By Bonnie Newman Davis
For the 2017 Urban Views Weekly Visionary Awards, we asked readers to nominate leaders in Richmond and surrounding areas who embody the philosophy, teachings and work of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We also sought to identify individuals who display the late civil rights leader’s vision for social justice and human rights in their own lives as well as the lives of others. Two nominees quickly rose to the top of our list: the Rev. Dr. Lance D. Watson, senior pastor of Saint Paul’s Baptist Church, and Tracey G. Wiley, agency director of The Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD).
During interviews with Dr. Watson and Mrs. Wiley, they discussed how their work over the past three decades has largely been influenced by the teachings of Dr. King and other historical figures. We hope that once you read about their journeys, you will agree that they are worthy recipients of Urban Views 2017 Visionary Awards.
The Rev. Dr. Lance Watson
Much like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lance D. Watson’s voice blends rhythmic cadences and crescendos. When the senior pastor of The Saint Paul’s Baptist Church gets on a roll, his vibrant tone punctures the air with precision and power.
Thus, it’s not unusual for the listener to exhale deeply after absorbing one of Watson’s sermons, which he delivers during several services each week at three different churches in Richmond and Petersburg. Congregants’ reverence for the personable minister with positive messages has become the norm. Indeed, Watson’s skillful preaching and progressive leadership of Saint Paul’s 12,000 members are widely recognized in Richmond and other parts of the United States.
Paula Thomas, a Saint Paul’s member for 20 years who nominated her pastor for the Visionary Award, says the church has influenced hundreds by mentoring and being the source of strength for others. “Rev. Watson has reflected a record of success and achievement that will continue for generations to come,” she says.
In acknowledging his achievements and glowing reputation, Watson, who arrived in Richmond three decades ago from Detroit, clearly doesn’t plan to rest anytime soon. His purpose is clear, he says, and it meets squarely with Dr. King’s legacy.
“One of the things I really admire about him was his concern that others not be left out,” says Watson when speaking about Dr. King. “I believe it was his faith in God and belief in Jesus Christ that motivated him to help people who were struggling. That resonates with me. I started my life in a family and a community that was really struggling. I was the 15th of 17 children.”
Watson says that with the help of generous people, churches, government loans and hard work, he was able to overcome his past. He earned three degrees from Wayne State University, along with a master of divinity degree from Virginia Union University and completed seminary school at Union Theological Seminary and earned a doctorate degree of ministry from United Theological Seminary.
Throughout his studies, Watson’s sense of obligation to help others facilitated Saint Paul’s social-justice outreach. “Our entire calendar is driven by outreach,” he says, detailing the church’s plan for “The City of Possibility,” a master-plan community that will feature residential neighborhoods, commercial and retail office spaces, a park, elementary school and a community-life facility.
The project echoes that of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign in 1967 when he planned for 2,000 poor people to descend on Washington, D.C., and other cities to meet with government offcials to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children designed to improve their self-image and self-esteem.
Desegregation and the right to vote were essential, but King believed that African Americans and other minorities would never enter full citizenship until they had economic security, according to Stanford University’s King Encyclopedia.
In addition to King, Watson says that his ministry evokes the teachings of historical figures such as Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist, orator and writer, and Booker T. Washington, also an author, orator and adviser to U.S. presidents who championed black-owned businesses, education and self help.
Watson says Saint Paul’s social justice outreach is prioritized by its efforts to end hunger, improve health, housing and public education.
“We focus on those four areas,” he says, noting that while such goals may sound simple, they become complex when targeting “men’s health, women’s health, children, epidemics and pandemics. Each one is widespread.”
Education, with its many moving parts, is another area that Watson vigorously tackles. He describes with excitement the church’s STEM initiative, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. Last summer, the church ran a STEM camp that drew 55 students. When the $220 cost per student proved prohibitive for most participants, Watson raised funds for each student to attend the weeklong program at no cost.
Aware that education also includes the arts, the church is creating a performing arts academy that Watson says will help improve students’ skills in music, along with their analytical and critical thinking skills.
Economic and financial empowerment ministries are routinely provided at Saint Paul’s, to the extent that a 17-week training program last year enabled nearly 20 participants to create their own businesses.
Such outreach and programs have been driving forces for Saint Paul’s, which moved to its main campus in 2003 on what is now 300 acres in Eastern Henrico County. The church previously was located on 26th and Marshall streets in Richmond.
Two years after moving into its state-of-the art Creighton Road facility, a second church on Belt Boulevard in South Richmond was given to Saint Paul’s by the former Weatherford Memorial Baptist Church when its membership dwindled. In 2009, Saint Paul’s opened a third church on Elm Street in Petersburg.
Simultaneously leading three churches, along with juggling speaking engagements and other responsibilities, appears natural for Watson, who credits church administrators and staff for their solid work ethic and support.
“I came to the congregation in my early 20s,” Watson says. “I could not have prayed a prayer for the people who surrounded me. It was just a gift.”
Watson adds that he considers the diversity found at each of his congregations “a privilege and incredible opportunity to do good in different situations.”
