By Stefanie Jackson – Across the U.S., protesters reacting to the death of George Floyd – a black man who died while a white police officer knelt on his neck – are calling to defund the police, but on the Eastern Shore, spiritual leaders are calling to collaborate with the police.
Quintavion Washington, of the Eastern Shore Diverse Coalition of Preachers, a new organization, recently led two peaceful protests – one in Accomack on Friday, June 26, and another in Northampton on Saturday, June 27.
Washington, who lives in Accomac and has preached at churches all over the Eastern Shore, was joined by the Rev. Kelvin Jones, of First Baptist Church in Capeville, the Rev. Felton Sessoms, and Father Phil Bjornberg, of St. George’s Parish in Pungoteague, at the June 27 protest.
Participants gathered in Eastville at Northampton High School and marched down Courthouse Road to the Northampton County Courthouse.
At the courthouse, Sheriff David Doughty said, “We all have witnessed the acts of injustice. We all stand with you, supporting positive change and ending racism.
“The good men and women who put on the uniform each day represent the vast majority of our law enforcement officers. They will continue to go to work in these challenging times and do just what they have done all along, and that is to be there for you in your time of need and to continue to protect our communities to make our country a better place to live, work, play, and raise our families.”
Doughty said the Eastern Shore is “leading by example” in its relationships between communities, churches, and law enforcement officers, but it’s not perfect and “there’s always room for improvement.”
He announced that local law enforcement will be required to complete additional training on topics such as use of force, de-escalation, and cultural diversity.
Reviews of body camera footage are being conducted to increase accountability and “ensure that we are effectively and positively communicating with our citizens.”
He looked forward to participating in regular meetings between police officers, pastors, and county officials.
“Let’s all rise up, join hands, unify, to make the changes necessary to make our country the greatest ever,” Doughty said.
Northampton schools Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said, “The school system is committed to treating every child, every employee, every parent, and every stakeholder in Northampton County with the dignity and respect that they all deserve, and I am proud to serve in a county where groups like this can come and assemble and share ideas and work for a better community.”
Gerald Boyd, a counselor with a practice in Exmore, shared some of his personal history with those present.
Boyd came to the Eastern Shore in 1951 as a migrant worker, was raised in Johnsontown (about two miles from Machipongo), and graduated from the former Northampton County High School in 1962.
After graduation, he returned to his hometown of Mobile, Ala., and participated in the Civil Rights movement. He continues to work for civil and human rights.
In Mobile, Boyd learned that “God is one, that mankind is one, and the ultimate goal for this millennium is to create conditions which will lead us to unity.”
“It is with this essential unity that we will end war, end the discrimination against women, against other so-called minorities, and achieve world peace,” he said.
Boyd returned to the Eastern Shore in 2014 and opened his practice, the Peacewerks Center for Well-Being, originally located in Cape Charles.
He reflected on points of African American history, from the 1619 arrival at Point Comfort, Va., of about 21 Angolan “indentured servants and unpaid servants for life,” to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Jim Crow era of segregation.
“We fought valiantly for our human and civil rights, which has gotten us to this point,” Boyd continued.
“Never, as I grew up on the Eastern Shore, would I imagine that I would be here at this time, speaking to a diverse group of people about an issue which negatively impacts us all. So I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made” but “we have a bit of a way to go still.”
African Americans have the highest numbers for incarceration in jails and prisons, infant mortality, and medical issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and drug addiction, leading to a victimhood mentality, Boyd said.
“I’m here to tell you that we are victims no more,” he said.
Washington explained, “I’ve become overwhelmed over the recent weeks and outraged by the global response to the unjust and unfair treatment of people of color,” leading to a “call to action” and the beginning of the Eastern Shore Diverse Coalition of Preachers.
The new organization’s mission is “to promote equity, social change, the eradication of systemic racism and social oppression in our communities.”
“Today we stand united in a call for reform and a call for change, in a call for change in our living conditions. A call for change in our community resources … in our criminal justice … in our school system, and a change in how people of color are perceived.”
Washington urged listeners to love one another and be like the Good Samaritan. “If we see one of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their race, down and out … we’ll lift a helping hand,” and “if we see our brothers and sisters fighting, if we see our brothers and sisters bashing one another, that we’ll step in regardless of the race.
“And when we all can get together one accord, we’ll be able to sing like that old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.’”