Last week, TRS had the opportunity to follow the Lieutenant Governor as she toured the Richmond Slave Trail, which included not only the site of the notorious Lumpkins Slave Jail but also the site where Gabriel Prosser was executed and presumably buried in 1800.
During the tour, one could not be helped but to hear two narratives.
The first emphasizing the truth of what happened in Richmond during the slave trade, particularly as chattel slavery became Virginia’s primary export during the mid-19th century.
The second was the nature of the word “enslavement” and what it entailed — with the tour guides expressing its indignity while the lieutenant governor, counterpointing every systemic injustice with the phrase “but God!” as if to underscore how systems may dehumanize, but God remains faithful — and not a small point to underscore as she reminded others how African slaves did not struggle merely against an abstraction such as “injustice” but rather rooted their resistance in another word — HOPE.
These two contrasting values — the unvarnished truth of systemic violence vs. the enduring love of God which surpasses all things — reminded me of the following line from evangelical pastor Warren Wiersbe:
Truth without love is brutality; love without truth is hypocrisy.
— Warren W. Wiersbe, On Being a Leader for God (2011)
Winsome Earle-Sears brought a narrative rooted in the role of hope in human liberation, whether it was in her own tradition from Jamaica to the hopelessness that seems to infect so much of our political discourse today. TRS was able to sit down with the Lieutenant Governor in order to explore her thoughts on this topic and many others:
TRS: We just toured Lumpkin’s Slave Jail site. Clearly this is a place with a lot of hurt and anguish, but a little bit of courage and heroism. Where do you think that resilience — that hope — comes from given the experiences of the past?
WS: People look at me and think that I have courage, but I don’t. I have no special store of courage more than the next guy, but I have counted the cost and what I say and do comes with consequences.
There are times when people believe that I am not willing to take that stand, but God comes along and tells me to pick up my cross. Many people attribute that to me being a Marine, but it is really not: it is attributable to my Christian Faith.
TRS: It is rare to see a public figure so open about that. For you, how do you see the role of courage in public life?
WS: The question is “Are you willing to lose?” because if you are willing to lose then you can do anything. The 56 signers to the Declaration of Independence were ready to lose. Benjamin Franklin reminds us that if we aren’t willing to hang together then we shall surely hang separately.
They weren’t perfect, they didn’t do perfect things, but they left us a document that helped us do different things today. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed to the Declaration, and it was there. It was almost Biblical when you could say that when the time had come full, and because the Founders had violated that basic fundamental principle — which they acknowledged — their children and grandchildren would die in a fight to preserve that liberty which they spoke of in the Declaration, because they asked God to help them win their independence.
Teddy Roosevelt said that to educate a man without morals is to educate a man who will be a menace to society, and we have to tell the truth, but without hope? You tell us about the past, but you don’t say we will rise from that? We will overcome our human failings? Our children will? Our grandchildren will?
So where are the leaders of all colors and stripes to say America must continue? We must acknowledge the wickedness that was done to black people, but at the same time acknowledge as MLK Jr. during his speech to Barat High School in Philadelphia, that doors are opening to you that were never opened to your parents.
I put it to you that those doors have opened, they opened when my dad came to America in 1963 when there were real dog whistles and real fire hoses. Those doors have opened. That’s why on my challenge coin on the reverse the doors have opened. When are we going to acknowledge that?
Have we gotten rid of wickedness? No — and that’s what it is. Slavery was wicked, but so were our other sins. It really all sin, that’s what it is, and we are still committing sins. Slavery was one of them, segregation was one of them, but look at the sins of today. We don’t tolerate each other. We take the bread out of one child’s mouth and give it to another, and it doesn’t work — we’ve tried that. The whole shebang is a sin, we are never going to get rid of sin.
TRS: Using words such as sin and faith, there are a number of your opponents who take issue with the way you wear your Christian faith on your sleeve. Does that bother you at all?
WS: I don’t care if people call me too religious. I may not be what I’m supposed to be, but I ain’t what I used to be. <laughter>
They say I’m a white supremacist. Really? The KKK are rolling in their graves because here I am! Second in command in the former capital of the Confederacy! Having been elected under the same Declaration of Independence and the same Constitution. Even worse, I’m an immigrant!
I’m not being pollyannish about this world. But we have to tell our children that they can and must rise above it, that we are not raising failures, but success stories. But their ancestors would say that they did not suffer, so that you could be saying at this time and in this century that you could not dream and achieve.
TRS: That goes back to a recurring theme today on hope, doesn’t it?
WS: If you say that the socioeconomic conditions that surround us prevent us from achieving, we had the worst economic conditions during slavery and yet those people wanted a good education. It doesn’t get any worse than slavery when talking about socioeconomic conditions. So we have to say that we are dreamers and that we will overcome. We must. And if we allow people — read that, politicians — to keep us at one another’s throats, we must avoid that at all cost. We must teach history, but we are going to continue and thrive despite the abuses we have suffered. That’s it. Who’s saying that we are not acknowledging what is true.
