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Remembering Reverend David McAlpin, Founder of HFH Trenton

Friday, August 5, 2022

It is with immense sorrow that we share the passing of Rev. David McAlpin Jr., dear friend and founder of Habitat for Humanity of Trenton. 

There are a number of ways you could have encountered Dave throughout his rich life, as he was involved in countless community and cultural movements, and has guided numerous organizations through growth as well as challenges. But no matter how you came to know him, you knew Dave McAlpin to be kind and compassionate, soft spoken, and deeply committed to social justice.  

At Habitat SCNJ, we first met Dave McAlpin when our affiliate merged with the Habitat of Trenton, and were immediately in awe of his knowledge of housing issues and enthusiasm for Habitat’s mission. Through our many meetings and chats over the years, we came to learn that Dave’s experience with inclusive and affordable housing began before his founding of the Trenton Habitat in 1986. In fact, it began after he received a master of divinity degree in 1953 from Union Seminary when Dave met with Rev. Benjamin Anderson, the minister of Witherspoon Presbyterian Church and very active leader in all matters concerning the welfare of the African-American people.  

Anderson had recently founded a migrant ministry in Monmouth County and invited Dave to assist him both at that ministry and at Witherspoon Church. Dave assisted at services, was in charge of the youth program, visited in homes in the community, and got involved in organizations that were working to overcome racial prejudice during those years when there was a very active involvement in breaking down housing discrimination. It was in this role that he set his sights on exposing discriminatory practices in real estate as African-Americans began buying and living in houses in neighborhoods that were previously all white, as well establishing integrated housing developments, which were later brought into fruition as “Glen Acres” in West Windsor Township and “Maplecrest” in Princeton. Shortly after this experience, Dave and his family moved to Detroit where he served as a pastor until 1970 and continued to invest his time in civil rights, interracial affairs and religiously oriented low-income housing organizations. 

Upon the return to his roots in Princeton, Dave set out to help the Presbyterian churches in the area, particularly those who were looking to renovate the house next to the East Trenton Center. It was during that project that he and the constituency of about a half dozen churches, some 30 to 40 people, put their heads together and asked “what do we do next?” Thus the Trenton chapter of Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1986, where they have spent the last few decades making the most basic and resonant dream of families everywhere — owning their own home — a reality. 

In 2017, the Trenton Habitat sought to merge with the Burlington County affiliate for financial support and programmatic guidance. Dave, then a Board member, was instrumental to the success of the combined affiliates, and thanks to his ability to understand the needs of the communities we serve while acknowledging their history, our combined organization has thrived and grown to serve and build more than ever before. Dave’s caring nature, philanthropic acts, and advocacy efforts were so admirable to us that we developed the McAlpin Humanitarian Award in his honor, beginning with a celebration of his life’s long work in 2019 at our Building Hope Luncheon. Most recently, Dave fervently supported the development of the front-to-back duplex constructed on Lytle Street in the historic Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood. We celebrated the hardworking families who purchased the homes this past April. 

No words will ever be able to express how grateful we are for Dave’s kindness, generosity, and guidance. It was truly a blessing to have him in our lives, and we will carry on his memory by putting our faith into action every day, building a place where everyone has a decent place to live. Rest in peace, Rev. David McAlpin Jr..