FAME Corporation Files Bankruptcy Four Days After Beloved Former Pastor Laid to Rest

Lisa Collins

      Just four days following a Celebration of Life service at First AME Church (FAME) for the revered former pastor Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, the recently appointed Pastor Robert Shaw II initiated Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings for several entities affiliated with the church including the Fame Assistance Corporation, the FAME Housing Corporation, and the FAME/Good Shepherd Center Housing Development, all established under Murray’s tenure. The decision puts in serious jeopardy over 320 units of low-income housing and the four-story FAME Renaissance office building, located on the southeast corner of Adams and Western Boulevards. 

      The bankruptcy filings on May 1 came as a shock to members who had called together a meeting scheduled for May 3, aiming to explore alternatives to bankruptcy.  The meeting, meant to convene leading church members and invited elected officials like Supervisor Holly Mitchell, City Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Heather Hutt, and Congresswoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove, sought to devise a plan to safeguard the property and maintain a vital part of Murray’s legacy.

      The corporation’s insolvency occurs amidst numerous financial difficulties faced by the church, including the resolution of a legal judgment worth $1.5 million awarded to the former FAME First Lady Denise Hunter, who served as president/CEO of FAME Corp from 2004 to 2012 at the direction of her then husband, Rev. John Hunter.

      The filing does not include the church’s main Harvard property nor its historic Allen House or the building housing its recently launched Biddy Mason Wellness Clinic.

      With estimated assets and liabilities ranging between $10 million and $50 million (as documented in the filing), FAME’s money woes have left many seeking clarity on the timing of the decision to file for bankruptcy and the lack of transparency to the membership regarding the church’s finances.

      Said one member, “I just can’t understand why an action like this would be filed just two days before a meeting to try and save the property?”

      Longtime member Areva Martin, a civil rights attorney and Founder/CEO of Special Needs Network, which would be significantly impacted by the bankruptcy, expressed devastation over the potential erasure of Murray’s legacy and concern for her nonprofit, which is housed at FAME Renaissance.

      “I am a twenty year plus member of FAME, and I know firsthand how significant the FAME nonprofits were to the late Rev. Cecil Murray,” said Martin. “To see his legacy wiped out days after his funeral is devastating, and on a professional note, I am deeply concerned the disruption to the work of my nonprofit, Special Needs Network. 

      “As the largest tenant in Fame Renaissance, hundreds of employees work the building and receive vital training in applied behavior therapy in order to provide critical interventions to thousands of children and teens on the autism spectrum,” added Martin, who has expressed an interest in purchasing the building since last year and only learned of the church’s financial troubles last week. 

      Consequentially, a bankruptcy of such magnitude within a church as notable as First AME could have broader repercussions for the church community at large. 

      The bankruptcy filing listed upwards of 100 creditors and indicated that there would be no funds available to unsecured creditors after administrative expenses were paid. Shaw, who was appointed pastor of the church six months ago, could not be reached for comment.

      More on this developing story to come.

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