Love is an Action Word: Min. Shavonne Williams
“Love is an action word. We can’t just sit back and say we love our neighbor and pray. We actually got to get in and get our hands dirty.”Min. Shavonne Williams
As a native of Blythe, GA, Minster Shavonne D. Williams understands the lived experience of people living in Georgia’s Black Belt region, and it’s that connection that allows her to develop relationships and impact communities. “Georgia is a very rural state. You have Atlanta and surrounding areas, and then you have the rest of Georgia. Those demographics are very different,” she explained.
Historically, residents in the Black Belt region have been overlooked and underrepresented. “The leadership in some of the areas does not look like a true representation of the people,” shared Williams. “You may have populations that are primarily Black but have not seen Black people in any type of elected official role or leadership role. When that’s the case, everybody in the population isn’t engaged, and everybody in the population isn’t represented.”
Since 2014, Faith in Public Life has worked throughout Georgia’s Black Belt to make sure residents were informed and to increase their political engagement. Over the last year, we’ve partnered with the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute (GBPI) to hold listening sessions around community needs, worked with Census ambassadors to ensure the count was an accurate reflection of communities and engaged voters through our Faithful Voter program.
“Starting 2014, and in every election season since then, we’ve been building relationships because I think that’s what voting is; that’s what getting the Census done is. Everything is about building relationships,” explained Williams.
These relationships have both individual and community impact. This past fall, Sonya, a woman in her 60s who had never voted because she didn’t feel that her voice or vote mattered, cast her ballot for the first time with the help of Minister Williams. These relationships have helped Faith in Public Life to expand its network into new communities, making sure that communities throughout the Black Belt are informed, empowered and engaged.
Minister Williams acknowledges that this work has not been without its challenges. “I’ve had a lot of resistance from pastors over the years. They say, ‘Oh, I don’t get involved in politics.’ And I’ve had to let them know that Jesus did.” she shared. “I’ve had to tell some of the pastors, churches and people of faith that when you love your neighbor that means we got to vote. When you love your neighbor, as we are charged to do, that means we have to make sure that there’s a fair budget so that everybody can eat and have a roof over their heads, so that everybody can be educated. That means we have to be involved.”
Earlier this year, Georgia reaped the benefits of years of relationship building with record turnout in both the general and run-off elections. Now Minister Williams is working to ensure those voters stay engaged by participating in weekly Coffee at the Capitol sessions, staying informed of the policies that shape their lives, and putting their love of neighbor into action.
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