The Rev. James B. Childs Jr. has spent two decades trying to knit together diverse communities — from his ongoing effort to build a truly multi-ethnic congregation at Pointe of Praise Family Life Center to his work as a diversity trainer in the corporate world and academia. As the new chairman of RUPCO’s board of directors, he’ll put the same skills to work helping the housing nonprofit carry on the fight for affordable housing in Ulster County.
Childs has served on RUPCO’s board for five years, but his elevation to chairman — replacing outgoing chair Richard Heese of M&T Bank — will place him in a more high-profile role with the agency as it comes off one hard-won success, the construction of the Woodstock Commons affordable housing development, and embarks on an ambitious plan to convert a vacant factory building in Midtown Kingston into an urban artists’ colony. For Childs, it’s just one more facet of his commitment to “making an impact” in his hometown.
“I’ve always loved the concept of a Renaissance man, my father taught me that,” said the 49-year-old Kingston native. “If you want to get things done, go to the people who are doing things.”
Childs grew up in the church: his father, the Rev. James B. Childs was Pointe of Praise’s longtime pastor. But, initially at least, he pursued a secular career. After earning a degree in computer science from SUNY New Paltz (he would later earn master’s degrees in divinity and the arts) he worked in telecommunications in New Jersey before returning to Kingston to work for IBM. When IBM pulled out of Kingston in 1994, Childs began his turn towards public service with a stint as a leadership development trainer with Youthbuild. It was there, Childs said, that he took a diversity training workshop that opened his eyes to the way biases and assumptions — including his own — about others affect daily interactions on the street, in workplaces and schools.
“It was a gentle, but poignant realization,” said Childs. “And that led me to start thinking, how can I do this work, how can I teach human solutions.”
Today, Childs teaches those “human solutions” in workshops across the country on behalf of corporate clients and educational institutions. The same vision drives his effort, since taking over as pastor at Pointe of Praise, to move the congregation from its traditional identity as a predominately African-American congregation to a truly multi-ethic one that embraces whites as well as Kingston’s emerging Latino and Caribbean populations. Childs said that the effort to give lie to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s description of 11 a.m. on Sunday morning as “the most segregated hour in America” is as much about creating a thriving church as a diverse one.
“Kingston is 82 percent white,” said Childs. “Isn’t it a pretty bad business plan to create a business just to go after 6.8 percent of the market?”
Education vs. fear
Childs’ mix of business savvy pragmatism and principal will come into play as chairman of the RUPCO board. The nonprofit housing agency handles a wide range of issues — from administering the federal Section 8 housing voucher program to helping homeowners bring down energy costs. The group’s most high-profile projects, however, involve creating new affordable housing and repurposing vacant, often derelict buildings.