(RNS) — An African Methodist Episcopal bishop has been appointed chair of the new White House council that aims to increase dialogue between U.S. officials and African, Caribbean and African American communities.
Bishop Silvester Scott Beaman of Delaware was named the leader of the President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement in the United States, the White House announced Tuesday (Sept. 26). Beaman, 63, is the prelate of the AME district that includes South Africa, Namibia and Angola.
Eleven other inaugural council members, in fields including business, social work and government, were named as well.
“The African Diaspora in the United States, a rich and diverse community of African Americans and African immigrants, is foundational to our 21st century partnership with Africa,” the White House said. “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.”
Other members of the council for the 2023-2025 term include actress Viola Davis, Spelman College President Helene D. Gayle and WNBA player Chiney Ogwumike.
“They will provide invaluable guidance to reinforce cultural, social, political, and economic ties between the U.S. and Africa, and promote trade, investment, and educational exchanges between the United States and Africa,” the White House said of the 12-member council. “Bishop Beaman’s extensive experience and deep roots in Africa will enable him to lead the Council to achieve its full potential.”
Beaman and President Joe Biden have a decadeslong friendship. The clergyman delivered the benediction at Biden’s inauguration. Before Beaman was elected a bishop in 2021, he was the pastor of a church in Wilmington, Delaware, a city that has long been the president’s home base.
“I am looking forward to serving this council with diplomacy, integrity, and respect,” Beaman said in a statement on his Facebook page. “I seek to honor all those who are a part of the African Diaspora and keep the rich heritage and history of the entire continent alive and relevant.”
In December 2022, Biden signed an executive order establishing the council and Vice President Kamala Harris announced the administration’s commitment to it during the 2022 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
In addition to being a confidant of Biden’s, Beaman collaborated with Beau Biden, the president’s son, when the younger Biden was Delaware’s attorney general in the mid- to late 2000s. The then-pastor also took part in the services for Beau Biden, processing in with the clergy at the funeral Mass after his death in 2015, said John Thomas III, editor of The Christian Recorder, the AME Church’s official newspaper.
When Joe Biden was a presidential candidate in 2020, Beaman welcomed him to Bethel AME Church in Wilmington in the wake of demonstrations that occurred after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer. Biden decried racism at a meeting with Black leaders at the church.
Footage of that meeting, including Biden kneeling in the Black church’s sanctuary in front of Beaman and other leaders, was later used in an ad by Donald Trump’s campaign that included a slide that read “Stop Joe Biden and his rioters.”
Beaman told Religion News Service at the time that the ad was “overtly racist and offensive.” He and several AME Church denominational leaders signed a letter demanding the Trump campaign remove the ad and apologize for it.