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Reverend Marvin Griffin

Monday, April 2, 2001 by

Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church

By David Ansel

Reverend Marvin Griffin, Ph.D., has led the Ebenezer Baptist Church on East 10th Street since 1969. He was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1923 and his family moved to Dallas in 1930. His call to the ministry was clear early on. He recalls preaching to his neighborhood pals in his backyard from the age of seven. He announced his intent to become a Baptist minister during his first sermon, delivered when he was seventeen. After his undergraduate degree at the segregated Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, he experienced integrated schooling for the first time while acquiring his Masters of Theology at Oberlin College in Ohio.

Since then, it’s been a life of service for Rev. Griffin. Two decades of work in Waco preceded his more than thirty years of work here in Austin. Paradoxically, he looks at his choice of a life as a congregation leader not as servitude, but as freedom. He explains, “The church gives you a freedom to pursue a life that’s meaningful, a chance to change the world for the better.” Certainly, this career has been a good fit for this self-acknowledged workaholic. He continues, “I love people, and I like working with projects that advance the cause of humanity.”

Education is first among Rev. Griffin’s “burning issues.” On a personal level, his three daughters and a granddaughter graduated from some of the best universities in Boston. He speaks proudly of their current professions as the fruits of the opportunities they have been given. “Education is the best thing you can do for your children.”

This dedication to education filtered down into his work, where he led the school board during the seventies. The pursuit of a level playing field for students in Central East Austin is now his chief concern. In his opinion, that does not translate to equal money. Since they have been at a financial disadvantage for so many years, simply bringing equal funding to East Austin’s schools would not bring an end to the “intentional educational divide.” Rev. Griffin spoke of a trip he took to Israel where he saw racially diverse schools in which every student had a computer. He feels that the business community of Austin,which he calls “a little Silicon Valley,” should do more to close the digital divide among its youth.

He believes that it takes more than money to improve the current situation. He favors what he describes as a “village approach” to the educational crisis, where families and community are able to share the burden of raising the youth along with the schools. He would also imbue the system with his work ethic and sense of urgency. He believes in year-round public schooling, saying, “We don’t have time for vacation.”

Rev. Griffin’s concern for equal opportunity is the basis for his work in economic development. In 1988, Ebenezer formed the East Austin Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit enterprise which combines both city and private grants to help guide the economic development aspects of the neighborhood. EAEDC helps residents with bad credit improve their financial planning. It rehabilitates HUD homes and makes them available to the community at reasonable prices.

Rev. Griffin has been an outspoken supporter of Riata Development Corporation’ s plans for the Bennett Tract. He feels it’s the economic shot in the arm that East Austin has needed for a long time. He says, “The development of the Bennett property is an opportunity to improve the quality of life for this neighborhood. It’s an economic engine. We want the downtown to leap over the freeway.” As we strolled along the crumbling buildings and signs of impending development on 11th Street, Rev. Griffin described how economic stimulus and rising property values would help, saying, “East Austin has long been ignored, and a city is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Racially speaking, things have come a long way in the eyes of the 78-year-old Griffin. He was the first African American graduate of Southwestern Theological Seminary, and he remembers clearly when there were no black police officers in the whole city of Dallas and only one in Waco. Likewise the school board and city council hadn’t been integrated. Still, he warned, things have a long way to go, pointing to the imbalance of government contracts between white and minority contractors.

In all these issues, Rev. Griffin mixes patience with vigilance. He explains, “You’ve got to expect problems. If you’re going to be progressive, you need to prepare to get around obstacles. Like the prophets, use your faith to achieve your goals.”

TDS waste transfer station contract

Provides grist for Council argument

ANC leader stresses need for neighborhood inclusion in site location

At last Thursday’s City Council meeting, Council Member Beverly Griffith took the opportunity of a vote on a city contract to discuss having the city provide clearly-defined siting criteria for city-initiated ventures like landfills, day-labor sites and transfer stations.

She made an impassioned speech about the need to choose sites based upon an inclusive process driven by community-sensitive criteria. There is a need for transfer stations, Griffith told her colleagues, but the process of placing that site must be one that people will support.

“People support what they help to create,” said Griffith, adding that she was working closely with staff on the issue. “People get down on things they’re not up on.”

The vote on the Council agenda was to ask City Manager Jesus Garza to negotiate the terms of a contract with Texas Disposal Systems, Inc. (TDS). TDS would then construct a solid waste transfer station and related facilities to serve the northern portion of the Solid Waste Department’ s collection routes. The city already holds a contract with TDS for landfill waste disposal and yard trimmings processing service. After some discussion, the contract was approved unanimously.

