The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Butler is a minister, an author, an activist and an educator who remembers what a friend — from Philadelphia, actually — once told her: “There are only two kinds of people in the world; those who live in Brooklyn, and those who want to live in Brooklyn.”
Butler is proud to live in the culturally diverse community of Bedford-Stuyvesant, where she serves as pastor of the Church of New Beginnings.
Her work includes preaching, teaching, counseling; the administration of church affairs, coordinating weekly services, community outreach, and special events. Under her guidance, the ministry focuses on helping marginalized individuals and families — older women, in particular — who have suffered trauma and addictions.
Her plan for the next decade includes a community engagement project that involves children and families who have been affected by senseless street violence and killings.
“It was inspired by Zurana Horton, a mother of 12 who was killed as she used her body as a human shield to save the lives of children in Brownsville,” says Butler, who adds that her first book, “More Rivers to Cross,” scheduled to be released this year, contains a narrative about Horton.
Butler has spent her entire adult life protecting and educating children. She worked as a New York City public school teacher for 30 years — 26 of them at PS 316 in Prospect Heights — before retiring in 2008. Carmen Gloria Rosario Olmedo, who nominated Butler to be a Woman of Distinction, was the principal at PS 316.
“Elizabeth is such a leader; an advocate for women and underdogs,” Olmedo says. “She is always there when you are in trouble.”
In fact, this Woman of Distinction is far from “retired,” she merely left one successful career to focus more fully on her second one — the ministry work she’s been involved in since 1986 and says is “a deep conviction that I refer to as my call from God.”
She says Brooklyn is the ideal place to be a minister, because its tapestry of religion, culture, class and race allows her to strive to make it, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “a beloved community of acceptance.”
Butler credits her mother, Elizabeth, for instilling in her the understanding that a love of God, family, and community are inextricably tied together. Likewise, her activism can be traced to her upbringing. She was one of eight siblings who grew up in the South in the Jim Crow era, on a sharecropper’s farm in St. Stephen, S.C.
“Growing up in abject poverty motivated me to choose a life’s path working for social justice and equality for children and families in marginalized communities,” Butler says.
She concedes, however, that reaching those who struggle with unemployment, homelessness, street violence, drug abuse, and isolation is no easy task. On one particularly tough day, she asked her son, Efrem, how he manages his difficult days. She was comforted when he answered: “I ask myself, ‘What would my mother do?’ ”
Occupation: Activist, minister, educator.
Company: Church of New Beginnings.
Claim to Fame: Called by God.
Favorite Brooklyn Place: Joloff Restaurant on Bedford Avenue. I love the delicious Senegalese food and the atmosphere of the restaurant.
Woman I admire: My beloved late mother, Elizabeth Butler. She demonstrated to me the meaning of faith, compassion, and sacrifice.
Motto: “Learn as if you were to live forever, live as if you were to die tomorrow.” — Mahatma Gandhi.
©2017 Community News Group
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