I’ve heard some people say I am a one-off, that black and brown children cannot be like me. While I’m trying to bring hope, they are doing what? Telling our children what they can’t be while I’m saying that they can.
So who are the politicians at fault? The ones who say “you can’t” or the ones who say “Yes we can!” or “Si se puede!” <laughter> And for those who say that Winsome is trying to get everyone to be a Republican, there’s a French word for that, which I better not say!
TRS: Sort of goes back to this social determinism and pessimism in the world against a more hopeful vision rooted in a sense of human dignity. Do you think that determinism which says there is no hope is the problem here?
WS: No – I simply want people to let each other be. If you want to be a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, I say let us be and don’t put people into boxes. Because if we do that, then we can’t speak freely to one another.
There are some people who say I’m the racist. How can that be when I am telling black women to keep their babies? You will have to check my stats on this, I think black women are 10% of the population and have 40% of the abortions in Virginia? But I’m the racist for helping black mothers to keep their babies. It’s a strange world that we live in, a confused world.
TRS: One of your friends who joined us on the tours said that coming from Jamaica, I can’t relate to any of this. Do you agree?
WS: You know, it is interesting to note that the Christmas Insurrection in the 1830s where the leaders, who read the Gospel, picked up and read that no white man could enslave me, and for six months they burned the country until England said that they would end slavery. But because of that insurrection, Britain outlawed slavery in their entire empire. Jamaica did that!
So for that, there is a different perspective. I remember reading where someone said never to hire Jamaican porters, because Jamaica will never pull for another man. Of course, his idea was that we would go back to Africa and become the kings and queens. And of course, we have issues. Sin is sin – it is everywhere. But I know I can be what I can’t be, and why? Because the lawyers are black and judges are black, the generals are black and the PhDs are black.
You know Malcolm Gladwell’s mother is from Jamaica? Even the early oughts were bad in Jamaica, and still Jamaicans wanted to come to America. So there is something about America that is that shining city on a hill. Some of this belongs in the very beginning because there is a theme about America, but Jamaica is no different than any other country, but it is interesting that when MLK Jr. came to Jamaica in 1965 where he felt like a person there (in America), where he felt it was a sanctuary there (in Jamaica), and it was my job in school to dust his photo that was hanging on the wall because every home in Jamaica had a photo of MLK.
TRS: Sounds like you have some very fond memories of Jamaica!
WS: Once upon a time, the Jamaican pound was stronger than the American dollar. Then we elected a socialist leader – another AOC? – and they did what socialists do. I knew what IMF meant at 11 years old and the interest rates, and that by continually going to the IMF that we would never be prosperous. So the rich fled, mostly to America.
But here’s my question: why are they all fleeing to America? I thought America was a racist country? Why are all these people coming across the border to a racist country? If they really believed what they believed, they would be telling people stop! Why do you want to come here?!
But for me, it is all about hope. Our children aren’t even having their babies. We will teach our history, we will give them hope, they will continue the American experiment and they will leave the country better than how they found it. That’s always the hope.
TRS: I wanted to ask you about the school choice bill during this year’s General Assembly session. When it was announced, it appeared to have some excellent traction based on others states such as Florida passing similar legislation. What went wrong in Virginia?
WS: You know, we knew that we would be fighting Democrats to give our children a choice in their education. We didn’t think we would have to be fighting our Republican family. That we were not prepared for, because we had agreed that’s what we would be fighting for. During the elections, that’s what we said we would be fighting for.
But we are coming back, and we haven’t given up. We are not going to accept defeat, because if we accept defeat that means we are accepting failing schools.
I am absolutely unwilling to accept that proposition. On that, I am unwilling to lose. I wasn’t elected to warm a seat, I was elected to empower parents, to help make Virginia attractive for those who would bring jobs here, to keep our communities save, and to call a thing wrong if it is not right.
TRS: I have a question on Critical Race Theory and DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) initiatives. We still seem to be in the grip of this stuff after Governor Youngkin campaigned so hard against it. Is it really all up to the General Assembly, or is there more that can be done at an executive level?
WS: I think that we have done on the executive level, including the Attorney General, what we can just because of the makeup of our constitution.
The governor signed an executive order, and it was challenged in a court and the judge said that the localities who want it can have it and the ones who reject it can rejected it.
Our attorney general is looking into things that we can do, but the local school boards have their own authority, so it is really up to the parents of Virginia to change what needs to be changed.
This is a government elected by the people and working for the people, this is not something that the elected officials are going to get done on their own.
TRS: So these local school board elections and swapping out bad administrators with good administrators is the entire ball game?
