by Joseph Debro, President, Bay Area Black Builders
On Saturday, Jan. 30, at 10 a.m., the Bay Area Black Builders plan to picket the Lord’s house. Beth Eden Church, a great church in the Black community, indicates that it has contracted with Oliver Construction of Berkeley, a White contractor, to build an addition to its church. Indications are this is a non-competitively bid contract arranged by the lender. We have been unable to meet with the church leadership to determine the facts. We can only draw conclusions from the construction site activity.
The Bay Area Black Builders are a group of unemployed workers and contractors who are concerned about employment and training of the minority unemployed. Beth Eden is surrounded by public housing. The unemployment in that community exceeds 25 percent. We need to see Black men working on this project.
Like Jesus who went to the temple to complain about economic exploitation of the membership, like Martin Luther King who went to Memphis to complain about the wages of the garbage workers, Bay Area Black Builders are going to Beth Eden to complain about denial of economic opportunity for Black people. This unjust practice of contracting with White contractors without bid is common for Black churches throughout the Bay Area.
Contracting without competitive bid is like borrowing money from a payday lender. You never know what the true cost is. Since Black church members will have to pay the loan back, is it unfair to require the contractor to partner with a Black general contractor to help build some capacity in the Black community?
Like Jesus who went to the temple to complain about economic exploitation of the membership, like Martin Luther King who went to Memphis to complain about the wages of the garbage workers, Bay Area Black Builders are going to Beth Eden to complain about denial of economic opportunity for Black people.
We do not know if Beth Eden used a Black architect or engineer in its design work, but such a move would encourage our students to work harder in school. It would provide positive feedback.
Bay Area Black Builders has raised the issue of White contractors working on public contracts in Black communities without training and employing Black workers. We know the best way to change this paradigm is to contract with Black contractors. They have Black crews.
The issue of building capacity in the Black community, the issue of recirculating the money in our community is not new. It is not thought to be discriminatory for Chinese to strengthen their community by contracting with Chinese contractors to build their temples. I do not know a Black contractor who has ever worked on a White church. Why is it not axiomatic that a Black general contractor builds a Black church?
West Oakland is unique. The movement to integrate the building trades unions throughout the United States started here in 1970. The National Association of Minority Contractors started here that same year.
A company led by a son of Beth Eden, Ray Dones, built most of the major structures in West Oakland. Transbay Engineering built MORH Housing, the three 12-story highrises and 126 townhouses, the West Oakland Health Center, Martin Luther King School and others.
I do not know a Black contractor who has ever worked on a White church. Why is it not axiomatic that a Black general contractor builds a Black church?
The Bay Area Black Builders, like Jesus, like Martin Luther King, find it necessary to try to educate our churches about the need to provide leadership toward a more just economy.
Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders, co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors, a general engineering contractor and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.