We celebrate Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls: Mighty Woman of Faith and Courage
Last August, a group of over 40 people, mostly people of color and mostly LGBTQ persons, gathered in Austin, TX for the first LGBTQ People of Color Archive Network Workshop. It was quite a diverse group of academics, artists, activists, archivists, and other stakeholders representing multiple segments of our communities. It was an incredible experience to share ideas and craft visions for how to preserve the histories and artifacts of LGBTQ persons of color. It was also, for me, an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new friends. We shared stories about one another and encouraged one another and challenged one another and came away filled with awe of and respect for one another. It was an amazing occasion of grace and blessing for all of us.
During that brief time in Austin, I met and made a new friend: the Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls. After the work we came to do was completed, I had the wonderful blessing of spending time over dinner with Bishop Rawls and received a marvelous gift of God’s grace and presence as revealed through this mighty woman of faith. I experienced her to be humble, honest, trustworthy, and passionate about her commitment to empower others to celebrate God’s unconditional love for all persons. I also experienced her exuding what I call “quiet power”, that kind of power that gently and un-waveringly massages the world toward justice when chaos seems to threaten all hope. As we continue recognizing Black LGBTQ History Month 2020, I an excited to share her information and encourage all of us to learn more about her, to follow her work, and to pray for her continued success. The following information is based on biographical information provided by Bishop Rawls for the Archive Network Workshop, but there is so much more to her than what is written herein.
Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls is a national faith leader and social justice activist who has focused most of her work in the Southeastern United States, fighting oppression and discrimination. In 2000, she founded Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte, NC, and in 2008, was consecrated as one of the first women Bishops in the Unity Fellowship Church Movement. In 2014, she founded Sacred Souls United Church of Christ, a diverse congregation of progressive Christians in Charlotte, where she continued to serve as pastor. Her work in the area of faith, social justice, and LGBTQ empowerment has been extensive. She is the co-founder of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice and of the National Trans Religious Cohort. In partnership with the Pacific School of Religion and the National LGBT Task Force, the Cohort provides training and support to trans and gender non-conforming seminary and religious studies students throughout the country.
Bishop Rawls is also the founder and executive director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice (FCSJ) in Charlotte, NC. Founded in 2009, the FCSJ operates programs that support the trans community, people of color, people of low wealth, youth, and sexual minorities. Through her creativity and leadership, the FCSJ created the “Do No Harm Campaign”, which provides a safe space for faith leaders to discuss and process difficult issues such as marriage equality, equal protection for LGBTQ citizens, and other issues that impact faith communities. Her leadership also established the “Yes, You Can Go Campaign” which provides trans-welcoming signage in NC along with educational materials about trans discrimination. She has been an active leader in the NC Moral Monday Movement, established by the Rev. Dr. William Barber to combat injustice and inequality throughout NC. She was also appointed the Inaugural Chair of the NAACP’s Executive Board LGBTQ Committee.
Bishop Rawls is a graduate of Duke University and attended Episcopal Divinity School in Boston. She received a Certificate in Non-Profit Management and as executive Certificate in Non-Profit Leadership, both from Duke University. She is a two-term member of the governing board if the NC Council of Churches and was selected one of Charlotte’s 50 most influential women by Charlotte Woman Magazine. She is the recipient of several honors and awards including the June 2017 inaugural issue of Essence Magazine’s Woke 100 list, which recognized women throughout the nation who are serving as successful change agents in the areas of activism and justice. Celebrate her life and pray for her continued power this 2020 Black History Month!