Throughout her political career, Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears has been making waves. She was the first black Republican woman elected to her minority-heavy district in Virginia. And in January, she was sworn in as the first black woman elected to statewide office in the former capital of the Confederacy, serving alongside a fellow Republican, Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Winsome is the embodiment of the American dream, making the most of her opportunities to rise above circumstances.
In her historic acceptance speech, which subsequently went viral, Winsome said: “Victory, indeed. But I say to you, there are some who want to divide us, and we must not let that happen. They would like us to believe we are back in 1963 when my father came [to the United States]. We can live where we want. We can eat where we want. We own the water fountains. We have had a black president elected, not once, but twice. And here I am, living proof.”
In 1963, her father arrived in the U.S. with $1.75 in his pocket. It was at the height of the civil rights movement and about two weeks before Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Winsome joined her father in New York City when she was 6, stepping out into an unknown and seemingly strange country.
To help support the family, her father took any job he could get, eventually worked himself through college and is now comfortably retired.
A consummate and ambitious entrepreneur, Winsome graduated from high school early, served in the Marine Corps from 1983-1986, became a mother, earned a master’s degree and started a plumbing and electric business with her husband, Terence, whom she met and married in 1986. In addition, she served from 2002-2004 in the Virginia House of Representatives and on the State Board of Education.
For Winsome, education has always been a political priority. In her own family, she has seen how access to a quality education was critical to escaping poverty, and it has influenced her desire to serve in public office.
Running for lieutenant governor wasn’t an easy decision in 2021, but Winsome sensed God leading her to do it.
“I felt a call to run, because it’s going to take boldness to get accomplished the things that need to be accomplished,” she said. “So, I’m looking forward to anyone who wants to come alongside and help, anyone who can weather the insults, anyone who can say, ‘Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.’”
In her first months as second in command, Winsome has used her tiebreaking power in the Virginia Senate twice, and supported Youngkin as he signed an executive order to investigate how critical race theory is being used in classrooms across the state.
Winsome believes that the future of America depends on acknowledging the country’s past history with slavery, while simultaneously forgiving and moving forward.
“I understand that we’ve had slavery. We’ve had segregation. We’ve had all kinds of conflicts,” Winsome said. “But what we can say about America is the same saying we have in church, which is, ‘I may not be what I’m supposed to be, but I ain’t what I used to be.’ And that’s America. She may not be what she’s supposed to be, but she ain’t what she used to be, and I’m proof of that.
“There is an issue about drinking the poison of unforgiveness. Sure, there are terrible, terrible grievances that have been done against black people. And yet, there are people who would like to use that to advance their nefarious agenda, but there is the Biblical matter that tells us we have to forgive.”
Winsome says it is often family members and friends who put the burden of their grievances on younger generations, perpetuating division.
“We want to give our children a hope and a future, as Jeremiah 29:11 says. And if you saddle the child down with the grievances that have been committed against you … they’re not his or her matters,” she explained. “They’re your matters. You deal with them. But we want the child to know that they can succeed no matter what.”
As the lieutenant governor, Winsome, 57, is leaning on Scripture as she looks to her future in serving the people of Virginia.
“During the campaign, my verse was Psalm 133:1, ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers’—and I would include sisters—‘live together in peace,’” she said. “But then there were times through the campaign, and even now, when I look at Psalm 3:1-4, where David said, ‘Many are they increased who trouble me. Many are they who rise up against me. But thou, O Lord, are a shield for me. You are my glory and you lift my head.’”
To guard their hearts and to lift up Virginians, Youngkin and Winsome often pray together for their meetings and their constituency, which represents people from all faiths and backgrounds.
Winsome came to Jesus at age 12 but struggled with faith and admitted, “I bounced around and did all the things I shouldn’t have done.”
It wasn’t until one Sunday morning in 1989 with the youngest of her three daughters that the Lord called her out of spiritual lethargy.
“It’s Sunday, and you’re supposed to be in church somewhere,” says Winsome, “and it was like a voice said, ‘She’s going to grow up not knowing Me, and she’s going to blame you.’ And right then, I thought, OK, we’ve got to find a church. We’ve got to introduce her to God, so she can decide for herself in her own faith journey.
“So, it’s been a long time coming and the things that I survived, I don’t know how I would have survived them without the Lord. I don’t know how other people do it. I’m just saying that for me, God is all in all.”
Her faith and trust in God were put to the test in 2012 when a devastating car accident took the life of her oldest daughter, Dejon L’Air Williams, and her two granddaughters, Victoria
“It was the sheriff showing up one morning and telling me my daughter’s dead, my granddaughter is dead, and the other one is on life support. What do you do then? And I heard myself give the Job (1:21) verse, which is ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh and blessed be the Name of the Lord.’ And then I collapsed,” Winsome recalled.
“I don’t know how other people survive something like that.”
Despite the horrific tragedy, Winsome and her family take comfort knowing that Dejon L’Air, Victoria and Faith all had a relationship with Jesus and that they will see them again.
“Being a mother, you learn about sacrificial love, you know?” Winsome said. “And the greatest inheritance that you can leave your children is to introduce them to God.”
That uncompromising spirit continues to guide Winsome as she looks to fulfill God’s purpose by helping to lead the state of Virginia.
“I think the overarching purpose of anybody’s life is found in Isaiah 43:7,” she said. “I used to wonder why am I here. What is the purpose of life? You always think that there’s some big thing that you’re supposed to achieve.
“Isaiah 43:7 came to me one day. I heard a pastor talking about it. He says, ‘You ever wonder what’s the purpose of your life? Go read Isaiah 43:7.’ It tells you, ‘I created you to glorify me.’ There it is. Plain and simple. That’s why you were created. Everything else comes after that. So, you want to make sure that you live a life that’s pleasing to God.” ©2022 BGEA
Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Alamy