Rev. De Neice Welch wears a lot of hats: She’s the Senior Pastor of Bidwell Presbyterian Church; a bioethicist; a community organizer; a former candidate for the Pittsburgh City Council; and a former president of Gamaliel affiliate Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN). But she insists that she would not have set her sights on most of these titles if it weren’t for Gamaliel.
Welch first came into contact with Gamaliel and PIIN because her husband Rev. John Welch served as President of PIIN, but she didn’t get involved immediately.
“I stayed on the sidelines for a long time because I did not understand community organizing, nor did I agree with terms such as agitation, self-interest and the need for fundraising,” Welch said.
But after attending “powerful” Gamaliel events and seeing PIIN’s successes in the Pittsburgh area, Welch decided to attend National Weeklong Training and experienced a call to organizing work. She also joined Ntosake, Gamaliel’s organizing training for women, and felt it would help her grow as a leader.
“Ntosake was the place where I exercised my own power and tried out my own leadership skills,” Welch said. “This led to me running for city council here in Pittsburgh. The run was not successful, but what I learned was invaluable. I credit all of this to my exposure to Gamaliel.”
Welch also used her Ntosake training to build a network of women in Pittsburgh that worked to expand trainings and develop curriculum to prepare more women for leadership in the public arena.
Beyond her Gamaliel training, Welch said that her motivation as a community organizer comes from the many people in her community who feel helpless, particularly near her church.
“Our church is in a troubled area of the city, and while there were certainly others working to change things, there did not seem to be an organized effort to bring about systemic change,” Welch said. “Next to our church was a run down, abandoned radiator shop with three connected abandoned houses. All sorts of drug activity…I was agitated by a Gamaliel leader to do something about it. So we did.”
Welch organized her church members to push for the demolition of those buildings, set up a “walk-around” with the city Building Inspector, and eventually purchased it and turned it into a parking lot. In a separate campaign, Welch and PIIN also organized media coverage and a town hall to protect the job of Pittsburgh’s school superintendent, an African-American man that many public officials had attempted to unseat.
“Because of our efforts, many have sought the assistance of PIIN, but we are not the rescue agents some would have us to be,” Welch said. “We train people to organize their own power, people, money, and voices. But the success of that campaign put us in the minds of elected officials who knew we would strike back if we felt they were ignoring our community’s demands for justice, educational fairness, and economic equity in our region.”
Reflecting on her accomplishments and training, Welch said Gamaliel is the key to powerful leadership in her own life and in her community at large.
“Gamaliel is the only way for a true path to power, I believe,” Welch said. “On behalf of the community, strong congregational and faith based leaders need to develop the tools to work alongside others in order to create an environment of justice and to develop an image of the beloved community. I could not even see such a thing before National training.”