Randolph, Barry

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Date: 4/26/2019

Randolph, Barry

Randolph, Barry

In his role as Pastor of the Church of the Messiah in Islandview, Pastor Barry Randolph constantly strives to inspire and bring together the people of his neighborhood. He knows that anything is possible through his relationship with God–because “a virgin had a baby” afterall–and that belief shapes his work as a community organizer. The Church of the Messiah’s website boldly quotes Mohammad Ali on its homepage, “When the mission is right, the odds don’t matter.”

Growing up in the West Village, Pastor Barry felt the strong sense of community in his neighborhood that comes with everyone living together. “The neighborhood was mixed race then, and everything we needed we were able to walk to. So, it was a wonderful experience for me. I was used to being raised in a diverse neighborhood.” 

Pastor Barry attended Martin Luther King High School and Wayne State University. Before becoming a minister, he co-owned a distribution company, a health foods store, and a restaurant. Despite his myriad responsibilities, he felt unfulfilled and sought meaning at the Church of the Messiah. He became a volunteer tutor, then a Sunday school teacher, followed by the youth director and eventually worship director. “By the time I came to Islandview, part of my commitment to this community and neighborhood was to make it that walkable community to where you can actually get all the different things that you needed for your community.” 

In 2002, when Pastor Barry stepped into his role as pastor of the Church of the Messiah, the church had about forty regular attendees and the average age of church attendees was 65 years old. Now, the church has over two hundred regular attendees, 60% of whom are Black men under the age of 30 years old. “Our young people are geniuses. The only thing they lack is opportunity to showcase it. The church became the opportunity for them to showcase and bring out their genius. Because we are a church, we believe in reconciliation, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth chances to be able to help you get it right.”

When a young person comes to Pastor Barry needing a job, a place to live, or a life purpose, Pastor Barry works with them to uncover their potential. “I guarantee you somewhere in there is an entrepreneur or a CEO or somebody who has a gift or talent. There’s an artist. There’s a writer. There’s somebody in there. That’s what we need to get to.” Pastor Barry sees this as his role and responsibility as a community member and leader. Afterall, he says, “If it affects you, if affects me.” 

In addition to working with young people on an individual level, Pastor Barry works at the community level to promote sustainable, long-lasting development. 

As a lifelong Detroit resident, he is weary of the promises of corporations bringing redevelopment and jobs to communities in exchange for tax breaks. Afterall, in the 1950s, the city and federal government razed the Black Bottom neighborhood for “urban renewal,” displacing entire working-class Black communities and institutions for highways and middle-class housing. And in 1981, the entire neighborhood of Poletown was razed for a General Motors plant using eminent domain. Promising to bring badly needed jobs to the city, it was the most number of people ever moved in the shortest amount of time in the United States under eminent domain. When the plant opened in 1985, though, it delivered only half of the 6,000 jobs it promised. “That’s why we believe in community-based businesses and building it in the community and neighborhood.” 

In 2013, the community of Islandview organized to adopt a community benefits agreement before any attempts at development or gentrification occurred within the neighborhood. “We never look to big business. We do everything ourselves. We created a clothing line. We created the tea beverage company. We’re the internet providers. We created the employment office. We built our own houses, our own business.” Knowing that large businesses will not protect the community’s interests, the community of Islandview created Five Alive meetings to bring prospective developers face to face with the community – prospective developers must get the approval of members of the community in order to develop in the neighborhood. Projects that do not get the community’s approval are not able to proceed. 

“Our value is not based on somebody’s bottom line of a fact sheet for money. It’s based on the value of the people who have lived here and who have stuck it out. So, our thing is we go create our own value.” 

The Church of the Messiah created an alliance with other community organizations in Islandview to make sure that the current and long-time residents of Islandview are not left out of conversations regarding development in the community. Church of the Messiah hosts regular meetings that bring together neighbors, community organizations, and developers to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table for decisions that impact the community. Pastor Barry and the Church of the Messiah work with Genesis Lutheran Church, Mack Avenue Community Church, and Mack Avenue Community Church Development, Field Street Association, Charlevoix Village Association, and Mack Alive.

If developers work with members of the community, then the process of development is smooth and uninterrupted. When community members come to Pastor Barry needing employment, he will help them get hired by the developers already working in Islandview. However, when developers attempt to develop in Islandview without working with the alliance and the Church of the Messiah, Pastor Barry and the community work to change that. 

Pastor Barry is working with his community in Islandview to make positive things happen; however, he knows that the community is already a valuable asset to Detroit as well as the cities across the state and country that are emulating Islandview’s tactics for community development. “It’s not up and coming. It’s all already up. It came already. It’s just being improved upon.” In addition to organizing the community, Pastor Barry worked to make the Church of the Messiah the developer in Islandview: the Church of the Messiah owns 213 units of housing and over 40 vacant lots, so when developers seek to start their own projects in Islandview, Pastor Barry has ensured that they must get the approval of the community in order to do so.

As much as Pastor Barry seeks to inspire at the community level, he also works to inspire at the personal level. He sees the potential in each and every member of his congregation and community. “Empowerment here is spelled i-n-p-o-w-e-r-m-e-n-t, the power from within. The power you have, your God-given abilities, talents, gifts, and whatever talents that you have, it comes from inside of you. You give it back to the rest of the world.”

Inspired by the legacy of preachers working to enact positive changes, Pastor Barry is proud of the progress made in Islandview so far and continues to move forward with great momentum: “The Church of the Messiah is more of a movement than it is just a religion or a denomination. It is a movement of a mindset to be able to go out and make a difference.”


Barry Randolph, interviewed by Peter Blackmer, April 26, 2019, Voices from the Grassroots Oral History Collection, Detroit Equity Action Lab, Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, Wayne State University Law School.

Barry Randolph Oral History (2019)

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