It’s a forgone conclusion that the men and women who accept the call to ministry in the Black Church often have to do a lot more than preach and teach, in part due to the often daunting needs and challenges their congregations face.
So it should come as no surprise that Black faith leaders from Florida to California and everywhere in between have been ramping up their efforts and employing unique strategies to ensure that African-American voters of faith have their voices heard in this year’s election – and that they vote in record numbers.
One effort, led by Faith in Florida, a federation of the PICO National Network, has partnered with Black denominations and hundreds of congregations on multiple community events and marches across the battleground state. With support from For Florida’s Future, SEIU Florida, AFSCME Florida and others, PICO has developed the “Together We Vote” program – a multi-faith, multi-racial voter engagement initiative with voter registration, education and turnout in the U.S. as their collective goal. So far their leaders estimate that they’ve spoken with over 400,000 voters in one-on-one conversations in key states including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Bishop A.J. Richardson, presiding bishop of the 11th District of the African Methodist Episcopal [AME] Church, has encouraged ministers under his direction to use their pulpits for social justice aims.
“Our preachers have been urged to employ litanies that talk about the importance of voting – of participating in ‘souls to the polls movements’ – helping their congregations understand how vital it is that we all vote,” Richardson said. “We want to make sure we have massive numbers of Blacks voting this year. This has nothing to do with partisanship. We all have a choice. But then, for me and many Blacks in the AME Church, we support a candidate with a more progressive agenda and we’re voting for the person moving toward that light. That should tell you who the majority of our members and ministers endorse.”
Another bishop in South Florida said he’s excited about the elections and the way Blacks have accepted the challenge to register, to vote and to encourage others to get involved.
“In our state, early voting means it’s time for ‘souls to the polls’ efforts to begin,” said Bishop Victor Curry, the senior pastor at New Birth Baptist Church in Miami.
“This is about making sure Black voices are heard – making sure our people participate in the democratic process. And actions speak louder than words. We’re making sure we reach out via marches and caravans to thousands of voters who otherwise might not vote because of transportation, work commitments or uncertainty of the process.”
“Win or lose we must keep showing up and exercising our God-given right to vote. Some want to limit those who can vote and want to build a wall around our democracy. They want to keep us disenfranchised and without political or economic power. ‘Make America Great Again’ is nothing more than code for voter intimidation and restriction. With so much at stake this year, the line of demarcation has been drawn. We know what we have to do – vote. We’ve come too far to turn around now,” Curry said.
Pastor Derrick L. McRae, The Experience Christian Center, COGIC, said every vote matters.
“Race remains an important issue in this election cycle. And with mass incarceration, working class family concerns, and other issues, we have to use the power of the faith-based community to our advantage. We really need to come together across race and faiths.”
“Above all, we’ve got to make sure young people vote. Too many of them believe their vote doesn’t matter and it won’t count. We must continue to show them that that’s not so. We must build on the accomplishments of President Barack Obama. We must represent as Election Day approaches,” McRae said.
Here in the District, two leaders from the faith community shared their views about the elections and the importance of efforts led by members of the Black clergy.
“Members of the Black clergy are important to the 2016 election as the Black church has always been at the center of ensuring justice and access to the benefits of this great nation for Black Americans,” said Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair, National African American Clergy Network and co-convener of the Freedom Sunday Coalition.
“The Black clergy has been instrumental in this election cycle in educating African Americans about what’s at stake and the leaders who will best address their priority needs. With President Barack Obama not on the ballot in 2016, the Black clergy has been critically rallying Blacks to vote their interest even if their enthusiasm about other candidates is not at the same level,” said Williams-Skinner, who lives just south of Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
“The Freedom Sunday (named for the 1964 Freedom Sunday massive Mississippi voter registration drive led by trailblazers like Fannie Lou Hamer) Coalition of denomination and independent church leaders have been meeting monthly with clergy across the nation including members in the DC Metropolitan area. Our Coalition leaders have educated one another on issues such as criminal justice reform, jobs and health care which are all at stake in this election. We’ve heard from legal experts on action steps for protecting the vote against voter suppression tactics. We’ve shared best practices for getting out the vote and have heard from millennials on the best ways to reach out to younger voters around their interests,” she added.
District-based minister, the Rev. Dr. George E. Holmes, faith council chair, Hillary for America and a member of President Obama’s National Clergy Leadership Group, said the church still serves as the arm of support for the community.
“The church is a composition of the community. The church is helping not only D.C. residents but those across the U.S. to prioritize what’s best for their families, communities and the nation as a whole. Designated Faith Ambassadors have been appointed and sent out by Souls to the Polls and Hillary for America to share their stories on the importance of voting. Some are helping congregations with car pools, van and bus transportation to the polls, registration cards, flyer distribution, voter education and participation and teleconference calls.”
“The District has been made into a national call center. We will be making calls into various battleground states around the nation and calling into congressional races to win House seats and to win back the Senate. And with Secretary Hillary Clinton as a supporter of families and the candidate who supports DC Statehood, we are standing firmly behind her in her goal to become our next president,” he said.