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The Intersection of Advocacy and Ministry

By: Lawrence Witherspoon, Director, Center for Family Voice, Groundwork Ohio

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I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience this month to attend and present at the Children’s Defense Fund’s (CDF) 29th Annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. This event is hosted on the sacred grounds of CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, TN. The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute is where more than 400 faith leaders and activists sing and pray, strategize and struggle, organize and advocate. Advocates and leaders share their stories, their hurt and hopes, and their pain and passion for justice in their beloved communities. ​This powerful annual event refreshes and renews faith leaders so we can continue the hard, hopeful, sacred work of pursuing justice for children and ending child poverty.

“Freedom Faith at 50”

This year’s theme, “Freedom Faith at 50,” was chosen to honor CDF’s 50th anniversary, as well as to uplift the memory and ministry of one of the establishing leaders of CDF’s Black Church Initiative, the late Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall. Early in her life, Rev. Dr. Hall was an organizer with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In her last public campaign, Hall was co-chair of the Black Church Initiative of CDF’s Black Community Crusade for Children® and a consultant for CDF charged with facilitating relationships with Black denominations and caucuses.

By celebrating and centering Rev. Dr. Hall’s witness, we hope to edify the critical influence of womanist thought in projects of child well-being and child advocacy, especially in the Black community. “Freedom Faith at 50” also reinforces the necessary theological and spiritual work we must do to sustain our fight for justice, equity, and liberation. Hall proclaimed this in many settings, including Haley Farm, as she implored young people and faith leaders to “fan the fire of freedom’s faith.”

Because of my background in ministry and child welfare, I had the privilege of co-presenting a session with Andrea Palmer from the Pritzker Foundation about the importance of family and child well-being.

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

In our session we discussed the importance of understanding that family health and well-being begins at the prenatal stage and continues through the rest of our lives. Research shows us that the experiences of a child’s first three years of life are the bricks and mortar of brain development, building the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. A child’s brain develops faster from birth to age three than at any period later in life and parents play the lead role in their child’s healthy development.

Why is advocacy an important component of well-being for faith leaders to consider as they minister to their communities?

Advocacy is a tool to support individuals, families, and communities in exerting control over and impacting change in the systems and policies that impact their well-being.

Please click here for more information about this session's presentation.

I also had the privilege to share the stage with a few great leaders in advocacy and ministry during the institute’s final plenary panel discussion that included:

We all shared perspectives on Equity in Early Childhood Systems and examined antiracist policy reform in early childhood systems because targeted universalism demonstrates that when you prioritize the most marginalized children, all children benefit.

As a current leader in ministry and advocacy, this experience was truly life-changing and provided space for individuals to teach and learn how the intersection of advocacy and ministry can:

  • Build self-efficacy so individuals are confident in their ability to gain or maintain control over their behaviors and environments.

  • Support healing from broken systems—changing systems that have harmed you can be restorative.

  • Empower and give a platform to the voice behind individuals’ lived experiences.

  • Deliver on the desire to live in a world we have the power to change.

If you are a faith leader…….. YOU ARE AN ADVOCATE!


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