Leon Sullivan in 1968

This done in honor of the Reverend Dr. Leon H. Sullivan, an early mentor, supporter and friend of mine.

Inspired by a well-known parable from the Bible, Sullivan decided to use the church as a vehicle for organizing the black community to consolidate its resources and build acommunity-owned economic base. In 1962, during one of his Sunday sermons, he introduced his congregation to his vision of self-help through community investment. "One day I preached a sermon at Zion about Jesus feeding the five thousand with a few loaves and a few fish", he recalls. "Everybody put in their little bit and you had enough to feed everybody, and a whole lot left over. So I said, that is what I am going to do with the church and the community. I said, I am going to ask 50 people to put $10 down for 36 months of loaves and fishes and see if we could accumulate resources enough to build something that we would own ourselves." Although Rev. Sullivan had expected about 50 families to sign up for the 10-36 Plan, the response was overwhelming. Over 200 joined the plan that Sunday morning. His idea of bringing people together to invest in a community-owned enterprise had caught fire.

The concept of the 10-36 Plan was to create two separate legal entities. For the first 16 months of the subscription period, investors would contribute to the Zion Non-Profit Charitable Trust (ZNPCT), a Community Development Corporation (CDC) that would support education, scholarships for youth, health services and other programs aimed at social uplift. For the remaining 20 months of the subscription period, investors would make payments to a for-profit corporation, Progress Investment Associates (PIA), which would undertake income-generating projects. At the end of 36 months, subscribers would receive one share of common voting stock and would be entitled to participate in yearly shareholders meetings. As William Downes, the treasurer of the 10-36 Plan and the executive director of ZNPCT explains, the idea of the voting system was to encourage community involvement in the plan.

According to Sullivan's philosophy, it was important for people to begin by contributing to the nonprofit side of the effort in order to develop a psychology of giving before receiving.[7] It was also important for people to learn basic economic concepts and to see the 10-36 Plan as a long-term investment. Although stockholders were told that they would eventually receive a dividend, they were cautioned not to expect to obtain profits right away. Their most immediate monetary benefit would be a tax deduction for their contributions to the nonprofit. To participate in the 10-36 Plan, investors had to have faith in the idea of investing in a secure future for the next generation. Rev. Sullivan's vision was to use the tools of the free enterprise system to foster something that is vital to community progress – a sense of ownership and a stake in the common good.

Funds accumulated rapidly under the 10-36 Plan, and were soon used to invest in numerous housing and economic development initiatives. In 1964, PIA made its first investment in an 8-unit apartment building in an all-white community. The rationale for buying this property was that it would help address a long-standing problem facing blacks – racial discrimination in housing. The leaders of the Progress Movement believed that money often has the power to speak louder than words in the struggle to improve race relations. One year after its first investment in housing, PIA built Zion Gardens, a middle-income garden apartment complex in North Philadelphia. The $1 million project was financed by using 10-36 funds to leverage a loan from the Federal Housing Administration and a grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

While pursuing these development projects, Zion continued to build an equity base through the 10-36 Plan. In 1965, the plan was opened to new subscribers from Zion's congregation, and another 450 joined. Over the years, the Progress Movement has had great success with its strategy of using equity accumulated under the 10-36 Plan to leverage funds from public and private sources, including commercial banks and insurance companies.[7]

Progress Plaza

After establishing the OIC in the mid-1960s, Zion's next major undertaking was the fulfillment of Rev. Sullivan's dream of building the nation's first black-owned and developed shopping center, to be named Progress Plaza. In addition to addressing his concern about the lack of black ownership of major businesses in America, the project would deal with the problem of unemployment in North Philadelphia by generating a substantial number of jobs. After convincing the city's Redevelopment Authority to donate land for the project, Rev. Sullivan set out to raise the capital needed to build the shopping center. "So I went to the chairman of the bank and I said, I want a construction loan", he recounts. "He said, well Reverend, you need some equity for something like this. Think about it and come back later in two, three or four years, and let's see what we can do." Rev. Sullivan was already prepared for that challenge, however. "Give me the sack", he told Zion's treasurer, William Downes. "I opened it up and $400,000 worth of equities came out", he describes. "The man's eye glasses fell off his eyes. He came around the table and took my hand and said, Reverend, we can work together." Rev. Sullivan's theory about the power of money to deal with persistent racial inequalities was proving to be correct. As he concludes:

"I found that $400,000 makes a difference in race relations in America!"


Progress Plaza, which is located on Broad Street, one of Philadelphia's main thoroughfares, was dedicated in 1968 before a crowd of 10,000 well-wishers. In some sense, the shopping center was the culmination of the Progress Movement's multiple goals. Because it was a major construction project, it created a large number of construction jobs for participants in the OIC program. Through an agreement negotiated with Progress Plaza's chain store tenants, the shopping center also made numerous management job opportunities available to African Americans. To fulfill another one of the Progress Movement's primary goals – to encourage the development of black-owned businesses –
ZNPCT created an Entrepreneurial Training Center at Progress Plaza. With major funding from the Ford Foundation, the center was able to offer managerial and entrepreneurial skills training to hundreds of area residents. Today, over half of the 16 stores in Progress Plaza are black-owned businesses.

Another one of the Progress Movement's major goals was to address the social needs of North Philadelphia's community residents. To this end, ZNPCT built a comprehensive Human Services Center that centralizes essential services so that they are easily accessible to area residents. Zion's role was to develop the property and lease it at below-market rent to nonprofit and governmental entities whose programs fulfill ZNPCT's charitable mission. Located adjacent to Progress Plaza, the Center currently houses a Social Security Administration office, an unemployment compensation office, a police training academy, and a health service center run by Temple University.[8]

Pin It on Pinterest