CHESTERTOWN — Ellsworth Tolliver is using his position as an elected official to condemn what he described as “the hatred that has been perpetuated by the white supremacists’, the white nationalists’ agenda, the gun violence agenda, based clearly on ideology.”
About two years into a four-year term as a councilman, Tolliver, whose Third Ward has the largest number of African American residents in Chestertown, announced at the Aug. 5 town meeting that he was a member of an “empowerment council” that had been formed recently to identify and address the needs of the black community and people of color.
The aim is to “provide leadership, strategize and establish a manifesto that outlines our needs and to provide a voice for those who feel they have none,” said Tolliver, who read from a letter to the editor of the Kent County News that he had emailed to the newspaper prior to the meeting. The letter ran in its entirety in the newspaper’s Aug. 8 issue.
In a follow-up telephone interview Aug. 6, Tolliver said the genesis of the empowerment council was, in part, “something that came out of my frustration of there being no real voice” for the black community.
Tolliver said he is one of only a handful of elected black officials in Kent County. Someone has to say, ‘Here we are. Don’t forget about us,’” he said.
He acknowledged there are other organizations that advocate for the black community as part of a more universal platform calling for social justice for everyone.
The intent of the newly formed empowerment council is “to unify the black community,” said Tolliver, who is the pastor of Boardly Chapel A.M.E. Church in Pondtown.
“Nobody knows our problems better than we do, nobody knows how to solve our problems better than we do. ... We know what’s wrong and we know how to fix it,” he said.
When asked to identify specific concerns, Tolliver declined, saying the organization was “still in its infancy.” The next steps are to put together a platform and craft a statement that identifies the black community.
“No one has ever really asked the people what they want,” he said. “We want to be able to say, ‘This is who we are, this is what we want and this is how we want to go about it.’”
Also on the to-do list is to schedule a second meeting. The hope is to meet once a month.
The first gathering was July 20 for about two hours at Bethel A.M.E. Church, which is in the Third Ward. Tolliver said about 30 people attended, by invitation. He declined to name any of the attendees, but offered that it was a diverse group in regards to age, income and political affiliation, and they came from all geographic areas of Kent County.
He identified all the attendees as black.
Tolliver has taken on the role as the point of contact for the group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the follow-up interview, Tolliver said he had planned to read his letter to the editor at the Aug. 5 meeting, but then had second thoughts after the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over that Aug. 3-4 weekend.
The “tipping point,” he said, was when at the Aug. 5 council meeting “no one said anything about condemning the shootings.”
At the Aug. 5 meeting, during ward reports that are given at the end of the meeting, Councilman David Foster said to Tolliver, “I appreciate your manifesto, or testimony. I think it’s timely and I hope it does get coverage.“
Tolliver was unchallenged in the 2017 election. At the time, he said he decided to throw his hat into the ring for the Third Ward seat only after incumbent Sam Shoge said he would not run again.
Tolliver said then that he believed it was important to have an African American presence on the council.
He lives in the home in Washington Park where he was raised by his grandparents, the Rev. Fred Jones and Hattie Jones.
Community involvement is part of the family legacy, he said in an October 2017 interview.
“Politics, social action. There was always the expectation to be involved,” said Tolliver, who followed his grandfather into the ministry.
In the pre-election interview, he said his platform centered around bringing back the sense of community for the people and businesses of the Third Ward.
He promised to meet regularly with his constituents.
At last week’s council meeting, Tolliver said he had heard from residents of Lynchburg and Prospect streets who were concerned about suspected drug dealing in their neighborhoods. It’s summertime and the residents aren’t able to sit on their porches due to what was described as illegal activity.
Tolliver asked Chief Adrian Baker for more police presence in that area, especially foot patrols. He also asked that police take a closer look at some of the abandoned properties that appear to be being used as stash houses for drugs.
“The biggest problem is perpetrated by those who don’t live in the neighborhood,” Tolliver said, echoing a sentiment that others had expressed over the years.
Tolliver also said he had invited the newly hired Kent County High School principal, Dale Brown, to attend a future council meeting as a way to introduce himself to the community and talk about his plans for KCHS.
“He’s an awesome person and we’re looking forward to the great things that he intends to do in moving public education forward in Kent County,” said Tolliver, who is a KCHS graduate and who already has met Brown.