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September 20, 1993.
It was the day I started the job I so proudly still have today. The board of the Ecumenical Housing Production Corporation made the risky decision to entrust their organization to a young 31-year-old from the Housing Authority of St. Louis County.
I had worked closely with the organization throughout my seven years at the Housing Authority and was more than familiar with their mission and work. I received more letters from them that I can remember. On the bottom of their letterhead was a biblical quote, Micah 6:8, which said “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” As a young, inexperienced man who left organized religion many years prior, I was uncomfortable with any biblical quote on the letterhead of the organization I was now leading. It would send the wrong message. We were not a religious organization. But then, I did not know how to tell the story of Micah 6:8 in 1993.
It’s 2018. Twenty-five years later, I can now tell the story of Micah 6:8. I’ve come to realize it’s not just a religious story but a universal story of morality and doing the right thing. It has great relevance to the work we do here every day, and it’s my hope that as an organization we conduct ourselves in a matter consistent with its message. Let’s deconstruct the three pieces of this quote.
Just is defined as acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good, or righteous. We believe it is just that everyone has a decent, safe and affordable place to call home. Which is why we are building 41 new homes to add to our existing portfolio of over 450 homes that are rented by families making well below the area median income. We do this because we believe everyone should have the real opportunity to achieve their dreams and aspirations. It’s why we provide an array of resources to help the families in our rental homes move forward in life. It’s why we help those dreaming of becoming homeowners with financial services and down payment assistance. And it’s why we provide college savings accounts for over 2,000 students in the Normandy Schools Collaborative to assist them in their pursuit of post-secondary education.
We also believe it is just that everyone has the basic needs met in their life each and every day—food, shelter, and clothing. It’s why we, in partnership with Operation Food Search, sent 16,000 backpacks of food home with students of Normandy in the 2017-2018 school year. It’s why we have school uniforms and school supplies in every Normandy School for students in need. And why we put washers and dryers in every school building to ensure kids and their families have access to clean clothes.
We also believe it is just that everyone lives in a community that supports and grows a belief in a successful future. Which is why we built a grocery store, bank, movie theater, and coffee house in the 24:1 footprint. And why we were able to bring Affinia to open up a health center in our community. To make things right. To create justice.
Mercy is defined as compassionate treatment of those in distress. We believe that everyone who lives in our community has value and should be loved. Not loved in a romantic way, but loved in the sense that we truly care about their wellbeing and want them to have the life they dream of.
Individuals in our community have names. They are not statistics or data points. They are flesh and blood and, like everyone else in this world, are on a journey. We don’t know where the journey has taken them, but we do know we should be kind to them. We also know that not everyone in our community needs our help, but they all deserve our respect.
Walk Humbly with Your God.
Humble is defined as not proud or haughty, not arrogant or assertive. We believe that we work for those we serve in everything we do. We believe that the voice of our community, not our own sensibilities or preconceptions, should drive the work we carry out. We are always open to new ways to deliver our mission. When we make a mistake, which we do, we own those mistakes with honesty and transparency. We are honored to be doing this work and will never fall into the trap of thinking that the work is about us.
Strive for justice for all. Show mercy and be compassionate in your work. Always be humble in the way you carry yourself and interact with those you serve.
That is the story of Micah 6:8.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.