Podcast - Ep 56: A view from the pulpit

Rev. Jeffrey Johnson (left) has led Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfax, Va., since 2004. Dr. Vernon Walton has led First Baptist Church in Vienna, Va., since 2014.
A view from the pulpit

Rev. Jeffery Johnson, pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfax, Virginia, and Dr. Vernon Walton, pastor at First Baptist Church in Vienna, Virginia, guide us through some of the history and aspirations of the Black community using the lens of Black and African American History Month. The pastors, both of whom have George Mason University students and alumni in their congregations, also examine with Mason President Gregory Washington the unique, but intertwined, roles the university and churches can play to confront issues such as affordable housing, food insecurity and equitable healthcare.

  I believe wholeheartedly in scripture, where it says to whom much is given much is required. And our responsibility is not just to sit on our stools of do-nothingness and enjoy our own success, because, if that is the case, then we are guilty as well of just relishing in our own privilege. But our responsibility is to reach out to those who are marginalized, to reach out to those who have not had the benefit of the same level of access, for whatever the reasons are. And to help lift the tide.” ~ Dr. Vernon Walton, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Vienna, Virginia

Read the Transcript | A View from the Pulpit

Narrator (00:04):

Trailblazers in research, innovators in technology, and those who simply have a good story. All make up the fabric that is George Mason University, where taking on the grand challenges that face our students, graduates, and higher education is our mission and our passion. Hosted by Mason President Gregory Washington, this is the Access to Excellence podcast.

Gregory Washington (00:27):

Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfax, Virginia was established on May 15th, 1870 by former slaves who settled around the area of the Fairfax Courthouse after the Civil War. It is the first and only Black-founded church in the city. It is located less than a half mile from the George Mason University campus. The First Baptist Church of Vienna, Virginia was established in 1867 and was also organized by former slaves. It is the first and oldest church of any kind in Vienna. It's located six miles away from the campus. I am honored to have the leaders of those congregations here with me today. They serve our students, our faculty, our staff, and they serve them incredibly well. And so on this early stage of Black History Month, I just felt fantastic that they were able to engage with us and speak with us today. Reverend Jeffery Johnson has led Mount Calvary since 2004. Dr. Vernon Walton has led First Baptist of Vienna since 2014. Both have put their stamps on their communities and have relationships with Mason that go beyond their church's proximity to our campus. Rev. Johnson. Dr. Walton, it is good to see both of you and welcome to the show.

Vernon Walton (02:01):

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for having us. (Jeffery Johnson) Yes, indeed.

Gregory Washington (02:05):

Well, Rev. Johnson, I know your son Jeffery has a degree from George Mason University in graphic design, so I hope that it served him well. And Dr. Walton, you have had the Mason Chorale sing at your church and have Mason graduates on your staff. So both of you, how does the legacy of your churches, both of which are founded by former slaves, inform your work and the mission of your churches?

Jeffery Johnson (02:36):

Let me defer to Dr. Walton.

Vernon Walton (02:38):

Well, thank you. Thank you brother, brother Pastor again. Dr. Washington, thank you for having us. I'm honored to be here, talk about our work and our mission and our legacy, and certainly the celebration of Black and African American History Month. We really recognize that as a church, we stand on the shoulders of those who've gone before us. We celebrate really the strength and the capacity of those, those slaves who literally built out churches from the ground. And when I say built our churches from the ground, I'm not just specifically talking about the brick and mortar, but I'm talking about those who really worked and labored hard to build a community, to build a sense of belonging. And we recognize their intent. Years ago, 156 years ago, specifically for First Baptist, their intent in building a congregation was to inform people about their faith as well as to educate our children and community in a academic manner. And so we recognize those shoulders that we stand on and we continue that work and that mission today

Jeffery Johnson (03:42):

Yes. As well, the Mount Calvary Baptist Church, being that it was established May of 1870 by individuals, just like with First Baptist Vienna, we are known as the historical church with the biblical mandate. That biblical mandate comes from Ephesians chapter four, verse 12, that we are about the perfecting of the saints, the work of ministry, and the edifying, which is an old word that means to build up of the body of Christ. We're proud to be in this community with George Mason University. Not only has Jeffery Junior graduated with honors from this school, he went on, uh, Dr. Washington to enroll in the Howard University Law School and is now a civil rights attorney, and he's currently working for the Veterans Administration.

Gregory Washington (04:35):

Okay. That's all right. How well do your congregations know each other? Like is there a rivalry? Is there any type of, you know, you're not that far apart and I know how churches go. What is the engagement like between the two congregations?

