The Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, the author of principles that set fairness standards for U.S. companies doing business in South Africa, is tapping the resources of his many contacts in private and public sectors to combat homelessness.
The pastor emeritus of Zion Baptist Church, one of the largest black churches in the nation, has opened a shelter in downtown Philadelphia to feed and clothe the some of the city's least fortunate.
The City of Philadelphia donated a building and put on a new roof. The Navy refurbished the building. Labor unions restored the plumbing. The homeless themselves pitched in by cleaning up the building's interior.
The State of Pennsylvania is providing resources for recruitment, counseling and training. Supermarket companies are providing food. State and federal programs have been enlisted to provide free lunches.
Businesses have promised a job for each person coming out of Sullivan's program with a marketable skill. An appeal has gone out to suburban churches, asking them to get involved in the problems of the city.
"I am taking everything I got and putting it together in a comprehensive program," Sullivan said.
He called it "the start of a whole new concept of dealing with the homeless."
Last month, Sullivan, 67, saw his dream become a reality. The Philadelphia shelter opened as the first of 100 that Sullivan envisions around the country.
"This idea appeals to the liberals because it's getting at an important social issue. And it appeals to more conservative instincts because it's really a self-help program," said the Rev. Scott O'Brien, rector at St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill, Pa.
O'Brien's suburban church was one that responded to Sullivan's appeal with $50,000.
Sullivan's dedication to human rights and human development, whether they be the problems of the homeless in this country or of blacks in South Africa seeking freedom from apartheid, began in the 1950s.
As a minister in Philadelphia in 1958, Sullivan was among 400 black preachers who led boycotts or "selective patronage," as it was called then, against companies that refused to employ blacks.
Opportunities opened for blacks in the labor force, but the number of trained black workers did not keep pace with available positions.
So in 1964, Sullivan collected $1,000 from each of 100 Philadelphia black churches and launched Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America to train people for work.
By 1980, with the help of federal funding the number of centers climbed to 140 affiliates and $132 million in funds. But the flow of federal dollars dried up during the Reagan administration. Operations shrank to $45 million in 1988.
In 1988, Sullivan stunned members of his Philadelphia congregation by stepping down from the pulpit after 37 years to move to Arizona, where he moved the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help. Established in 1983, the foundation's mission, he said, is to encourage American companies, institutions and individuals to get involved in improving conditions of people in Africa and other developing countries.
"People couldn't understand why I did it, but I wanted to focus on this," he said of his move. "That's what the Lord wanted me to do."