The decision by the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. to bring a 25,000-delegate national convention here in September 2008 rolled down like living water this week and gave Cincinnati renewed hope it can succeed in restoring its image as a community of hope and progress.
In 2002, the smaller Progressive National Baptists group canceled its scheduled convention here, and the National Urban League dropped its 2003 convention. But now the nation's largest black religious organization, with 7.5 million members, has
agreed to come to our city. It's the first big booking for Cincinnati's $160 million convention center expansion and another sign of the city's steady comeback from the racial unrest of 2001. But no one should presume it's OK now to ease up. Racial reconciliation and repairing the city's image can't be completed in one grand stroke.
Cincinnati won out over Cleveland to host the five-day meeting in 2008, and it is to the Baptists' great credit that they are giving us this chance to host the largest convention in the city's history.
They were impressed by the way Cincinnati's politicians, hotel executives and church leaders worked as a team to offer a very attractive convention package, along with such amenities as the new National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opening this summer.
National Baptist Convention president Dr. William Shaw had high praise for Cincinnati's campaign: "The collaborative efforts utilized to acquire this meeting by the local religious, hospitality and political communities exemplified teamwork at its greatest," he said.
The city did it right. Rev. Dr. H.L. Harvey Jr., pastor of New Friendship Baptist Church, lined up other top black ministers here and partnered with hotel managers and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to make the strongest bid.
Dozens of Cincinnati leaders - including Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Alton Frailey, Ohio state Sen. Mark Mallory and African American Chamber of Commerce President De Asa Brown - made the case for the Baptists to come and see for themselves. Vice Mayor Alicia Reece put in many hours lobbying for the 2008 conference. Estimated economic impact: up to $21.5 million.
Boycott leader Rev. Damon Lynch III tried again to scuttle the deal by urging the Baptists to bypass Cincinnati, but the Baptists wisely bypassed playing that discredited blame game. The better angels of this city invite all to join in building up rather than tearing down.
Cincinnati is showing its good faith: It signed the 2002 Collaborative Agreements, created a new partnering center for residents and police, put in place a new Citizen Complaint Authority. It is reforming the police force; it passed a $480 million school bond issue; big public projects here routinely include a required percentage of minority jobs.
Is there more to be done? Of course. But good for the National Baptist Convention USA in blessing our progress so far.
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