By Mylika Scatliffe,
AFRO Women’s Health Writer
A small, yet mighty and determined clergy cohort recently gathered for a press conference at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore. They had a singular focus – to get the vote out. Early voting has begun, and this group of clergy wants to make sure that the Black community is exercising their right to vote.
While New Shiloh Pastor Dr. Harold A. Carter was unable to attend, Associate Minister Jerome Stephens said the veteran minister was “elated to have his church be the host site for the press conference for this most important initiative that has historic roots.”
The Black Church historically has been involved in mobilizing the Black vote and these men and women of God are united to make sure it continues.
“Voting is spiritual, a moral obligation, and a right we must exercise. New Shiloh is community focused and always open to advance and benefit the community it serves,” said Stephens.
The pastors in attendance represented various Black clergy organizations from around Baltimore and nearby areas, including the Ministers’ Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity, the United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County, Clergy United for Transformation of Sandtown, Baptist Ministers’ Night Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity (Empowerment for Collective Change), the Interfaith Council, and the United Missionary Baptist Convention of Maryland.
Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, pastor of the Epworth United Methodist Church in Baltimore County, moderated the event.
“These upcoming elections will be the most important in our history, as they all are. Votes have consequences – they translate to improvements in our communities and resources. We need to encourage our citizens to vote by any means necessary and not be deterred by the spirit of apathy,” said Hunt.
The overall intent of the conference was to energize the clergy to go back to their churches and encourage parishioners to vote.
Rev. K. A. Slayton, pastor of the Northwood Appold United Methodist Church in Baltimore, and Religious Affairs Chair for the Maryland State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recognizes how apathy can settle in but is passionate that we must fight to not allow it to take a stronghold in our attitudes.
“Political campaigns can be so muddy, and they don’t necessarily speak to issues that matter to everyday citizens, but we get nothing if we ask for nothing,” said Slayton.
Slayton recognizes the historical significance of the Black church in mobilizing Black voters, particularly since the 1960s and ‘70s. He noted how over the last few decades, there has been cyclical visitation by political candidates to Black churches at election time- something that most people who have ever attended a Black church with any regularity will be familiar with.
“The prophetic voice of the Black preacher partnered with the organization and mobilization skills of Black women in the pew is a powerful combination,” said Slayton.
Bishop Antonio Palmer, the pastor of the Kingdom Celebration Center in Gambrills, Md., is passionate about rallying for increased voter participation in the marginalized African-American and Hispanic communities in Anne Arundel County.
“We’re seeing moves from certain parties to suppress our vote which is an indication of how powerful our vote is,” said Palmer. “We’re coming up on critical midterm elections but must consistently now and all through the year herald the sound of getting the vote out.”
Palmer also believes knowledge is power, and education about voting and the electoral process is key.
“There’s not enough education about the importance of our vote and those who bled and died so we can have this right,” Palmer said. “We are also lulled into complacency once we succeed at electing certain people. We should always be educating our parishioners and constituents about our history as it pertains to voting, the political process, and public policy.”
According to the Library of Congress, one of the major goals of the Civil Rights Movement was to register voters across the Southern United States in order for Blacks to gain political power. Beginning with the end of Reconstruction in 1877, Black Americans dealt with voter suppression by having requirements imposed upon them that were impossible to achieve, including property ownership, poll taxes, and passing literacy and civics exams.
The “Souls to the Polls” movement began in Florida during the 1990s by organizing caravans to transport Black parishioners to early voting locations after church service on the Sunday prior to Election Day. By the early 2000s, “Souls to the Polls” was a national movement.
The 2020 general election saw an uptick in efforts by the Black Church to encourage voter registration and mobilize against deliberate efforts to suppress the Black vote that is still taking place nearly 150 years later, according to the Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research. Black church denominations have been using slogans like “Souls to the Polls,” “AME Voter Alert,” and COGIC Counts,” to increase voter turnout among Black Americans.
The clergy gathered at the press conference on July 5, wanted as many Black pastors as possible to encourage their congregants to vote by making voter registration part of the Sunday morning service. At Northwood Appold United Methodist, Slayton had all the congregants fill out voter registration forms together during worship service.
“That way, no one had to know who was already registered to vote and who wasn’t, and no one had to be embarrassed. Then on the last Sunday of early voting, we’ll caravan together to the polls,” Slayton said.
Among the Maryland statewide offices up for election in 2022 are Governor, Comptroller, and Attorney General. Bishop Palmer aptly summarized the goals and prayers for this clergy cohort: “We are all we have. We can’t sit quietly by and watch the world happen to us. We must challenge the faith community to use their sphere of influence to get the vote out!”
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