By Stefanie Jackson – A young preacher from Accomac, Quintavion Washington, was inspired to create a new organization that would become “a voice for the voiceless” after George Floyd, a Black man from Minnesota, died while a White police officer knelt on his neck, leading to protests and shouts for reform that echoed all the way to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
The Eastern Shore Diverse Coalition of Preachers was founded in June 2020 with a mission “to promote equity, social change, the eradication of systemic racism and societal oppression in our communities.”
The coalition seeks to accomplish its mission “through interfaith collaboration, collective social consciousness, and the inclusion of diverse voices.”
Washington believes the Eastern Shore’s faith leaders will be most effective at communicating the needs of the community, because they know it best.
U.S. and state politicians might meet with constituents once or twice a year, county supervisors and school boards hold public meetings once or twice a month, but preachers see their congregations every week, Washington pointed out.
Accomack and Northampton’s elected and appointed officials have already demonstrated a willingness to work with the faith community for positive change. For example, Northampton County Sheriff David Doughty has marched and spoken alongside preachers at two recent protests.
In some cases, citizens are already serving dual roles as ministers and elected officials – the Rev. Lisa Johnson is a member of the Accomack school board and the Rev. Stephanie Castro Webber is a member of the Northampton school board.
According to a press release, the Eastern Shore Diverse Coalition of Preachers will focus on five goals: 1) to address inequities or the inability of marginalized or disenfranchised students to access technology, including computers and the internet; 2) to investigate punitive and disparaging disciplinary actions against students of color in public schools; 3) to host a public forum and address “uncomfortable questions” about race and systemic issues; 4) to promote training on cultural differences and implicit bias for all public school staff; and 5) to seek diversity in the sheriff’s department personnel proportionate to diverse ethnicities within the community.
Eastern Shore churches are willing to help fill these needs, not just through their ministers’ intercession, but by sharing resources. For example, if students need internet access to complete school work, some churches could open a couple days a week to allow kids to use the Wi-Fi, Washington suggested.
His personal goal is to help the community in any way possible, and “small victories are better than no victories,” he said.
The coalition will start meeting in August, on the second Tuesday of every other month, at the Rock Church in Onley, chosen for its central location.
The coalition will work closely with Accomack and Northampton school boards and superintendents, boards of supervisors, and sheriffs, and has contacted Rep. Elaine Luria.
And “we need our communities to reach out to us,” Washington said. The coalition wants to be able to address specific needs in the community and be aware of new issues that may arise.
The coalition’s current members, in addition to CEO/President Quintavion Washington, are the Rev. Phil Bjornberg, St. George’s Parish, Pungoteague; the Rev. Milton Bunting, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Exmore; Associate Minister Karen Downing, Jerusalem Baptist Church, Temperanceville; the Rev. Gregory Duncan, Adams United Methodist Church, Parksley, and House of Prayer, Bloxom; the Rev. Lisa Johnson, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Horntown; the Rev. Gary Miller, St. John’s United Methodist Church, Atlantic; the Rev. Paul Nolz, Rock Church of the Eastern Shore, Onley; Associate Minister Wisteria Robinson, Bethel Baptist Church, Franktown; Bishop David Sabatino, Foundation of Faith, Belle Haven; the Rev. Felton Sessoms, First Baptist Church, Cape Charles; the Rev. Stephanie M.C. Webber, St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, Belle Haven; and the Rev. Rick Willis, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Onancock.