By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Religious groups can play a major role in cutting across social and economic barriers for the betterment of an entire metropolitan area, according to a prominent advocate of faith-based community improvement efforts.
"We can cut across lines of race, class and religion -- all of those barriers that have been set up to keep us apart. We can use our faith to cut across those lines in order to create new communities, where there is equity for all and justice for all," said the Rev. Cheryl Rivera, associate pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in East Chicago, Ind.
The Rev. Ms. Rivera was the guest speaker at Monday's third annual banquet of ACTION in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Hall. The event, attended by about 250 people, was a $30-a-plate fund-raiser.
Founded 41/2 years ago, ACTION (Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods) is a faith-based advocacy organization for good government, quality education and economic development in the Mahoning Valley. It has two dozen member congregations and organizations in Youngstown and its suburbs, including its newest member, Rodef Sholom Temple in Youngstown.
Ms. Rivera is also chairwoman of the National Leadership Assembly of the Gamaliel Foundation, which provides training for faith-based organizations, such as ACTION. She is also the immediate past president of the Interfaith Federation of Gary, Ind.
Ms. Rivera led a federation-sponsored anti-crime and anti-drug campaign titled "Operation Holy Ground,'' which brought out 1,200 people for a street march and held public officials accountable for drug houses and drug activity, vacant and abandoned buildings, parks and public safety.
"We must hold public officials accountable. That's part of what it means to live in a democracy," she said.
"Gary looks a lot like Youngstown in terms of how we have been devastated" by the decline of the steel industry, she said. "It is in the interest of the entire region -- city and suburbs -- to begin to work together to figure out how this entire region can become more prosperous. And it's not so much about black and white and brown, but it is about green," she said.
As an example of a regional cooperation initiative, Ms. Rivera cited the federation's five-year campaign for a regional transit system to enable poor people living in Gary to get to jobs in surrounding communities. That effort won a major victory last fall, when the Lake County, Ind., Council voted 5-2 to create a regional transit authority.