By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO

Montgomery County’s clergy of color are working together across race and faith perspective to represent the needs of their congregations and ensure all voices are heard as the 2018 election season approaches.

Pastor Haywood Robinson Jr., president of the Montgomery County Black Ministers Conference and pastor of the People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md., joined with 20 multiethnic churches and community organizations under the Action in Montgomery (AIM) banner to host the county’s largest candidate forum, packing more than 1,200 people in the Norwood Road sanctuary to hear from six of the seven candidates for Montgomery County executive last week.

Pastor Haywood Robinson Jr., President of the Montgomery County Black Ministers Conference. (Courtesy Photo)

“Our founding pastor, T.J. Baltimore had a broad vision for transforming communities and we are building on that vision,” Robinson stated.

“You need a broad cross section of the community to come together to address some concerns and impact the decision-makers whose job it is to help make life better for all people,” Robinson offered as the reason why his church agreed to host the candidates’ forum.

African Americans make up 17 percent of the 1 million residents in Montgomery County. For more than a decade, Isaiah Leggett, the County’s first African-American executive elected in 2006, ensured resources were available to serve the needs of a county increasing in both racial and economic diversity. Leggett is stepping down when his current term expires in December 2018.

The forum was hosted by AIM leaders, such as Darlingston Johnson, presiding bishop of Bethel World Outreach Ministries International, headquartered in Olney, Md. Johnson, who is an immigrant from Liberia, referred to his own transition to the United States in 1990.

“The demographics of Montgomery County are changing,” Johnson said.

According to Housing for All, an affordable housing advocacy organization, one-third of Montgomery County residents are currently born outside of the United States and 10 percent of the county’s African- American population lives in poverty. More than 30,000 people are currently on the wait list for public housing in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties with per-capita income exceeding $90,000.

AIM is urging Montgomery County to provide 20 additional immigration lawyers and 20 paralegals to assist immigrants in securing legal status.  Additionally, the group wants county institutions to adopt congregation identification cards for immigrants lacking legal documentation.  The cards would identify a pastor or clergy person who has agreed to serve as a sponsor for the immigrant until legal status is obtained. Similar ID cards are accepted by police, hospitals and businesses as identification in Dallas Texas; New Haven, Conn., and other cities across the U.S.

AIM rallies are based on the group’s agenda – not the candidates. In addition to immigration, Darlington and Rev. Abhi Janamanchi – the latter is pastor of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church and of East Indian descent – asked the candidates to respond to AIM’s platform on affordable housing, education and transportation.

“It’s time now for the church to step up,” said Thelma Boyd Toler, a retired White House executive office employee who came to the forum to see if any of the candidates had something distinctive to offer.

“We can simply no longer sit back and allow these politicians to make promises without being accountable,” said Boyd, a member of People’s Community who works on voter registration and education in several area senior homes.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Johnson said in rallying the group to get involved in voter recruitment and registration. He added, “We are here because we’ve come to make a demand on our next county executive.”