Vernon Walton (04:52):

Well, I wouldn't call it rivalry President Washington, but I, I would say that if you go into most of the black churches within Fairfax County, there is certainly an interconnectedness between the congregations. There are relatives throughout each of these congregations. The pastors enjoy great relationships and fellowship, and whenever possible, we attempt to collaborate together to work for the betterment of people.

Jeffery Johnson (05:18):

Yes. And many years ago, I was one of the youngest assistant pastors in Northern Virginia at the Peace Baptist Church and Peace Baptist, Mount Calvary and other congregations like Mount Olive for Centerville, had very close relationships. As a 22-year-old Baptist preacher, I used to cruise throughout Northern Virginia in a 1965 Dodge Dart convertible. And I used to worship at the old, uh, sanctuary, not only of Mount Calvary, but of First Baptist Vienna. And we are very proud of the work that Dr. Walton is doing in the city of Vienna. We are trying to do the same type of work in the city of Fairfax.

Vernon Walton (06:07):

I'll just also add President Washington, that one of the founding pastors of First Baptist is also listed as a founding pastor of at least three or four other congregations in Fairfax County. So the river runs deep.

Gregory Washington (06:23):

Outstanding. Outstanding. So, uh, Reverend Johnson, Mount Calvary, when it was founded, was known as the Colored Baptist Church. And prior to its founding, slaves attended churches of their masters. In addition, both of your communities, both Fairfax and Vienna, were segregated at one time. And I believe the last black enclave in Fairfax City on School Street really actually sat right next to Mason. And so what effect did the, the dissolution and the, the breakup of the strictly black communities have on the churches themselves. Did that impact you all significantly?

Jeffery Johnson (07:04):

It definitely affected us at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church, still driving that classic automobile throughout Northern Virginia. I used to come to School Street and I actually saw visually young black children and sometimes with their parents walking to the Mount Calvary Baptist Church. You could actually drive up and down School Street, and there was a series of houses, not all, but there was a series of houses that you could just park in front of the house or in the, the residential yard of that homeowner. And the front door was never locked. You could just walk right in. And there was a very gentle, yet powerful Christian woman by the name of Mabel Colbert, and she had quite a few children and grandchildren, and it was her personal ministry to make sure that they were involved in the various ministries and activities of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church.

Gregory Washington (08:03):

So Dr. Walton, I don't know if you've heard this quote from the actor Morgan Freeman, who recently on, uh, no, not too recently, but not too long ago, on 60 Minutes in which he says Black History Month keeps racism alive. And in that interview he says, you're going to relegate my history to a month. Black history is American history. I definitely agree with the last part of that statement. How do you, how do you react to that?

Vernon Walton (08:28):

Before I react to that, can I just go back to your last question? Just for a minute, because First Baptist, like Mount Calvary has experienced some of the same thing, but I think it's also safe to say that wherever there is a African American church in Fairfax County, you could make the assumption that there was an African American community. Clearly, as you peruse through the county today, things have changed. My question is perhaps why the disruption of these communities and what led to the disruption of these communities? You know, in some places today, we call it gentrification. But very similarly, First Baptist was very much a community church, was very much a rural community church and enjoyed its membership living and occupying space in that community. Whereas at one time, there was 80% Vienna, 20% commuting.

Vernon Walton (09:23):

We are probably just the opposite today. 80% commuting and 20% in the community within miles from the local church. And I think that's significant for us to mention because where the church existed, there was a Black community, there was Black home ownership, and there was Black economics. And so there's been a real disruption in that system. (Gregory Washington) So were there Black businesses in those communities and the like? (Vernon Walton) Absolutely. Absolutely. There were, there were plenty of Black businesses. Many, um, as I said, were farmers, and they sold their goods and their products, and they, the communities itself enjoyed a plethora of African American entrepreneurship. And today we are very hard pressed to experience the same thing. So to your point, you make about Morgan Freeman and his quote, I would agree with the latter part as well. I have not seen the exact interview, but I have heard conversation about Brother Freeman's comments. But I would just add that African American history is American history, and you cannot talk about American history without talking about the contributions that Black people have made to our nation, to our country, to our world. I personally am not sure that Black History Month keeps racism alive as much as those who seek to eliminate the contributions of Blacks and those who attempt to rewrite our history. And of course, I'm sure there's spirited conversation on this campus about those who even attempt to ban books that share our story.

