Laying Foundations for This Life and the Next


Archie Callaham has made helping others his life's work. In the past 15 years he has been involved in so many community-based rebuilding projects in and around South-Central Los Angeles that sometimes the details escape him.

"You just kind of get involved and the most important thing is that it gets done. When you keep the records it loses its value," says Callaham, 57, who is minister at the True Disciples Christian Church.

Callaham, originally from Virginia, moved to Los Angeles in 1960, and lives with his wife of 14 years, Annie. After working as an insurance salesman, he became a minister in 1968. In 1986, he formed a nonprofit group called Solid Front for Unity in America and organized about 80 people to help him.

The group has built a school for children with special needs, found shelter for homeless women and children, organized African-American history parades and provided Thanksgiving dinners for as many as 500 people.

But its largest undertaking is the rehabilitation of Santa Fe Gardens, a 150-unit condominium complex on 40 acres in Compton.

With the help of contributors, investors and volunteers, Callaham took a bank loan and bought the condos when they were on the verge of bankruptcy. May Group, a construction company, helped Solid Front rebuild the units, which will be sold as low-income housing for about $72,000 each. The first 24 units recently were completed and Callaham hopes to be the first resident of the refurbished complex.

"After the riots, when ministry put together the organization Hands Across L.A., I realized that everyone just hailed Hands and then went home and that was it," Callaham says. "And I know we have so many people that can't read, can't write and don't know the law and don't know how to help themselves. And I realize we have to help them," he said.

Despite a promotion campaign that was limited to bumper stickers, Solid Front's activities and projects have attracted hundreds of volunteers, as well as assistance from Disney, McDonnell Douglas and other large Southland companies.

"He always gets out there and talks to different people to get the money," said Suenam McMurray, director of Solid Front.

"As soon as (the project) starts and it's running he lets other people finish it. That is why he will never get rich," said Elli Kapelner, 46, a law firm employee who is one of Callaham's helpers.

Callaham tries to deflect attention from himself. "I don't want to say it was me who raised all the money. People just made donations, one company gave us all bathtubs, another gave us all roof, and so on," he says. Callaham's group rebuilt two duplex buildings that house the True Disciples Christian Church. The church, located at the corner of Vernon Avenue and Crocker Street, had to be closed because of disrepair.

After a year of work, the church building has reopened.

"Archie and his people did something out of nothing and they don't even have any money. It's great that they are not sitting and crying for help from government," Kapelner says.

"I am part of everything, I am just out there every day. Anyone who needs a service can find me," Callaham says. "My life has been primarily helping people and even when I leave this world, I will keep doing this."

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