Deputy City Manager Toby Futrell and Mayor Kirk Watson both pointed out to Griffith that the transfer station was not a facility that would belong to the city. And that site selection was solely a TDS decision. Watson said he could not support “a process that, first of all, has not been identified with any sort of concrete terms for a site that’s not ours.” He added that he supported criteria for the siting of city facilities, but that the siting criteria she mentioned were still too vague to include in the TDS motion.

Council Member Will Wynn, who made the original motion, said he supported fellow Council Member Danny Thomas’ statement that the interests of the neighborhood should be included when selecting a site, but that he, too, was aware that the site in question would not belong to the city. He added that while he supported input, he was nowhere near ready to support the neighborhood siting process currently being developed with the Austin Neighborhoods Council.

Griffith told her colleagues that her statement had been intended simply to bring up the idea of a staff-generated site selection process. New sites “are going to come, and pretty soon” and city staff needs to take this time to come up with a process for recommendation to the Council. That process should be as inclusive as possible, Griffith said.

Contacted Sunday, ANC President Jim Walker acknowledged that ANC has not gotten very far in defining site criteria. But that’s not because he and other neighborhood leaders haven’t pondered the problem. From their perspective he said, city staff “goes through a process where they decide where something will go and then announce it, and then the neighborhoods react and oppose. The intent here is to try to see if there’s a pattern to see if we can deal with it beforehand—knowing that there’s some undesirable land uses.But they’re the kind of things we have to have somewhere.”

This is would be better than putting all the LULUs (locally undesirable land uses) in politically less powerful neighborhoods, Walker said. But if the undesirable use must be located in or near a neighborhood, he said, the city and the entity building the project should try to minimize the undesirable effect.

Walker admitted that the city might have no role in certain projects, especially if the developer did not need a zoning change. But if the city were involved, he said, “then we would hope they would encourage the private landowner to work with the neighborhoods early. Maybe we could avoid some of the problems that happened with the BFI site in Kensington Park. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 14, 2000, Dec. 12, 2000)

“Part of the problem, I think, is that both the city and the private sector will both do a lot of work on trying to find a location for something. By the time that they involve the neighborhood, they have so much vested interest in it that it makes it hard for them to either reconsider or even amend how they are going to deal with the site,” Walker said.

However, he did have one example of a city department working with a neighborhood to come up with a better site for a LULU.

Austin Energy wanted to locate a substation in the Cherrywood neighborhood, where Walker lives. In the beginning, the utility seemed to want to buy the property “and involve the neighborhood afterwards, designing the visual barrier. What we would prefer is, you know, make the case to us that this needs to go in our neighborhood,” he said When utility officials did so, it became obvious that his neighborhood was the best one for the substation. “We need one. We have brownouts in that area. And so then they came, and showed us the map of the system, showed the affected area they were trying to increase the grid in.”

After the neighborhood saw the presentation, he said, “It became apparent to us, as a neighborhood, that we can’t say no to this because then it’s going to go to another neighborhood. Yet it’s serving us. So now let’s work with Austin Energy so that it meets their needs and minimizes the undesirable effects. That’s the kind of thing that we’re hoping for at ANC with other locally undesirable land uses.”

Walker said ANC realizes the process could be a double-edged sword. “That’s a very valid concern on the part of the city,” he said, that the early neighborhood involvement may lead to fewer site choices.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Worried about Mueller . . . Neighbors of Robert Mueller airport are gearing up for Tuesday’s meeting of the House Committee on Transportation. The committee plans to hear Rep. Ron Wilson’s HB 2522, which would allow the State to reopen Mueller to general and corporate aviation. Neighbors are expecting the hearing to begin about 2 p.m. in the Capitol extension, room E2.030 . . . No variance for Albertson’s. . . The Rollingwood City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to reject a developer’s request for a zoning change that would have allowed him to build a 55,000 square-foot Albertson’s store at the intersection of Bee Caves Road and Montebello. Tom Terkel of Cencor asked for the variances to build the store and to allow Albertson’s to operate on a 24-hour basis across Bee Caves Road from the Finish Line. Rollingwood requires all commercial establishments other than restaurants to close at 10 p.m . . . Learn parliamentary procedure. . . The City of Austin Neighborhood Academy and Austin Community College are offering free training on how to conduct meetings. The class will meet from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Eastview Campus, 3401 Webberville Road. Children’s activities will be provided for youngsters aged 6-12. Call 499-7672 to register.

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