Jeffery Johnson (10:57):

And Dr. Washington as well look at the fact that when you speak of, like, I, I believe one preacher spoke of 11 o'clock on Sunday morning as being the most segregated hour in America. That is one sided. We, and I'm sure Dr. Walton would agree with this, we have never rejected Whites from our membership, nor have we rejected White people from attending our services. It's only been on the other side of that scenario. Even right now, I'm part of a group called the Racial Unity Group, and we have a wonderful time fellowshipping together. And this thing based upon Morgan Freeman, uh, let me bring to your attention, he was one of the key actors in the movie called Glory. (Gregory Washington) Sure was. (Jeffery Johnson) He portrayed a character that they referred to as Sergeant John Rawlins. If you do a Google search on Sergeant John Rawlins, it will speak of the fact that the main character of the movie was real. But this was a character that was invented for that movie. The truth of the matter is, if you do another Google and you put in the name of Lewis Henry Douglass, who was the oldest son of Frederick Douglass, that sergeant from the 54th Regiment of Boston was actually Louis Henry Douglass. If you read his bio on the computer, it runs parallel with the screenplay of who they called John Rawlins. Why would they leave out such a significant fact?

Gregory Washington (12:33):

Yeah, that's interesting.

Jeffery Johnson (12:34):

But I see as Black History Month as a time that brings much pride and inspiration to the African American community. You may also remember that there was a congressional representative, I cannot think of his first name right now, but it was Congressman King from Iowa, and he actually stated that all of the major contributions to the world from Western civilization came from the White race. And that other people groups were merely observers of their contributions. And he was actually, uh, punished for making that statement. But because of our lack of knowledge of the contributions, not only of African Americans, but Asians and Hispanics and other people groups, we are really very ignorant of the contributions made by other people other than those of European descent.

Gregory Washington (13:30):

I understand that. Well, I can tell you, Black Baptists in particular played an undeniable role in the Civil Rights movement. We don't have to talk about Martin Luther King and, but the church was the rallying point for the community. And in a large sense, still very much is, uh, it provided social communication networks. It provided facilities, leadership and money, all of that. So do these roots still shape the current mission of the Baptist Church, in your opinion?

Vernon Walton (14:03):

Absolutely. We are still very much continuing in that same tradition. We are still very much continuing in the tradition of Dr. King and Vernon Johns and a host of others, even before some of the more famed individuals, we continue to work toward the liberation of not just African American people, but especially African American people, but all people, we are on the front, at the forefront of issues of justice. Churches were a big part of the movement for George Floyd right here in Fairfax County. The church galvanized around the injustice against Timothy Johnson. One of the other issues here in Fairfax County, as we talk about the shifts that have taken place within our communities, Fairfax County has a policy that is entitled One Fairfax, which is an equity policy. An equity plan. The church is at the forefront of making sure that people of color, Black people in particular, are included in this One Fairfax plan, and that it becomes a reality. So the church, from its roots has been very engaged, and the church is still engaged today.

Jeffery Johnson (15:13):

Mount Calvary actually worked with Dr. Walton with the Timothy Johnson case, and we were very proud of his leadership there. We have been very involved with City Hall here in the city of Fairfax with the previous mayor, Mayor Meyer. And we are currently working with Mayor Reed, but Mount Calvary used to have a group that would meet once a month at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church called the Fairfax County Colored Citizens Association. And very briefly, they were trying to bring forth more equity and education, home ownership, voter rights, as well as with economic opportunities.

Gregory Washington (15:57):

Oh, that's fantastic. So if I were to shift gears and say, okay, at that point in time, back in the, the 1960s, right? In the height of the Civil Rights movement, the real emphasis there was getting rid of segregation, getting rid of separate but unequal and getting our folk on a level playing field, right? And Mason was a part of that. There is a lot of that history that, from what I've read, is an integral part of this campus. What would you both say are the issues today? What are the things that are the galvanizing rallying points right now? Where are our efforts best focused?

Vernon Walton (16:36):

Can I just lift as a recent example of the work that the Black church specifically did on behalf of Black people and people of color? COVID-19 people were dying. People of color were dying at disproportionate numbers, and we literally felt as clergy persons that we needed to address this issue. And because we did not have access to shots, we did not have access to vaccines at the same rate as others. And so we really petitioned and worked hard to get equity clinics within the churches. Uh, and there were some who initially told us that this would not happen. That this was not a possibility, but we looked at the numbers, we looked at the data. We saw what a small population that we represented in this particular community, but that we were dying at a much larger and faster rate. And so we did not rest until these clinics were up and running in African American churches.

