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Champion for the poor

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Small-town pastor driven to improve community.

By Ret Boney

WASHINGTON, N.C. [04.22.04] — As a child in California, the only time the Rev. David Moore saw his landlord was when rent was due.

“I thought people should live better than that,” he says of dilapidated housing.

Now, he sees to it that they do.

As pastor of Metropolitan AME Zion Church in Washington, N.C., Moore has taken his mission beyond the walls of his church and built more than 500 affordable housing units for low-income people and those who face other challenges.

Moore first came to North Carolina to pursue a master’s degree in divinity at Livingstone College in Salisbury.

During those three years, he married Melinda, a high school friend and fellow student at Livingstone, led two rural AME Zion churches and had the first of four sons.

After a brief return to California and another year at Livingstone for his wife to finish her degree, Moore went to Yale for a master’s in sacred theology.

In 1986, he came back to North Carolina for good to pastor a church in Washington.

“It was a beautiful town,” he says, “but very backwards, almost primitive” in terms of race relations.

No black had ever served on the county commission or school board, a fact the black community seemed to accept, Moore says.

So he shook things up.

“I was known as a radical back then,” he says of his letter-writing and protesting.  “All I wanted was equal access.”

Moore spent the first few years in Washington building his church.

He made sure the soup kitchen and shelter, brand new when he arrived, were up and running.

The kitchen now serves 30 to 50 people a day, and the shelter houses up to 35 people a night.

In 1990, Moore founded the Metropolitan Housing and Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that acts as an affordable-housing developer.

Its first project was to purchase and raze slum-quality row houses on the block closest to the church.

He used federal community development block grants to replace them with five single-family homes for low-income first-time owners.

With construction underway, he says, attitudes began to change and distrust began to fade.

And the rate of construction escalated.

Fourteen years later, Moore and his community development corporation are responsible for providing affordable housing for seniors, AIDS and HIV sufferers, women escaping domestic violence and the mentally and physically challenged.

In March, Moore and the community corporation broke ground on their first project designed for migrant farm workers.

“It opens up a whole new venue to poor people,” particularly in the areas of building wealth and leaving a legacy, Moore says.

Moore, who is a Beaufort County commissioner, also helped establish a credit union serving some 1,600 members, including the second-largest number of Hispanics in North Carolina, he says, and a health clinic catering to the poor, underinsured or uninsured.

“I don’t require a lot of sleep,” he says.

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