12 Black Leaders You Should Know: Tory Liferidge | black history

MONCKS CORNER — Jacob Liferidge came into his house one day and told his wife, Edith, that he had been fired from his job.

His supervisor, a white man, had fired Liferidge to make way for a nephew.

Tory Liferidge, the youngest of the children, thinks back to this moment and sees that Moncks Corner, a small town in the Lowcountry, was still steeped in nepotism at that time.

A lot has changed since the early 1980s. The city has grown exponentially and is more diverse. Instances of injustice don’t seem to happen as often.

But while a lot has changed, a lot also remains the same.

Liferidge, pastor of the city’s Grace Reformed Episcopal Church, is expanding his ministry beyond church walls, fighting to bring attention to the same kinds of abuse his father suffered many years ago. years.

While working to revitalize a congregation that had struggled with youth participation and community engagement, Liferidge used her platform to speak out on issues of race while empowering communities.

But his perspective is also shaped by an upbringing in which he had positive encounters with white people. Liferidge played on the Berkeley High School football team, coached by the legendary Jerry Brown, who is white.

Liferidge’s talents and academics earned him a full course at Duke University. One day he needed to be driven to school for a site visit. Brown lent the star footballer his truck to take him to North Carolina. The kindness of the coach demonstrated to Liferidge that there are good people of all races and cultures.

“Here is this white man who invested in me because he saw me,” he said. “It was a pivotal experience that started to change many paradigms. I couldn’t think in a linear way anymore, like White and Black. It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

Liferidge was born in Brooklyn, NY, but grew up primarily in Moncks Corner, a rural town that still houses Berkeley County government offices.

It was shaped by the church. His family attended the city’s Bethlehem Reformed Episcopal Church, where youth programs helped a young Liferidge develop his public speaking skills.

“I attribute this to forming an early foundation of trust,” he said.

Liferidge, who is 6-foot-3, had early athletic interests.

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He first honed his footballing skills in the peewee football league at Moncks Corner. In high school, his skills earned him a spot on the varsity team at Berkeley High, where he helped the school win a state championship in 1994. Liferidge was inducted into the school’s sports hall of fame in 2019.

What he loved most was the camaraderie he shared with his teammates, a mix of white and black students. Yet he observed how local authorities treated white communities differently from black neighborhoods.

White teammates hosted parties on their parents’ properties where underage players drank alcohol. The police were never called.

“It’s funny to think about that and some of the times we got together on the other side of town where there had to be a police presence,” Liferidge said.

Even at Duke, Liferidge could not escape racial prejudice. He recalled one night on the school campus when he walked down the sidewalk to the library. A white woman walking in the opposite direction crossed the street at Liferidge Crossing.

The moment stayed with him. Although his academics qualified him for the prestigious institution, some still only saw him through racist stereotypes.

Nonetheless, he enjoyed his experience at the top university, where he built lasting relationships and also had positive experiences interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds.

Liferidge graduated in 1999 and after a brief stint at home, returned to North Carolina with plans to pursue a master’s degree in commerce. Instead, he found himself grappling with the call to continue the ministry, inspired by his work with young people at a local church in North Carolina.

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He attended Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, graduating in 2007, and later served on the pastoral staff of churches in Baltimore and Harlem.

His experience in Harlem was particularly fruitful, as Liferidge helped establish a school breakfast ministry after learning that many students were going to school hungry. The ministry eventually served breakfast to 200 children a day.

Liferidge returned home to continue his ministry and became pastor of Grace Reformed Episcopal at Moncks Corner in 2015, about 3 miles from Bethlehem RE.

Like many traditional congregations, Grace had a desire to see its young members grow. There were around 40 people who regularly attended the service, a number that had risen to around 200 before the pandemic.

Liferidge began his work by preaching messages of love and brotherhood. This set the tone for creating a welcoming atmosphere in the sanctuary, allowing newcomers to feel comfortable in worship.

The church then engaged the community. Grace partnered with Habitat for Humanity in Berkeley County to create the Community’s Hope Impact Center in the historically black Wall Street neighborhood of Moncks Corner.

The church has also created a separate non-profit organization that allows it to partner with the international organization Habitat for Humanity in a special neighborhood revitalization program. His association is one of the 10 partner groups.

The effort aligns with Liferidge’s overarching goal of seeking to empower people to effect change in their communities. At Duke, he was inspired by learning of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to inspire people to be part of something bigger themselves.

Liferidge also finds himself walking in the footsteps of the prophetic leader as he seeks to raise awareness about issues of injustice.

In 2019, Liferidge sought to rally the community around a local school district employee who was given an ultimatum: quit or be demoted. The employee, who is African American, challenged the move, went through a sealed grievance process with the school district, and retained his position.

He attributed the success in part to support from Liferidge, the pastor said.

During the pandemic, the pastor launched the “Minority Report” web series to bring these kinds of issues to the fore. Since the beginning of the project, he has constantly received calls from black and white people who have applauded his efforts to expose the irregularities.

The 2016 Berkeley County school board election, which saw five newcomers cast their ballots, is an example of a wave of change taking place in the county. Newcomers to Moncks Corner aren’t attached to the city’s old guard and historic ways of doing things, Liferidge said.

“There is a silent majority,” the pastor said. “When they walk into the booth, they vote according to their conscience.”

Next on Liferidge’s list of issues to address is homelessness. Berkeley County, the largest county in the state geographically, lacks shelter facilities.

Liferidge led the charge with two other Moncks Corner pastors to bring attention to the problem by sleeping outdoors three consecutive nights during the Lowcountry Continuum of Care’s annual homelessness count. Church leaders are also urging the county to fund a housing community for up to 35 homeless individuals and families.

Liferidge continues to be moved by its belief that all people deserve a decent quality of life, regardless of culture or economic status.

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