Vernon Walton (17:36):

And that's important because, and not only did it speak to the needs of African American people, but those in our Hispanic and Latina community took advantage of this because they were not trusting of some of the government sites that were up and running. And they took great delight and great comfort in coming to the churches to get the shot. So that's just one example of how we've used our voice recently and, and what some of the issues. Obviously in Fairfax County, affordable housing is a real issue. Many of our congregants, they have children who they put through college and school, and they do well, they get jobs, but they still cannot afford to purchase homes and raise their families here in Fairfax County. And so they are looking at other opportunities, and that's something that is a very pressing issue today, because we believe in the importance of education and that education should pay off, but they can't afford to live. And in some instances, they are remaining in their parents' home or they're moving away. And that impacts our churches directly when people move because of housing.

Jeffery Johnson (18:46):

Yes. We've had countless numbers of members that upon retirement, they have moved further south, either to North Carolina, Georgia, or Florida, to have much more affordable living. And we can understand that. The problem is, is that those, as Dr. Walton has spoken of, those who have matriculated through school and are making a pretty good salaries are still priced out and taxed out and placed out of the availability of housing. I myself was born in the city of Alexandria. I cannot afford to live in the city of Alexandria, which is the city of my birth. I also cannot afford to live in the city of Fairfax, which is the city where I work. And so I actually have to drive just about 20 or more miles to Mount Calvary. And even when I was at the Antioch Baptist Church, there was no housing of available near the Antioch Baptist Church, which is in Fairfax Station. So there definitely needs to be something. I'm not intimidated and I'm not jealous or envious of estate homes. And in our community, they have what they call luxury town homes. That's wonderful. That's great.

Gregory Washington (19:59):

Yeah, I saw those. They just built, they just built a new set of them right there.

Jeffery Johnson (20:03):

Yes. Yes.

Gregory Washington (20:04):

They went right on 123.

Jeffery Johnson (20:05):

We're talking about they start at around 600,000, and shot up to 900,000.

Vernon Walton (20:11):

They, they must use the same builders in Vienna <laugh>.

Jeffery Johnson (20:14):

But the problem is, there should be somewhere nearby where there's a housing community, which is for the middle class or lower middle class. And, uh, I do see other housing projects that are connected with George Mason, and we look forward to servicing the spiritual needs of those who will be moving into those communities. But it would be nice, we may not be the heart of the city or downtown Fairfax, but there should be somewhere nearby that could accommodate our young professionals.

Gregory Washington (20:45):

Look, I hear you. You all are hit the nail right on the head with the housing piece.

Vernon Walton (20:49):

You know, President Washington, it broke my heart at least a year and a half ago, to learn that there are people just a few miles away from our churches here in Fairfax County, not in Washington DC but in Fairfax County that are living tent communities. And when I share that story with individuals, they automatically make the assumption that these individuals are living in tents by choice. But I've had the privilege to walk the tent community to share with many of these individuals. And if you go to, to these tent communities during the day, they're empty. And not because people are just hanging out on the street, but these individuals are at work, they're working individuals, many of them, but for a number of consequences and decisions and unfortunate realities, they just cannot afford to have a roof over their head without some specific assistance with affordable housing here in Fairfax County.

Jeffery Johnson (21:50):

And to add onto that, the first Tuesday of each month, I actually speak at the chapel service at the Central Union Mission in Washington DC, and there are people who work in Virginia who have to bed down at night at the Central Union Mission. They have transportation, they have a job, but there is nowhere for them currently to live.

Gregory Washington (22:15):

You know, the cost of housing is a significant issue, one which we are trying to address here ourselves. You know, the reality is, is that if you look at where George Mason sits, many of the people we hire, and we pay decent salaries, right? For our faculty and our staff, many of the people we hire can't afford to buy a home in this community. They have to go 15, 20, 30, 45 miles out in order to find something. And that issue is a real issue.

Vernon Walton (22:44):

And that same reality is true for brand new elementary school teachers in the Fairfax County public school systems. You know, if you're just graduating, trying to get into the system, and we've been particularly trying to recruit African American students from our local colleges and HBCUs. But again, the cost of living is cost prohibitive as well as in some instances for those going into our police departments. The first year or two is difficult on the starting salaries.

Gregory Washington (23:13):

Man, I didn't know I was gonna get this today. This is fantastic. Reverend Johnson, I know that you can recite Martin Luther King Jr's speech, I have a dream, by heart. Is that right?

