Liberty Bell Award winner lays out detailed vision of justice and equity



(Photo left) - Jonathan Bradford in one of the Inner City Christian Federation building’s beautifully restored and renovated board rooms. (Photo right) - Bradford accepted the Liberty Bell Award at the Grand Rapids Bar Assocaition annual meeting, having been out of the country on Law Day.  With him are (left) Warner, Norcross and Judd’s John Byl, who nominated Bradford, and GRBA President T.J. Ackert of Miller Johnson.

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Anyone interested in the full story of how Liberty Bell Award winner Jonathan Bradford and the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) relate to the award objective of “an outstanding contribution to the cause of Justice” need only ask, and Bradford will give it to them in outline form.

And a fascinating outline it is.

“At ICCF there are three functions, three programs, and three values,” Bradford, the Executive Director of ICCF, explains. “The functions and programs are more like gears, in that they interlock and help move each other.”

The functions are: residential development and financing; residential construction; and services that educate, empower and encourage learning in the area of housing, including rentals, and homeownership.
ICCF is a licensed builder and does all of its own project construction, with the exception of some of the largest projects, which are contracted. And there is a social work component to the services area, in addition to adult learning and skill building.

The three programs include:

—Providing emergency shelter for homeless families. The physical resource for this is a place called Family Haven, located near Franklin and Madison. Families can stay in apartments there without being charged for up to thirty days. ICCF staff people help the families who stay there work through issues that contributed to their homelessness, including offering financial counseling, pantries devoted to both food and clothing, children’s activities, Bible study, and help finding employment. The staff members also act as an advocate for the families after they have left Family Haven.  

—Rental housing. High quality but affordable rental housing through ICCF can either be a stepping stone to owning one’s own home, or a permanent place to live.

—Paths to homeownership. ICCF says it “will meet you at your point of need,” whether that’s help with finding financing, information to assist with understanding the scope of owning a home, or transmitting knowledge about home maintenance. Counseling is available at the individual and group/class level.

Bradford refers to emergency shelter/rental/homeownership as “three points on the continuum.”

Bradford has a way with words, which is just one of the many skills he either brought to the job at ICCF in 1981, or learned because he had to. A graduate of Calvin College who focused on public policy, Bradford worked briefly with the ICCF construction crew before leaving for the big city of Chicago. ICCF had started out in 1974 with the rehabilitation of one home by a local church, and then  encompassed more and more houses, becoming a non-profit organization  in 1977.

After Bradford, his wife and one child (he now has four children and seven grandchildren) returned from Chicago, people approached him to replace the director, who had left on fairly short notice. Bradford resisted, because his love was still in the policy realm, not administration. He agreed to take the job for six months, but discovered he loved it and stayed.

And, he says, one of the biggest surprises for him has been how much he has enjoyed learning about financing, a key component of pulling off the construction of housing projects.

Indeed, the person who nominated Bradford is John Byl, the well-known environmental attorney at Warner, Norcross and Judd who has broad knowledge about brownfield redevelopment and financing.

Noting that the ICCF Wealthy/Jefferson Project is “a remarkable endeavor,”  Byl adds, “I have always been impressed with the mission of ICCF, and Jonathan’s enthusiasm in pursuing that mission... Jonathan is bright, energetic and passionate. As a result, he is able to inspire not only his employees, but others in the community, to help achieve justice for those who have experienced difficult times.”

Indeed, it is when Bradford gets to the third section of his organizational outline, ICCF’s values, that the vibrancy of his vision becomes clear.

“Our three values are respect, opportunity and beauty,” he says.

“Respect has to do with our being a faith-based organization. God has loved us so much that we are made new people, we have the promise of life with our creator and our saviour forever. How we translate that at ICCF is that basically we regard ourself as no different than the person we serve, because all of us are created in God’s image.”

One “profound” way to respect others is to have high expectations of them, Bradford says, which brings him to the next value: opportunity.

“Who among us can say we’re done learning, who would dare say that?” he asks. “The family that comes to us seeking housing will discover that there are things that can be learned, things as simple as balancing the checkbook, that can expand their opportunities.”

So ICCF offers classes that are oriented to both housing success, such as landscaping courses, and life success, like parenting skills.

“But the really cool thing to realize is that when housing is no longer a struggle, when it’s no longer consuming half your income and you don’t have to decide is it the rent or is it the power staying on,” Bradford says, “people are free to pursue opportunity to the little things that simply weren’t accessible before. Think, for example, about being able to afford piano lessons for your child.”

And that brings Bradford to the third value: beauty. “Beauty is a gift of God — each of us has an aesthetic compass, from what clothes we want to wear to the art we put on our walls. But when life is a constant struggle then beauty gets relegated to the option pile, as in, it would be nice if I could do it, but I can’t. And then we see hope and optimism clouded, suppressed.”

Stressing that ICCF considers every detail of context and design when building housing, Bradford observes simply, “Beauty is the currency of hope.”