Clergy-Backed Organization Announces Education Advocacy Coalition

Mayor Finch joins prayer gathering at close of meeting.
Mayor Finch, at right, joins prayer gathering at close of meeting.

With the public backing of Mayor Bill Finch, a faith-based education advocacy group, FaithActs for Education, conducted its first meeting on Monday declaring a dedication “to improving education for all children in Bridgeport, no matter what type of school they attend.”

Whether district, charter, parochial or private schools, the group’s founders say they will advocate for better schools and more opportunities for students. The mayor attended the kickoff event at Cathedral of Faith Church of God on Fairfield Avenue, saying “We know where we are and where we need to go. FaithActs for Education will help us to become even more of a force to be reckoned with.”

From the organization’s website:

FaithActs for Education is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity that receives our funding from foundations and individuals–we truly can’t do this work without you. Don’t hesitate to contact us in order to learn more about our organization. If you’re able to contribute financially to our cause, please make checks payable to FaithActs for Education and send to:

FaithActs for Education
285 Fairfield Avenue
Bridgeport, CT 06604

We are committed to financial transparency. As soon as we complete our first Form 990 and annual audit, we’ll upload our financial reports to this site.

News release from the group’s spokesperson Robert Bellafiore:

Calling “a strong education the key to freedom,” faith leaders from across Bridgeport today launched a dynamic first-of-its-kind advocacy organization solely dedicated to improving education for all children in Bridgeport, no matter what type of school they attend.

The non-profit, non-partisan organization is called FaithActs for Education. It was announced at a news conference at Cathedral of Faith Church of God on Fairfield Avenue. The event included praise performances by Russell Temple Praise & Worship Team.

“FaithActs for Education has been created to empower clergy and their congregations to advocate for improved educational opportunities for Bridgeport’s children,” said Rev. William McCullough, FaithActs for Education’s Board Chair and Pastor of Russell Temple CME Church. “We hope to unite and equip faith leaders to unlock the transformative potential of education for all children.”

“Education is fundamental to freedom–the freedom to influence your own destiny, your own future, where you live, where you work, whether you work, the family, the community, friends, life itself,” said Rev. Jeremy Williams of West End Tabernacle CME Church.

“The great movements toward equality have always involved people of faith,” said Bishop Derek Calhoun, FaithActs for Education’s Board Secretary and Pastor of New Visions International Ministry. “This is more than public policy. This is a moral imperative. Children and families need to move from despair to hope, and advocating for an educational system that provides them with a future is where we believe we can serve them best.”

“Education is the great equalizer. It the key to eradicating the many inequalities that plague our community–income inequality, job inequality, opportunity inequality, housing inequality, and every other one you can think of,” said Rev. Carl McCluster of Shiloh Baptist Church.

“There is a scene in ‘Selma’ where Dr. King sits in an Alabama jail cell baring his doubts about the cause. His asks himself essentially, ‘What has our movement truly accomplished if a black man can sit at the same lunch counter as a white man, yet cannot read his menu, or lacks the job and thus the funds to pay for his meal?’ That’s why we’re committing our efforts to education–so people can realize the full promise of the civil rights movement, the work of Dr. King and others,” said Rev. Theodore Plummer of Full Gospel Church of God in Christ.

“Freedom is the ability to choose not just a school but a place to live, an occupation or a profession, a vocation or an avocation. One cannot choose unless one is educated. And if you cannot choose, if your destiny is in the hands of others, you cannot be free,” said Bishop John Diamond of Cathedral of Faith.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who attended the launch, said: “We know where we are and where we need to go. FaithActs for Education will help us to become even more of a force to be reckoned with.”

FaithActs for Education’s day-to-day work will be led by Executive Director Jamilah Prince-Stewart, a native of New Haven and graduate of Yale University who has spent the last five years working to improve educational opportunities for Connecticut’s children.