Jeffery Johnson (23:25):

Yes, sir, uh.

Gregory Washington (23:26):

And I heard you do part of that. He outlined some basic tenets in that speech. But how far would both of you say we've come since that speech?

Jeffery Johnson (23:36):

I actually believe we've come a long way. The only thing is, there are some people who see the realities of some of the things that we've spoken about this afternoon, and they would actually be, uh, somewhat pessimistic. And when I run across those people, whether it's in the street or the barbershop or so forth, I say, wow, I gotta tell you the truth. I was born in 1962, and I would prefer that to 1862. There's a lot to be done, but we have also accomplished so much more than is being spoken about today. And there again, it goes back to one of our earlier topics, because there is not an adequate inclusion of African American contributions in our history, uh, in our public schools and even some of our private schools, that that's the reason why there is such a hopelessness today. But when you look at the King speech, I have to admit Dr. Washington, there are relevant issues that as much as I love that speech, I wish that it was irrelevant today.

Gregory Washington (24:43):

Oh, that's deep.

Vernon Walton (24:45):

Yeah, that's a great way to put it, rev, great way to put it. I would agree, President Washington, that we've made some tremendous strides. And let me just stop and say we should not overlook, and we should celebrate the fact that we are sitting here at George Mason with you, a trailblazer. And I think you are an example of some of the strides that we've made as a people, the fact that you are leading this institution as an African American male. We celebrate the ascension of President Barack Obama into the White House, and more recently, the ascension of our Vice President Kamala Harris, and we celebrate the ascension of our first African American female justice. I think those are signs, those are signals that we are heading and moving in the right direction. But we should continue to keep moving. And sometimes we pause to celebrate. And in our pausing to celebrate, we forget that there's still more ground to cover. And so, yes, there are some strides, but unfortunately there are some realities from that speech and likewise from Dr. King's letter, from the Birmingham jail, uh, that are still unrealized parts of his dream, particularly when we talk about the economics of African American people, as we just alluded to talking about the housing crisis. And I believe that it was Dr. King's real focus on economics that ultimately led to his assassination.

Gregory Washington (26:11):

I heard a couple of lines from that final speech that he was putting together. That was an economic empowerment speech If you, if you've ever heard one.

Jeffery Johnson (26:21):

Yes, sir.

Gregory Washington (26:22):

So how do we balance what has happened in the past and our hopes for the future? So, Dr. Walton, you gave a talk in which you spoke of a sermon you heard from Reverend William Augustus Jones of the Brooklyn Bethany Baptist Church, who said, and, and I'm paraphrasing here, our past isn't allowed to become the past because we keep it alive in our minds instead of letting it be bygone. We become stuck in that moment. You can't have the present because you have no clear vision for the future. Is that a personal statement or can you make a connection to what we're basically talking about in some of the struggles for equality and equity that are happening today?

Vernon Walton (27:08):

I think Dr. William Augustus Jones, who has gone on to be with the Lord now, was one of our premier voices in the pulpit, particularly the Black pulpit. But he was a world-renowned preacher and a voice and force to be reckoned with. Those words. Dr. Washington come from a sermon he preached, called The Problem of the Present Past. And in that sermon, he quoted the psalmist David, and he's, I believe it was Psalm 51. And he said, my sin is forever before me. And the point that he makes in this particular sermon is simply that there's some things that have occurred in our lives that we cannot go back and change. That sermon spoke volumes to me when I first heard it in person, when I've read it in print. And, uh, it's one that I will remember to share with you. One of the reasons why it speaks to me, because it's still relevant today in terms of my personal life, in terms of our collective witness.

Vernon Walton (28:03):

And certainly for us as people of color. What do we do? I think it's important for us to confront our past. I think it's important for us to move on from our past. But before moving on, we have to learn. Because if we don't learn anything, then we are bound to repeat the past, right? And we have to make amends for our past. We have to recognize, yes, there's some things that we cannot change. There's some things that we can apologize for, come to grips with, make restitution for, offer apologies for. So what do we do? How does it speak to us today? I think it speaks to us personally. It speaks to us as a county, as we talk about why all of these communities have shifted around these Black churches. And it also speaks to us as a country, how are we going to confront our past and make amends for our past, and then ultimately move on from our past? At the end of the day, we cannot hide. And whatever we don't confront, we are bound to repeat. And unfortunately, there are many people in our nation that don't want to have the real conversation about America and the real conversation about how African Americans were treated in America. And that, of course, goes back to this whole rewriting of history and the banning of books. But we will never be the real people that we can be until we confront some of those issues.

