As a child, Reverend Damon Lynch III, current pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn, would watch Evangelical evangelist Billy Graham’s Crusades on Television and be impressed by the huge number of people coming forward, responding to his appeal. He told his father then, that one day he, himself, like Graham, would also attract the many through his preaching.
Lynch III received his call for ministry at age 22. Not only he had grown up in a family of Christian preachers, his grandfather, 3 of his uncles and his own father, ministers, but also in a family very involved in the civil rights movement and in the plight of African Americans.
“Growing up, I would often sit on the steps of our home in North Avondale listening to my father, Rev. Damon Lynch Jr., discussing civil rights issues and planning strategies to fight injustice, with his friends Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rev. Otis Moss Jr., and other civil rights leaders, followers of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.,” says Lynch III. “Fighting for justice and for the rights of the oppressed permeated then my soul and became since part of my DNA and of my bone structure.”
Having asked God to give him, like he did Gideon in Judges, a sign to confirm his vocation, and having received it, Lynch III took his ministry immediately to the streets of Avondale, spending many hours every night meeting distraught lonely people, gaining their trust, listening to their problems, sharing with them the love of God and helping them moving their lives around.
“Churches nowadays are closed at night and the 24 hours welcoming sanctuaries of solace they once used to be are gone now,” he says. “I felt I had to go forward toward those in need and the street, particularly at night, was the place.”
Reaching out to others, particularly the vulnerable, the mistreated, the abused was not new to Lynch III. As a kid, he used to stand up for those who were bullied, always protecting the weak, especially his Jewish friends in the North Avondale community, whenever they were discriminated against.
This role increased significantly, and would soon become applicable to the entire African American community, when Lynch, in 1990, and at the age of 30, was offered the pastorship of the New Prospect Baptist Church in Over the Rhine. OTR was then the center of a crack epidemic, also of proverty and crime… But Lynch III fell in love with its people and their resiliency and continued there his street ministry, at least 5 nights a week, sharing the love of Christ with its residents, also working with them at confronting the evils of police brutality, of bad landlords, fighting for better living conditions for all. This is when he met the late Buddy Gray, Bonnie Neumeier, Linda Brock, and other community leaders living in the area, and added his voice and that of his church and of its members to their struggle.
In July 2000, Lynch III faced his first broad challenge when 13 downtown restaurants refused to serve African American clients attending a predominantly black Jazz festival. To fight this discriminatory practice, the Cincinnati Black United Front (CBUF) was formed with Lynch as its president. Few months later, November 2000, two African American unarmed men, Roger Owensby Jr. and Jeffrey Irons were killed within 24 hours of each other, becoming the 12th and 13th black men killed by the Cincinnati police since 1995. CBUF took to the streets and in March 2001, after gathering 400 supportive stories, filed a class action law suit against the City of Cincinnati for racial profiling and police brutality. This eventually led later to the Collaborative Agreement (CA) between the Cincinnati Police Department and the community, agreement forged thanks to thousand of local individuals who came together, met, discussed and provided their input on how to improve relationships.
In April 2001, Timothy Thomas, another unarmed young African American, was also shot down by the police, and his death triggered widespread riots in the city. Lynch III, his church and the recently formed CBUF became then at the center of the civil unrest, protesting police brutality, coordinating marches, demonstrations and public gatherings, and orchestrating at the same time an economic boycott of the city. As a result many celebrities, including Bill Cosby and Woopy Goldberg, canceled their scheduled appearances in the city and various Conventions pulled out their planned meetings from it.
For a short while, Lynch III also co-chaired Cincinnati Action Now (CAN), a group formed by the mayor in response to the ongoing events and tasked to address the inequities in the city. It included many community and business leaders as well as various official representatives. Quickly, though, tensions arose within the committee as Lynch was still fighting on the outside, still presiding CBUF and still leading the ongoing boycott of the city; he was asked to leave.
“When you go inside the system, you’re expected to conform to it,” says Lynch III, “and I was not ready to give up my grassroot fight for the things I strongly believed in.”