“Our first order of business will be to reach out to faith and community leaders across Bridgeport to let them know about our mission and invite them to join in the work,” said Ms. Prince-Stewart. “We want to work with everybody.”

FaithActs for Education’s agenda will focus on better schools, no matter the type. While the organization supports options for parents, it does so while acknowledging that 85% of Bridgeport students attend traditional public schools.

“I’ve been asked ‘what camp are you in?'” said Rev. McCullough. “The answer is simple: we’re in the camp of children and families. We are not putting on the jersey of any one side except the side of our families. We are for making schools work better for all children.”

FaithActs for Education’s work is built on five core values:
● Guided by Faith: We have deep faith in God and in the power of communities to take on the important work of providing all our children with a transformative education.
● Serving the Children: We are here to relentlessly serve and responsibly invest in what works best for our children.
● Cultivating Authentic Partnerships: We believe in forming authentic relationships that bring our community together, collaborating with the greatest sense of mutual respect and integrity.
● Taking Ownership: We embark on our work by humbly taking our share of responsibility for the current educational inequity, and take ownership of changing it for our children.
● Driving Toward Impact: We believe results should be measured with transparency and rigor.
Our work will center around three key activities:
● Organize: Develop leadership capability to advocate on behalf of low-income and working class families for high-quality schools and educational justice.
● Educate and Equip: Help clergy and congregants understand the current reality of the education system and the abundant possibilities for improvement.
● Build Bridges: Combine voices of faith leaders and congregations with those of community stakeholders to broaden the movement for better schools.
More information about FaithActs for Education can be found at



  1. FaithActs for Education spokesperson Bob Bellafiore:
    He founded Stanhope Partners in January 2012 located in Albany, NY. This is a PR firm/consulting firm. He twittered about this new organization today.

    He was the VP of National Heritage Academies from September 2010-December 2011. This is a for-profit corporation based in Michigan. It operated 75 schools in nine states with close to 50,000 students. In 2011-2012, it was the third largest for-profit charter school company in the US. Over 50% of the charter schools in Michigan managed by this organization were deemed as “focus schools” because of their poor performance.

    In 2010, the NY Office of the State Controller audited a Brooklyn Charter School managed by this organization and could not determining how $10 million was spent. When they requested records, National Heritage Academies claimed they were a “private” entity and not required to comply with FOI laws. Sounds like FUSE, doesn’t it?

    In 2005, the University of NY closed the Rochester Leadership Academy Charter School because of the poor performance. Four years later in 2009, the school’s board of directors sued National Heritage Academies for its failure to provide the management services they were paid to provide. The board also claimed they lost $2 million dollars due to National Heritage Academies. They reached a settlement.

    In May 2014, National Heritage Academies charged a charter school in Brooklyn $2.3 million in rent per year that they themselves were leasing for much less. The going rate was up to $25.50 per foot, but this organization was charging the charter school $46.99 per foot.

    It was also sued by the ACLU in Michigan for promoting “religious activities” in its charter schools. They were also accused of developing a curriculum that presented creationism as an alternative to evolution in 2000.

    Mr. Bellafiore also worked under charter school-loving Governor Cuomo and served as Press Secretary for governor Pataki from 1995-2003.

    From 1992-2002 he was the President of State University of NY Charter Schools Institute.

    One must absolutely ask who is funding this organization, the executive director position and this high-powered communications consultant firm. This is our tax dollars at work. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

  2. Bishop Calhoun ministers the convicted sex offender FUSE allowed to work at Dunbar School with 300 elementary school children. The same convicted sex offender and drug dealer Mayor Finch appointed to the Ethics Commission.

  3. Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who attended the launch, said: ‘We know where we are and where we need to go. FaithActs for Education will help us to become even more of a force to be reckoned with.”
    What is he talking about? Will someone remind him he is the mayor of the largest city in the state? “FaithActs will help us become more of a force to be reckoned with.” Did he read someone else’s script?
    Bill, we know where you are and where you need to go. So go, Bill. Just go, please.