Jeffery Johnson (29:30):

Oh, yes. And Dr. William Augustus Jones, along with preachers like Dr. E.K. Bailey, A. Loui Patterson, and, uh, even, uh, Dr. Smith, I cannot think of his first name for some reason, it just left my mind, but he was from New York City. B.W. Smith. They used to speak in Washington DC where I pastored for 10 years. And Dr. Jones would empower his listeners with taking biblical facts and shaping them around African American experiences. He had one sermon entitled, he, he did a, he flipped the script somewhat, and he said the lion’s in Daniel’s den. So in other words,

Gregory Washington (30:15):

Instead of Daniel in the lion’s den.

Jeffery Johnson (30:17):

Right, right. And he was showing us, we are troubled on every side, yet not distressed. We are perplexed, but not in despair. Persecuted but not forsaken. Cast down, but not destroyed. And when you hear of the horrific things that have happened to our communities, it is a miracle that we are still alive and thriving with a $1.3 trillion budget in the African American community. I think this is another reason why our history is often overlooked, because there is a strong spiritual presence in our journey. And it's not politically correct to share things with spirituality when it comes to something like history. But it is the only reason I think we are still doing well and thriving. You look at Moses and the children of Israel, they had an exodus. We had an emancipation. The exodus means that they left, they came out of, we are still living in the footprint of the Civil War. We are still living near plantations. We are still living near trees where folks were lynched. We are still in Egypt even though we've been emancipated.

Gregory Washington (31:38):

Can we stay there for a second? I wanna unpack that a little bit and ask you all some questions about it. You know, the reality is that the way I see it, the shackles that hold us down today are mental, as much as they are economic, social, and physical. We have a large percentage of our community who are striving and doing extraordinary things, and they are setting the bar. Everybody knew that we would do great things in entertainment and athletics. We've done that throughout our history. But now you're seeing it in business. You're seeing it in science and engineering, you're seeing it in areas in which historically we just haven't had a modern, strong legacy, but we still have a cohort of our people who haven't gotten that memo, so to speak, and thereby are not reaching their potential. How do you speak to that?

Vernon Walton (32:42):

Dr. Washington, I think that's where the hard work is. That is the work of our church. And quite frankly, honestly, that is also the work of institutions like George Mason.

Gregory Washington (32:53):

Oh, I agree with that a hundred percent.

Vernon Walton (32:54):

If we are honest, there are many in Fairfax County that enjoy a great deal of privilege. And those who live here, those who work here, as it has already been suggested, you have to have reached and or, or obtained a certain level of success, and I place success in quotations that you can afford to do this. But to your point, there are others who have not received that memo. And I believe wholeheartedly in scripture where it says, to whom much is given, much is required. And our responsibility is not just to sit on our stools of do nothingness and enjoy our own success. Because if that is the case, then we are guilty as well of just relishing in our own privilege. But our responsibility is to reach out to those who are marginalized, to reach out to those who have not had the benefit of the same level of access for whatever the reasons are, and to help lift the tide. And that's the work of our church that remains, and that's the work of our institution that remains.

Jeffery Johnson (34:03):

I wholeheartedly agree. Sometimes Dr. Washington, other people groups look at the African-American community, and this happened during the time of Dr. King and they’re still doing it today. They're saying, why don't you just get over it? And the thing is, we would've been over it if it wasn't for the malfeasance of government that ended reconstruction, we would've been over it. If it wasn't for Plessy v. Ferguson or the Dred Scott decision, we would have been over it. If it wasn't for Jim Crow and the physical, or the, I guess you could say the character assassinations of Marcus Garvey and Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. We could have been over it if it wasn't for the fact of what happened in not only Tulsa, Oklahoma, but Colfax, Louisiana. And I even read recently about a insurrection that was successful in, uh, Wilmington, North Carolina back in 1898.

Jeffery Johnson (35:05):

We would've been over it if we didn't have people like Congressman King trying to tell the American society that Blacks have not contributed anything of note worthiness to the world or to the country. Because the thing about it, when you look at the reality, a civilization began in Kemet, in Egypt, in Africa. And then the Greeks came and borrowed, very politely, borrowed from what they had gained from Egypt. And then naturally, the Romans borrowed from the Greeks. We don't want to be seen as a Afrocentric superiority. We want to cooperate. There were Black explorers leaving the African continent, which actually at one time, the entire continent was called Ethiopia. And the Atlantic Ocean was referred to as the Ethiopian Sea. And you had African explorers actually coming down to the Americas. And you can see their contributions in architecture and technology.

