Stephen Weisman, rabbi of Temple Solel, a Reform congregation, was one of the clergy who spoke. He met Washington for the first time that evening and was impressed with her organizing skills. The two became friends. This fortuitous encounter between an Adventist and a rabbi quickly evolved from friendship to professional collaboration and today Washington jokingly refers to Weisman as her co-conspirator in community organizing.
Three weeks after the vigil, Washington organized an online panel discussion to talk about faith, race and social justice. In addition to city leaders, Washington invited Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy, including Rabbi Weisman, to speak to the community about their concerns.
“I know for me the question is, where’s God in all of this?” she said. “If I have these questions, somebody else has this question. So let’s see if we can’t get some answers for folks.”
The event was a success and fueled her desire to do more. It also helped crystalize her vision for how to best give back. She credits Rabbi Weisman for helping realize her calling. “I told her what we need is a lay led organization that is going to help bond clergy together during moments like this,” he said.
In 2020 she launched the Interfaith Coalition of Bowie.
Today the coalition provides a platform for a diverse group of faith leaders and community members to come together in the name of social justice as agents for change. Even amid a pandemic, they have been a regular presence in the public square these last two years.
The faith oriented online panel discussions continue and cover a range of timely issues: faith and critical race theory; fostering inclusive community for LGBTQ youth in religious spaces; autism and religion; and science-based information about the COVID-19 vaccine to name but a few.
The Rev. Emily Holladay, a pastor at Village Baptist Church, is among the clergy who is part of the interfaith coalition. “How many people do you know who say, I’m not a clergy person, I just go to church,” she said. “But I want the clergy to come together because I think they can have an impact on the community.”
With hate-based violence and extremism on the rise nationally, it’s this kind of community building that cities as diverse as Bowie are primed for.
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, of Bowie’s 58,000 residents, 56% are Black, 32% are white, 7% are Hispanic and 4% are Asian.