Dream and Reality
Urban Ministries, Inc., is the fulfillment of a dream that Melvin E. Banks had at the age of 12.
When Dr. Banks was nine years old, he accepted Christ into his life. By age twelve, he was telling seven and eight year olds Bible stories and traveling with his mentor to remote parts of Birmingham to give his testimony to adults. On one such trip, as they were leaving, an elderly man spoke to him in a moving way and recited a verse that Banks would never forget: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). This made a great impression on young Banks, and he dedicated himself to God to help bring the knowledge of God’s Word to Black people.
Contextualizing the Word
After receiving degrees in theology and biblical studies from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, Banks was employed by Scripture Press, Inc., where he specialized in literature distribution. However, he discovered that many African Americans were not interested in the biblical curriculum because they did not see themselves represented in it.
Determined to be faithful to the vow he made to God, Banks decided to branch off to make biblical curriculum with stories and pictures with which his people could identify. In 1970, he founded Urban Ministries, Inc. (UMI). It was a revolutionary concept at the time to portray positive images of African Americans in the biblical experience.
“The need for edifying spiritual nourishment is at a premium now more than ever,” says Dr. Banks. “My calling was to provide a lasting purposeful message for African Americans through print, especially for young people to stay connected to the Biblical message.”
From the Basement to the World
During its first 12 years, UMI operated out of the basement of the Banks family’s home. Banks marketed his first Sunday School curriculum, Inteen, to churches out of the trunk of his car. Under the leadership of Dr. Banks, UMI has grown to be the largest independent African American-owned and operated religious publisher. UMI materials include Sunday School curriculum, Vacation Bible School resources, books, videos, and music, all of which depict or speak to people of color in the context of their culture.
Driven by Dr. Banks’s unique vision and passion to see Christian education resources made available to the African American audience and contextualized to address their spiritual, social, and educational needs, UMI has grown to become a multifaceted media company that reaches not only African American churches, but other organizations and individuals who seek a diverse, Christ-centered perspective on the issues of faith and life.