta Youth Academies, a private elementary school providing quality Christian education for low-income families in the inner city. Leroy also helped found DOOR Atlanta, Community Life Church, South Atlanta Marketplace, and Community Grounds Coffee shop in Atlanta, as well as Green My Hood and The Voices Project. Leroy is an innovator, entrepreneur and lover of the arts. Leroy has a Masters Degree in Divinity and D. Min.
Leroy was most recently the Director of Innovation for an Engaged Church serving the Greater NW area of the United Methodist Church. Leroy is the Co-Founder of the Voices Project and Adjunct professor at Multnomah University. Rev. Barber has served on the boards of The Simple Way, Missio Alliance, The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), and the Former Board Chair of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).