Religious Leaders Unite to Combat Poverty and Inequality in San Antonio, Texas

Uche Ogba and Christian Reed-Ogba made a daring decision when they left their luxurious apartments near Pearl in San Antonio, Texas, and moved to the gardens of San Juan's Plaza in District 5, the poorest area of the city. The Pearl is a renovated beer complex that now houses some of the city's most upscale restaurants and stores, and hosts a popular farmers market every Saturday. In contrast, San Juan's Plaza is a community center that organizes weekend activities with the assistance of multigenerational families. Uche and Christian relocated to the area to save money and expand their public relations firm, BethanyEast PR. I had the chance to talk with Uche at Halcyon, a coffee shop in the Blue Star Arts area south of downtown San Antonio.

At night, its selection of drinks and exposed brick walls provide a creative atmosphere for San Antonio's bohemians. During the day, however, it's evident that few of Halcyon's customers cross the railroad tracks back to their homes in District 5.Interfaith cooperation has been part of San Antonio since its founding. The city is home to the San Antonio Interfaith Alliance (ISAA), an organization that seeks to equip current and emerging leaders in Catholic social ministry and promotion to cultivate God's justice as they participate in their communities and around the world. But why do ISAA and other actors in the community development space describe the great divergence of San Antonio as a “paradox”?At the core of this paradox is the commitment to utilizing the power of local religious leaders and their congregations in major religious groups in order to revitalize civil dialogue and make San Antonio a more equitable and livable city.

However, these strategies maintain the distance and isolation of the city's residents from each other and from economic growth. While many entrepreneurs find an environment conducive to starting their businesses in downtown San Antonio, the city's historical inequalities concentrate these benefits. As reported by the San Antonio Express News, “Courage is trusting the idea that ideology is national, and partisanship diminishes the more you focus on neighborhood concerns.” This sentiment was echoed by Ryan Salts from Launch SA who summarized the implications of this comment for San Antonio as a whole. The city was chosen by a prestigious university as its pilot city for an interfaith project that could become a model for other cities across the country. While economist Thomas Piketty's analysis can explain many of America's economic divisions, it doesn't explain San Antonio's disparities. To understand this phenomenon better, one must look at organizations like Easy Expunctions which recently doubled its revenues and could employ up to fifty workers in San Antonio.

Similarly, Folo Media was created by Dodd, a serious transplant from the East Coast with a doctorate in religion, to attract San Antonio residents to a conversation about inequity in their community. In addition to enforcing non-discrimination laws, nonprofit organizations and the city's office of economic development have programs designed to democratize business growth for San Antonio's diverse population. The data indicate that approximately 25 out of every 1,000 businesses achieved a comparable level of prosperity. The federal government also began assigning color codes to certain neighborhoods indicating their level of risk. The commitment of religious leaders in San Antonio has been instrumental in addressing poverty and inequality in this vibrant city. Through interfaith cooperation, local organizations are working together to create an environment where all citizens can thrive.

By providing resources for entrepreneurs and encouraging civil dialogue among residents, these efforts are helping to bridge gaps between communities and create a more equitable future for all.