Jeffery Johnson (36:09):

and even the exchange of the culture and so forth. So we don't want to dominate, we want to participate. And that is something that is missing today. That is something that we still would like to do. There were two elderly white ladies who looked like charming characters on the Andy Griffith Show. And when Barack Obama's second term was coming to an end, they were embarrassed because they were against his election in the first place because they thought that if there was a Black president, he would come and reap retribution against the White community. That has not been the case. Over the many years that we have been in this country, the centuries of our suffering, there are very few opportunities that our race took to have any type of retribution. And I like to tell people during Black History Month and the Martin Luther King services that I speak on, is that the African American community has had an August the 28th, but not a January the 6th.

Gregory Washington (37:19):

Hmm. Yeah. That's deep. That is really, really deep. Man, I don't even know what to say about that. You got me at a loss for words.

Vernon Walton (37:29):

Yeah. You're walking heavy.

Gregory Washington (37:32):

Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Dr. Walton, on the wall in the lobby outside of your office, you have a photo with a quote from Booker T. Washington who was born into slavery, but became the most influential African American speaker of his time and the principal developer of what is now known as Tuskegee University. And that quote says, success waits patiently for anyone who has the determination to seize it. Why that quote?

Vernon Walton (38:01):

Well, Dr. Washington, that particular quote speaks to me, but I think it's also important to note that Booker T. Washington, yes, hangs outside in the lobby of my office, but he doesn't hang there by himself. He hangs there along with a picture of Dr. King from the Birmingham Jail. He hangs there with a picture of the Little Rock Nine. He hangs there with some individuals who are participants of the 1969 March of Selma to Montgomery, and he hangs there with a picture of Rosa Parks. And so, while I love and appreciate the work of Booker T. Washington and support that quote wholeheartedly, and it speaks to me, the real intent of that quote and the others that hang in that lobby is to demonstrate to those who walk in our office and those who leave our office, is to demonstrate that we are not monolithic as a people, and that all voices matter. All voices are impactful, and that we can learn from everyone's experiences.

Gregory Washington (39:12):

Oh, that's fantastic.

Jeffery Johnson (39:13):

And Dr. Walton lives that every week. I was saddened that I was in Tampa, Florida, and could not attend his MLK service where he actually had Dr. Robert E. Lee as one of the speakers for that service. And, uh, we don't have time to talk about all of the great things that this descendant of General Lee has done to speak of a united America rather than a separated America. As well as the fact I was able to meet at First Baptist Vienna, I was able to meet the actual secretary of Dr. King, who actually composed the notes that King wrote in the Birmingham jail. So these are some very rich experiences, and we have an opportunity, as Dr. King would say, that we can either learn to live together as brothers or perish as fools. We are the greatest demonstration of the equity of democracy for a nation throughout the world, and some of the petty differences that are currently in our Congress, which I will not go into, but, uh

Vernon Walton (40:28):

Do we have enough time for that?

Jeffery Johnson (40:30):

Dr. Walton, they say, if you keep electing clowns, you are bound to have a circus. And that is what has been happening. These men are not realizing that not only are they giving a black eye to democracy, they're giving a black eye to Christianity throughout the world, because Jesus told us to love our enemies. Bless them that curse you. Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you. These citizens that this particular party is fighting, they're taxpayers, and whether you agree with their lifestyle or not, they work hard. They contribute to their communities and they pay their taxes. Allow the churches and the synagogues and the mosques to deal with the other issues. But you cannot relegate in legality how people should live. They have to make that decision because even God himself gave everyone a free will. And if we do our job and they do their job, we could have something close to a utopia.

Gregory Washington (41:31):

That's fantastic. So let me back up one second and let's break down where we go from here. You know, one of Mason's pillars is that education is a great equalizer. You know, and that's why we partnered with community college to create smoother pathways to four-year degree. We put in place the Mason Virginia Promise to help you either get a degree or start your own business. All of the small business development centers throughout all of Virginia are led by George Mason, so we can help folks start a business. So we put these foundational bricks in place. But what I want to ask you is, what else can we do? How can we help you deal with some of the problems that are still afflicting our communities?

