From a 542-square-foot office above a bustling intersection in Harlem, the Rev. Nicholas S. Richards is building what he hopes will be a 7,000-mile bridge to the eastern highlands of Ethiopia.
It is a bridge more than 200 years in the making.
In that modest two-room office off East 125th Street, the Abyssinian Fund, the only nongovernmental organization in Ethiopia formed by an African-American church, the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, finally has a home.
Mr. Richards, 26, an assistant minister at Abyssinian under the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, is the president of the recently formed Aby Fund, as he calls it, an international aid and development arm of the church. It will soon be joining forces with a co-op of 700 coffee farmers in the ancient Ethiopian city of Harrar, with a mission to improve the quality of the farmers’ lives by helping them improve the quality of their coffee beans.
The Abyssinian Fund will pay for specialized training and equipment to help the co-op’s farmers produce a higher-quality product so they can be more competitive on the international coffee market. Once their income has increased, part of what they make will then be set aside in a fund to support local development projects, like much-needed roads, schools or clinics.
Mr. Richards, members of the fund’s board of directors and congregants of the church said the mission was as much about social aid and economic development as it was about the church’s desire to reach back and reconnect with its spiritual and ancestral homeland.
Well woven into the fabric of Harlem, the Abyssinian Baptist Church has a connection to Ethiopia that goes back to the church’s founding in 1808 by free blacks and Ethiopian merchant seamen who refused to worship where blacks and whites were segregated. (Abyssinia is a historical name for Ethiopia.)
Just a year and a half ago, the Abyssinian Fund was a dream that had sprouted from a simple seed planted after Mr. Butts led a group of congregants to Ethiopia in 2007 to celebrate the church’s 200th anniversary…. Read More