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Moments after his old friend Joe Biden gave his inaugural address in January 2021, Wilmington pastor Silvester Beaman strode to the same podium on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to bless the new presidential administration.
Two weeks earlier violent insurrectionists had swarmed over that same site, trying in vain to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory over outgoing President Trump. But there Beaman stood, giving the benediction and declaring that America would again “become a beacon of life and good will to the world.”
Now, nearly three years later, Biden has tapped his fellow Delawarean to play a key role in doing just that. The president named him chair of the new President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States.
The White House announcement last week said that Beaman, now a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, would head the 12-person panel tasked with “enhancing dialogue’’ between U.S. officials and the African diaspora.
While Biden did not comment directly, the announcement said Beaman’s “extensive experience and deep roots in Africa will enable him to lead the Council to achieve its full potential.”
Reached by phone in South Africa, where he is currently stationed, Beaman told WHYY News he is blessed to have what amounts to his second presidential appointment.
“I’m humbled and I’m honored and I’m ready and willing to serve,’’ Beaman said.
The White House announcement said the council was created to “provide invaluable guidance to reinforce cultural, social, political, and economic ties between the U.S. and Africa, and promote trade, investment, and educational exchanges.”
The announcement declared that the “rich and diverse community of African Americans and African immigrants is foundational to our 21st century partnership with Africa. This community, which includes descendants of enslaved Black Americans, has long advocated for the prosperity of the African continent and its people, and strengthened the unique relationship between the United States and Africa.”
In a statement about the council, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said he would “rely on their advice and counsel on how we can strengthen” ties.
Beaman spent 28 years as pastor of Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, where his family still has a home in the nearby suburbs. He became a bishop in 2021, when he was named presiding prelate of the Fifteenth Episcopal District serving in South Africa, Namibia, and Angola, where he said he is involved in roughly 250 congregations,
“I’m providing them spiritual leadership and guidance,’’ Beaman said.
Beaman said he was invited to last December’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., but could not attend because of other obligations.
He later learned that Biden was creating the council. And this May, the White House called Beaman to ask him to be a member. He agreed.
“Then they said, ‘Would you be willing to serve as the chair?’ And I said I have to get back to you on that because my job as a bishop in Africa is extensive.”
Serving as chair “means a whole lot of added responsibilities,” he said, but after deliberating and speaking with his wife and grown children, “I decided if the president had that kind of confidence in me that I would serve, and God would help me to prioritize my life and compartmentalize my life so that I could do a good job for his administration.”
Beaman said he will soon have further conversations with administration officials “to help me to discern what the expectations are and what are the deliverables” and then get “elbow deep” into the work.
“What’s important here is that African Americans and Africans in America and Africans who are descendants of slaves globally need to have a voice,’’ Beaman said.
“There’s all kinds of exciting things happening, so let’s create dialogue between people who are engaged and have a reason to be concerned about what’s happening in Africa and what’s happening in America and how those two worlds kind of come together.”
Beaman assumes his new role for Biden as the president runs for a second term. Should Biden be re-elected, would Beaman want to deliver his second inaugural benediction?
Saturdays just got more interesting.