Vernon Walton (42:21):

Well, Dr. Washington, you are creating here at Mason thought leaders. You are developing practitioners. You are creating the new economist and sociologist. And the work that you do here helps to better inform the work that we do in our local churches. The work that you do here helps us to translate the social norms and the customs. It helps us to make sense out of what is actually happening in our society. So I would dare say that these kinds of partnerships, to continue these kinds of conversations that we're having today. Many of our churches are creating feeding programs. We are creating tutoring programs. We have senior programs that are running on a regular consistent basis, but it's the thought leaders and the practitioners that you are developing here at Mason that help us to challenge the structures that create the need for these feeding programs and tutoring programs.

Vernon Walton (43:22):

And so I want to encourage you and faculty and staff here at Mason to keep developing the thought leaders, but to use our spaces and places as platforms so that the leaders that you are building have actual stages to put their work into practice. Whether they are helping us to translate the dynamics of our society, whether they are helping us to tutor the kids that are in our possession, whatever the case may be. I believe, yes, education helps greatly to equalize, but let's not forget the roadblocks that exist and that are challenging the opportunity to education, that we have, the rollbacks as it relates to affirmative actions, set asides, and, and the need for DEI. So continue to create those thought leaders, those practitioners. We are gonna continue to do our work on the ground, but your work informs what we do, and we have space for your practitioners.

Jeffery Johnson (44:22):

Oh, yes. I, I, I greatly agreed. I saw the humble beginnings of George Mason, and there were some people who said, well, I would go to school, but I have to support my family and work here in Northern Virginia. But then they thought of Mason, and those educational dreams and aspirations became real. It is amazing. I would ask anyone to just take a slow casual drive through this campus. It is a small city of intelligentsia. It is a oasis of academics, and you have produced so many people. Not only did my son Jeffery Jr. attend here, we have other members of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church who either took classes or actually graduated from George Mason. And what I like about George Mason is that out of all the things that Reverend Dr., uh Walton has mentioned, you also have maintained a stream of conversation that is relevant to this community. Sometimes colleges become so academically involved that they no longer have connection with the community. Your connection, Dr. Washington, with the community, is making a great impact. And when this is done, not only will you affect the graduates of George Mason, you will also make a great impact on the city of Fairfax, not only its citizens, but its government and its visitors.

Gregory Washington (45:59):

We got a ways to go, and we want to continue to be the institution that the community needs to be here. Not the one that it tolerates, or the one that it wants to be here, but the, that the community needs. And that means that we're gonna have to continue to provide really great outcomes for the students in and around this community, quite frankly, for the companies and the institutions, churches included, around this community. We're actually here for you also, and there's a whole host of things that we can provide you in addition to, in addition to, parishioners.

Vernon Walton (46:41):

Let, let me, let me just give you a, a shout out, Dr. Washington. I know you may not be intimately aware, but your staff was incredible. Just recently for us, a few months ago, we hosted a African American male summit for high school young men. And we had nearly a hundred young men from as far south as Richmond, from DC and all over Fairfax County. I'm a firm believer that experience and exposure goes a long way, and there's no substitute for both. As a part of that particular day, the young men had a presentation about college acceptance and preparation for college from your staff here at Mason. It for many, opened up the eyes of young men, some of which for the first time was having a conversation with someone about their future potential. And so I want to acknowledge that in this moment.

Gregory Washington (47:38):

No, I love that. I love that. And it's great that we could be a part of that. And it's fantastic that our faculty and staff can be helpful. We don't want to just stop there. We want to do more. It's part of my reason for engaging you brothers, because I wanna make sure the institution is pretty much part of the family here in Northern Virginia. So I want to thank you all for giving me, for giving us, that chance to be that, and for being a, a willing partner going forward in our futures together.

Vernon Walton (48:09):

Thank you for the offer, and we are here to receive it. And we're, and we're together. We're together.

Gregory Washington (48:14):

Outstanding, outstanding. I love it. Well, we're gonna have to leave it there, Reverend Jeffery Johnson, pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfax, Virginia, and Dr. Vernon Walton, pastor at First Baptist Church in Vienna. Thank you both for your time and for a really fantastic conversation.

Vernon Walton (48:39):

Thank you, Dr. Washington.

Gregory Washington (48:41):

I'm Mason, president Gregory Washington saying, until next time, stay safe, Mason Nation.

Narrator (48:49):

If you like what you heard on this podcast, go to podcast.gmu.edu for more of Gregory Washington's conversations with the thought leaders, experts, and educators who take on the grand challenges facing our students, graduates, and higher education. That's podcast.gmu.edu.