Many of Saint Paul’s outreach programs are developed on the Creighton campus and then scaled to fit the needs of the Belt Boulevard and Petersburg campuses.
For now, Watson is laser focused on what is perhaps the church’s most ambitious project to date: The multi-million dollar retail and office and housing complex on Creighton Road. The residential housing project alone is projected to cost $200 million.
Yet, while building what he sees as a new civil rights frontier that embraces economic reciprocity, mutuality and empowerment, Watson says that Saint Paul’s remains in touch with its founding tenets for helping people in need.
“We as churches and charitable institutions should always be on the side of generosity,” he says. “I don’t think you are serving God by being austere.”
Tracey G. Wiley
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe hosted his first African American Business Summit at Virginia Union University last year in late August. The capacity-filled program included representatives from several state agencies who shared strategies for growth with small and minority business owners.
Among those providing advice was Tracey G. Wiley, whom McAuliffe appointed as director of Virginia’s Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD) in 2014. SBSD provides business certifications, development, outreach and funding through its small business finance authority to small, women and minority-owned businesses.
Wiley (formerly known as Tracey G. Jeter) was a familiar face to many of the African American business owners at the summit. Following her presentation, she received rock-star treatment, with many attendees surrounding her to swap business cards or simply give her a hug.
The affection shown by attendees for Wiley was developed long before her current role. From 2004 to 2013, Wiley was president of the former Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council, an affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council. The organization promotes business opportunities for certified Asian, African American, Hispanic and Native American business enterprises.
In 2013 Wiley became president of the newly merged Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council (CRMSDC), formerly the Maryland and District of Columbia Minority Supplier Development Council. She moved to Northern Virginia for 16 months before returning to Richmond to lead the newly formed agency of the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity. The agency, which operates under the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, previously was the Department of Minority Business Enterprise and Department of Business Assistance.
Since becoming SBSD’s director, Wiley has led the agency’s reorganization and worked toward the governor’s initiative to advance procurement opportunities and the utilization of Small, Women and Minority (SWaM) Owned Businesses in the Commonwealth. Wiley says that a new micro business designation enabled the SBSD to certify more than 5,300 companies and award over $357 million in contracts in the 2016 fiscal year.
Wiley, who appears to handle the job with her customary ease and finesse, admits that it has been more than she anticipated.
“Politics is more a part of it and that’s new to me,” she says. “There are a lot more regulations, layers of policies, sign offs from authorities, checks and balances.”
In her role with the supplier development councils, she often worked directly with the affiliates’ 400 to 800 minority businesses. Much of the work was event-driven and involved sourcing.
“We don’t do that same sort of sourcing here,” she says. “We’re still working on the tools to do that. There are a lot more privacy issues involved here. Those (diversity supplier) companies were members. Here, there are those who don’t want to be solicited.
“With the state there are 14,000 to 20,000 companies,” Wiley continues. “SWaM alone has 14,000 companies. I do know a lot of those companies, but here it’s harder for me to know them all.”
Yet, Jeter, a marketing and public relations specialist who previously worked in media relations for Virginia State University, leans on her creative spirit whenever possible. Although much of her time has been spent building a new leadership and administrative team at the agency, Wiley says her main goal is to provide greater access to small businesses’ owners.
She explains how the SBSD is responsible for establishing and preserving a customer base of certified businesses owned by service-disabled veterans, women and minorities. Small businesses with 250 employees and $10 million annually in revenue are included, along with micro businesses with less than 25 employees that average about $3 million in annual revenue.
Although there are “no set-asides for women and minorities, certification allows them
greater access to the bidding process for some 119 state agencies,” says Wiley. “All of the agencies must submit a plan as to how they’re going to forecast to use SWAM and small-businesses,” says Wiley.
In addition to conducting SWaM training sessions, Wiley periodically meets with SBSD certified business owners to discuss the bidding and negotiations process or to measure a region’s economic pulse.
“There is so much that I have learned about registering in EVA (Virginia’s electronic procurement portal), outreach, webinars, procurement workshops,” she says. However, because many of SBSD’s stakeholders consider the agency as their advocate, Wiley embraces her steep learning curve.
Pausing, she paraphrases a quote by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
Throughout the challenges, Wiley remains proud to have helped people “who don’t always have a voice or get face time in a meeting.”
Rita Ricks is a Richmond business owner and a facilitator for Interise, a program SBSD recently developed to help Virginia’s established small businesses grow. For several years she has observed Wiley’s passion for developing and encouraging entrepreneurs to “work on their business” rather than simply run them.
“Her commitment to bringing new programs and opportunities to small business owners is unending,” says Ricks. “She recognizes that small businesses grow families and communities and that is her motivation.”
Wiley’s own words reflect Ricks’ comments.
“For small, women and minority-owned businesses, they sometimes get so focused that they can’t see the periphery,” she says. “So much of what I share and teach aligns with my thinking that we’re only as good as the last thing we did. It’s about rising out of controversy to the degree where people think we can’t, but we do.”