In association with the Union Theological Seminary’s Poverty Initiative, The Poverty Scholars Network endeavors to cultivate grassroots leadership and galvanize low-income organizers to collectively address issues of poverty and socioeconomic inequality mounted by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign, in a nationwide social movement led by and for the impoverished of the United States. Crucial to the realization of this critical mass is the proper education and dissemination of strategic knowledge to the next wave of movement leaders, and there could be no better mentor than veteran community organizer and Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center, Willie Baptist.
Prefer to see this story unfold? Watch Re-igniting The Poor People’s Campaign, a Conversation With Willie Baptist:
At the forefront of the Poverty Scholars Network, Willie Baptist is a formerly homeless community organizer who today serves as Scholar-in-Residence at the Poverty Initiative, founded within the Union Theological Seminary, the the nation’s oldest theological seminary, located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. A product of the nation’s largest urban rebellion of the Civil Rights era, the Watts Riots, Baptist became a key player during the Black Student Movement in his earlier years, working closely with the Black Panthers, and continuing to rally against poverty for nearly 50 years with the United Steelworkers, the National Union of the Homeless and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, among others.
“To build a movement, you have to build the builders, you’ve got to identify them. We call it panning for gold.”
– Willie Baptist, scholar-in-residence at Union Theological Seminary
Today, Baptist’s focal point is on the Kairos Center’s Poverty Initiative and “building the builders” to reinvigorate the Poor People’s Campaign, by identifying and training future leaders to be clear, competent in their work, committed to the cause and connected to their communities. Endorsers of the movement include prominent leaders, from Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, to Dr. William Barber, architect of the Forward Together/Moral Mondays movement and President of the NC NAACP, as well as coalitions in Trinidad and the Philippines. A true iconoclast, Baptist believes the formation of a successful social movement hinges on many distinct leaders, rather than a leaderless coalition.