Reflecting on these times and on the situation that followed up in OTR, Lynch III now questions whether they indirectly helped, in someway, accelerate the gentrification of the area.
“The CA with its resulting police reform was a significant victory,” he says, “but the events also indirectly led to a switch, in OTR, from project based housing to a voucher system, and thus enabled people to move out easily from the area and for gentrification to take place.” “Unless you’re thinking strategically and foreseeing what may be beyond your immediate struggle, you might win the battle but lose the war. The system you’re fighting is strong and has often something else in mind that it is surreptitiously pursuing…,” Lynch III adds.
Armed with his experience and knowledge, Lynch III is now always ready to provide his how-to advice to other cities who have been recently facing similar issues.
Due to his numerous grassroot activities and his wide outreach, Lynch III’s church membership grew up significantly in recent years. People have been joining in and attending services in large numbers, coming from the entire metropolitan area. With 1700 current members the church has outgrown its small facility in OTR. In 2013, it moved to a 20 acres site in Roselawn, still a predominantly African American neighborhood.
“Our new church functions as the Village Well,” says Lynch III. “The Well is usually the one place in the community that is essential to life; and all our people are invited there. They come, meet, are nurtured spiritually, and participate in many of the services.”
Lynch III preaches and teaches there, always spreading the message of Christ and sharing the love of God. He accomplishes also his priestly services providing prayer and support to those in need, visiting the sick, consoling those in pain or those afflicted by death, offering spiritual guidance to the many. The prophetic dimension of his faith, on the other hand, keeps him all the time strongly connected to social justice, his heart always for the underdog and the oppressed. Concerning events and injustices, local or nation-wide, are addressed in his church and with his parishioners, also at the many meetings he attends in the city, at the committees he serves on, the panels and discussions he participates in or moderates. Lately for instance he has facilitated discussions on the CA Refresh, fifteen years after its initial implementation; has met with a group about the Poor People’s Campaign; has moderated a panel on poverty…
When asked what he would like to focus on in the near future, Lynch III replies quickly and without hesitation: “Build economic wealth in the black community.”
He quotes a recent article from Forbes Magazine which predicts, based on current data, that by 2053 the wealth of African Americans will be nil.
“African Americans need to own control of their resources and of their economy,” he says. “They need to build wealth, keep it in their community, and pass it on to their families; otherwise their progress will be seriously limited.”
Actually Lynch III would like to apply his future efforts at teaching financial literacy to young African Americans.
Lynch III has always fought for peace and justice and for equality for all. He did it on the streets of Cincinnati, at the Well of the Village which is his church, and throughout his ministry. Called and guided by God, his faith has served as the engin that allowed him to persevere, to touch the many and make a difference in their lives.
What is the Baptist Church A Baptist church consists generally of a group of believers who subscribe to the doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers (as opposed to infant baptism), and that it should be done by complete immersion. Other tenets of Baptist churches include soul competency or liberty (i.e. that a person is responsible alone to God for his or her own personal faith in Jesus Christ), salvation through faith alone (i.e. only by divine, and not human, action), Scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice, and the autonomy of the local congregation. Baptists recognize two ministerial offices, pastors and deacons, and two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper (also called communion). Baptist churches are widely considered to be Protestant. Historians trace the earliest church labeled "Baptist" back to 1609 in Amsterdam, Dutch Republic with English Separatist John Smyth as its pastor. In 1638, Roger Williams established the first Baptist congregation in the North American colonies. Diverse from their beginning, Baptists today differ widely from one another in their beliefs, their worship, their attitudes toward other Christians, and their understanding of what is important in Christian discipleship. With 40 million members worldwide, Baptists form the fifth largest Christian church in the world. The largest Baptist denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, with total membership exceding 15 million. Baptist churches are found in almost every country of the world.
Religious Peacemakers is a regular column published in Streetvibes; it highlights Greater Cincinnati individuals who use their faith and religious beliefs for peace and justice and for a better world.
It is authored by Saad Ghosn, founder and president of SOS (Save Our Souls) ART.