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Urban Ministries’ Melvin Banks, who highlighted Black experience in Bible, dies at 86

(Urban Faith) — Banks revolutionized Bible study by portraying positive images of African Americans in the biblical experience.

Melvin E. Banks. Photo courtesy of Urban Ministries, Inc.

(Urban Faith) — Melvin E. Banks, beloved founder of UMI, Urban Ministries, Inc., died on Saturday, February 13, 2021. He was 86.

Banks began his spiritual journey at a young age. By the age of 12, the Alabama native was already sharing Bible stories with younger children and traveling with his mentor to remote parts of Birmingham to give his testimony to adults.

During one of their trips, Banks recalled an elderly man reciting a verse from the Book of Hosea that Banks would never forget: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” 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.

After receiving degrees in theology and biblical studies from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, Banks began working for Scripture Press, Inc., where he specialized in literature distribution for Black churches nationwide. However, he discovered that many African Americans were not interested in the biblical curriculum because they did not see themselves represented in it.

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.

During its first 12 years, UMI operated out of the basement of the Banks’ home. In fact, Banks marketed his first Sunday School curriculum, InTeen, to churches out of the trunk of his car.

Over the next few decades, his company has grown to serve over 100,000 Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teachers across the country, as well as materials for adult education.

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, music, and, of course, Urban Faith, all of which depict or speak to people of color in the context of their culture.

This article originally appeared in Urban Faith magazine.