WS: If people are really concerned about this, then they need to offer themselves up for public office and help change things for the better. We are a nation of laws and we have to stand by the laws we have, and we should be mindful of the laws because if we change them to a certain degree, when a different political ideology comes into power they will change it right back. We need reason after all.
TRS: So parents really need to double down and get involved, it seems. On that note, and seeing things where you are in Richmond, how important do you think it is to right the ship when it comes to public education?
WS: The question finally is: “Are our children learning?” Some of them are, but they are in schools where you can say parents have made a choice because they can afford to live in those communities where the school is doing very well.
But it’s not just a matter of throwing money at it, but rather having high standards in education, that we will not dumb down our children because the real final analysis is that we are not on this planet by ourselves.
We have China, Russia, and all those other places whose goal is world dominance. Meanwhile, we are trying to figure out what is a woman? They’re laughing at us, and the communist countries don’t care if you are are white, black, Asian or Latino – they are fighting for world dominance while we are fighting some semblance of a civil war. So we have to get a grip on reality here pretty quickly.
TRS: Your interview with Bill Mahr was a really unique chance to see a conservative find areas of common cause with liberals. Outside looking in, it seemed like a pretty powerful moment.
WS: All I know is this. If we keep at it the way we are where we have politicians who keep telling us they are our saviors, and if they keep pitting us against one another, it does not end well. For me, it comes back to sin.
TRS: Earlier, you had mentioned this photo that you had seen with a man’s father and son both looking at him in the casket and what you took from that. Could you explain?
WS: I was looking at this photo where a father is in a casket while the grandfather is holding the grandson while they both look in the casket. That’s three generations, but here’s the kicker. The father was gunned down by gangs, was also a gang member, the grandfather had gone to jail, and the grandson at 14 years old was charged with murder.
I want to know, what do we do there? Who is talking about that? Grandma is 36, daughter is 16, and the grandchild is just born. That’s another generation. Who is talking about that?
We’ve got issues and they aren’t just Republican and Democrat. It doesn’t boil down that simply to say that all Republicans and all Democrats are bad. The fathers aren’t home, and yet we will say that all these socioeconomic problems that MLK talked about, he did say work hard, stay at home, study, stay in school. So if you say that Winsome is a one-off, I don’t think you’re on the side of Martin. When you say I’m pie in the sky, you’re not on the side of Martin.
TRS: If there’s a will, there’s a way?
WS: If there are no doors? Break them down. Well, wait. <pause> If there are doors locked in our face? Break ‘em down…
Look — I belong in every room I go into. I had someone ask me where do I get that? I have to remind them that to give up is defeat.
TRS: Can I ask about Trump?
WS: What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said?
I’m just thinking about Melania and their son and what is she thinking when she is hearing all of this. Then we have another woman who has come forward. I think I am looking at this from the perspective of family, not politics, and I think we forget that there are real people.
I know Trump can handle this, but what about his family? That takes it to a different level. I’m just looking at it from Melania’s point of view.
Maybe I shouldn’t, but here I am, and maybe that’s the difference between my Democratic opponents and me. They’re trying to destroy me, but I mean the truth will out itself and you know…
TRS: You’ve mentioned your own personal security a couple of times. Are you at all concerned?
WS: There are several delegates and senators questioning whether or not they should take their license plates in the event they are targeted. Security is an issue. One hates to think that the Virginia Democrats are waiting for something to happen. I hope not.
For instance, I was in the women’s bathroom in an airport where a random person had approached me and asked me if I was Winsome Sears. I said yes, but I had to ask her how she knew me? “From the back of your hair!”
I mean, I’ve asked for security, but the Democrats have not given it to me, so let it be out there. I’ve asked for more staff, and we are inundated, but I only have three staff for the 8.5 million people in Virginia. I guess the Democrats are holding it against me that when Tim Kaine was lieutenant governor 22 years ago, I did vote to cut his staff, but let’s remember what we were facing at that time. We were in a budget deficit. A lot of things were cut. So they are being totally disingenuous.
TRS: So the Senate Democrats are freezing both staff and security in order to prove a point? That seems awfully petty on their part.
WS: They talk about forgiveness, and though there’s nothing to be forgiven; the residents of Virginia are asking me for help and I am trying to help them.
We are funded at the same level as 2003, and we are the only office that has been at that rate over the last 20 years. We have to pay office supplies, our copy paper, our rent. Does nobody think about that?
I guess if I were a lieutenant governor who did nothing, I might be okay with that, but I’m not. This isn’t expanding government, this is doing what I was elected to do. Delegates and Senators don’t pay for their offices or supplies. They get two staff members; the lieutenant governor gets three.
The Democrats seem to believe that if they can keep me looking ineffective, then they win. That’s a terrible game to play when Virginians are asking for help.