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Team taps into unifying black community life

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Where do black people in Albuquerque go to get a haircut? How can they find a local church?

A four-person team of local black activists, after receiving a professional contract from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to look at those and other questions, announced its findings and recommendations this week about what’s working and what’s not, what’s available and what’s not, for African Americans living in Albuquerque.

BROWN: Organizer of Young Blacks group

BROWN: Organizer of Young Blacks group

BELLAMY: “Fragmentation” is a big concern

BELLAMY: “Fragmentation” is a big concern

According to committee member Cathryn McGill, discovering such information is vital.

“Our small, albeit mighty (African-American) community” can anticipate “the miraculous transformation we experience and enjoy when we are unified,” she said.

The African American Community Economic Transformation Study was conducted by Albuquerque poet laureate Hakim Bellamy; co-organizer of Young Blacks of Albuquerque, Shawna Brown; executive director of the New Mexico Forum Foundation, Everette Hill; and McGill, founding director of the New Mexico Black History Organizing Committee.

Speaking with newcomers and longtimers, often interviewed at their kitchen tables or by phone, they posed open-ended questions about the quality of black life in New Mexico and how to improve it.

What the team learned was good and bad. On the good side, they found out, black civic organizations such as historically black fraternities and sororities have local chapters, and various black churches and other groups have cultural, political and social events going on. Four different groups currently offer after-school programs directed to black students.

MCGILL: Seeking a unified community

MCGILL: Seeking a unified community

HILL: Executive director of New Mexico Forum Foundation

HILL: Executive director of New Mexico Forum Foundation

The bad side, however, is that no one seems to know what anyone else is up to. “Fragmentation is one of the biggest words that kept coming up in our discussions,” Bellamy said.

Another oft-heard issue, according to Brown, had to do with hair care for blacks. “Women ask, ‘Where are all the beauty shops?’ and men are asking, ‘Where can I get a barber who won’t mess me up?'”

She also said black transplants who come from other areas for jobs at Intel or Sandia National Laboratories reported trouble finding churches with predominantly black congregations or black clergy members in leadership roles, and report that finding connections with other blacks was hard. “They leave after a year, saying they never connected with the black community,” Brown said.

The period of the $59,500 contract was from May 15 until Aug. 15, and during that time, the four interviewed 52 black Albuquerqueans from a pool of people who responded to their email poll.

The team made three recommendations:

  • To establish a leadership development institute;
  • To establish a community-based hub, a physical meeting space; and
  • To establish a communications infrastructure so black Albuquerqueans can connect.

When the audience weighed in, a communications infrastructure came in first.

The team created a website,, which will be managed by the New Mexico Black Chamber of Commerce.

Everette, Bellamy, Brown and McGill will meet again with Kellogg Foundation staff on Oct. 27.