Cornerstone Baptist Church: Championing the keys to economic advancement
President Lenny Singletary, of Cornerstone Support Services Corp., sees his as a youthful organization with much history and big intentions for development in Central Brooklyn. A career banker, he is in a hurry to get things going at Support Services, the community development arm of Cornerstone Baptist Church in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Support Services was established eight years ago but has yet to really take off on its mission. Cornerstone Baptist’s pastor, Laurence E. Aker III, persuaded Singletary to head the unit after five requests, assuring him that the unit’s mission would be accomplished only if someone with his energy and drive were at the helm.
Singletary is fully invested in the corporation’s mission to provide social service programs that center around education, health, housing, technology and “general uplifting of the community,” even though his budget of approximately $5,000 makes doing so a challenge. He sees education as the key to economic advancement. Support Services offers a community tutorial outreach program for pupils in the third through eighth grades.
“Black and brown children have it harder [than white children] because sometimes the playing fields aren’t level. The one way that I found myself able to succeed at such an early age was through education. I want every child to have the opportunity to do that,” Singletary says.
His main “bhag” (big hairy audacious goal) is to establish a charter school. He envisions one that would allow for a diverse curriculum. “It would be a school that’s technologically advanced, has the finest equipment, the latest books and the type of staff that would be able to say that our children are getting a top-notch quality education,” he says.
It would be a less daunting undertaking if the city and/or state partnered with Support Services to transfer the necessary property, he says.
Support Services is also tackling affordable housing, a growing challenge for long-time residents of Bedford Stuyvesant, where market prices dictate rents at $800 to $1,500 a month and sale prices of homes at $600,000 to $1.5 million. Cornerstone is adamant that Bed-Stuy should develop along intergenerational lines with longtime residents regardless of their current incomes. Singletary speaks with pride of his success in securing grants to the tune of $1.4 million from the N.Y.C. Department of Housing Preservation and Development, The Community Preservation Corp. and the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s City Ven-tures Fund to help restore the Belmont Apartment Building that currently houses nine families.
He is equally proud of Support Services’ technology project to increase computer literacy and recounts the story of an 89-year-old Cornerstone congregant who came to the program with “only his two hands” and has now acquired a laptop and wireless connection for his home as an example of the project’s impact.
As New York City planners mull major development projects for the city and its communities over the next 15 to 20 years, Singletary argues that communities must be represented when those conversations take place. Too many opportunities for investment and employment are passing communities of color by
Still, backed by Cornerstone Baptist’s longstanding presence in the community, significant political and economic clout and deep connections through its members, Support Services will succeed in addressing the needs of those least able and least empowered to yet another New York City community in the throes of gentrification, Singletary says.