  4. This is just so much bullshit presented by a bunch of bullshit artists looking to make money off our kids. Finch is an asshole. What does a force to be reckoned with mean? Are we training an army? He is a total jerk.

  5. Does this imply Mayor Finch now embraces the indirect, supportive, current and historical relationship of the Unification Church with our city’s excellent university, the University of Bridgeport? (We know how closely he works with the religious university/destroyer of Bridgeport neighborhoods–Sacred Heart University–to which he has ceded (for all practical intents and purposes) much of the North End, including our science magnet school and Veteran’s Memorial Park.)

  6. The ‘Great Society’ in the 1960s brought us anti-poverty agencies. In the 1990s welfare reform brought us job training programs. Now, the education system is being blamed for social problems, not the people who bring children into the world. The ‘reformers’ have the answers (and the money) and a new group of performers are devising new ways to benefit from it. Can I hear an amen?

  7. I have worked in schools and attended Bridgeport schools. I have spent the past 15 years rigorously reading, researching and evaluating issues regarding urban schools. I have consulted with other great thinkers who care deeply about urban schools. I still do not have an answer, but I do know a thing or two, and here are a few thoughts.

    1. Start Early: If you don’t intervene early, it is much more difficult and costly to intervene later. This means quality pre-school is critical, birth to three services, etc.

    2. School Transitions: The transition between 5th and 6th grade, and then 8th to 9th are very vulnerable for children. Grades drop, as well as a host of other markers. This is a finding that is consistent. Easing these transitions is critical. Also, sometimes Bridgeport children switch schools within the school year–sometimes 2-3 times, if not more.

    3. Social-emotional Factors: If we do not address the social-emotional well-being of children, you can’t expected them to excel. Achievement is not just a cognitive process. Psychological health underlies achievement as well.

    4. Building leadership: Principal leadership is key. Principals set the tone and climate of the school. They set morale and expectations. Focusing on key leaders is a very efficient and good way to be strategic about improving schools.

    5. Relationships: At the end of the day, humans are social beings who thrive from relationships–racial/ethnically diverse children are no different. Schools need to establish the space in which children can have contact with caring and supportive adults. Don’t undermine the power of extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs. We remember teachers who care about us, not the teacher who gave the incredible lecture about polynomials (not to undermine the latter, polynomials rock!).

    6. Poverty: We cannot ignore the deleterious effects of poverty. And remember, many people who work live in poverty. These children are more at risk for a myriad of health, mental health and community risks.

    7. Strengths: At the end of the day not all of Bridgeport is ‘failing,’ and when we aggregate the data it obfuscates the issue. It paints a negative picture because reporting averages fails to identify students who achieve. Comparing to Connecticut and suburban counterparts is misleading. There are excellent teachers, excellent students, parents and classrooms. We need to replicate this.

    I will stop here, though there are others. I welcome any effort that can improve the lives of Bridgeport children, but I remain skeptical if they do not address at least some of the points I mentioned. Time will Tell.

  8. Faith-based development and education has always been a good idea. Why this “Eureka” moment all of a sudden? I think back with Clinton, wasn’t it, the idea came up?

  9. Andy, you are a well-spoken student of social ills and the government-funded efforts to identify and address problems. I’m sure teachers and administrators in urban schools see these ills and challenges every day and try to address them as best they can.

    I subscribe to the belief many of these ills have been caused or exacerbated by the government social welfare system, a system that rewards bad behavior with subsidized housing, medical care, etc.

    This is a dilemma many feel must be solved by government programs, the same programs some feel have enabled the behavior that has created these problems.

    Faith-based activities have traditionally been a support mechanism to deal with poverty. The Catholic church was an example. This ‘faith-based advocacy group’ has taken the appeal of solving problems with our faith in God, and using government funding they would administer. What a sad commentary on our society.


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