Elise Saulsberry is a proven, authentic voice, not just in the LGBT community, but also black women and girls and people of color in general, advocating in ways still not fully supported and often times directly and intentionally overlooked. She has an infectious smile and brings a wealth of knowledge, both of which she shares freely and effortlessly. She is taking the community by storm with her strong voice followed by equally strong actions; a combination that is much needed and appreciated. While having worked in ministry and for various employers for years, she has also discovered the way she would execute her specific calling in ministry. We welcome you to read more about two of her many important hats in our latest blog series feature on the advocacy/activism work of Elise Saulsberry.

How long have you been doing what you do? “Professionally, I’ve advocated for 13 years through employers and in ministry. Since 2007, through the State of Tennessee, I advocated for our clients. In January 2019, I began directly working in advocacy at SisterReach. This year, I started an inclusive and affirming ministry, Agape Affirming Ministries, which advocates for the LGBT+ community.” 

What types of services does your organization(s)provide? “Through SisterReach, we serve women, girls, LGBT+ and gender non-conforming people of color advocating for and educating the community on reproductive and sexual health, faith and advocacy, voter engagement and public policy. At Agape Affirming Ministries, we serve LGBT+ people spiritually from a healthy, inclusive, womanist liberation theology. We also will host ‘Agape Meals’ which serves meals to marginalized populations.”

What made you decide to pursue this journey? “Before working for SisterReach, I worked in ministry for many years through community outreach and in the church. I was also speaking against marginalization and abuse of women, girls and LGBT+ people. They are areas where I personally experienced discrimination and marginalization; and when I was presented opportunity to manage BOITALK, [a masculine of center, gender non-conforming and transgender men program at SisterReach], I realized that I could advocate for myself and others. I could advocate as a woman, a LGBT+ person, a black woman, a mother, a faith leader, a professional black woman and many other intersections that encompass my life. I was elated to bring my authentic, personal experiences to the table also. It was something I had never been able to do at any time or for any other past employer. I literally get paid to do what I love. I’ve been called to ministry, but was never really sure of what area of ministry I should work in. But, while working at SisterReach, I found that work through Agape.”

What are some of the most gratifying parts of what you do? Some of the most gratifying work is advocating for people’s human rights. I get to speak with local, state and federal legislators and advocate for black people and people of color. Through SisterReach’s COVID-19 Community Emergency Fund, funds were provided to assist with the community’s practical needs. Testimonials of how that affected people is energizing and amazing. Through faith work, going into communities, churches and universities with our Faith & Advocacy Training, it’s awesome to see people healed or freed of harmful/toxic theologies. It’s amazing seeing faith leaders gain a fresh, more loving, effective perspective to work and minister to their communities and congregations.”

What are some of the most disheartening things about what you do? “Working hard and seeing the work not immediately solve problems is fatiguing. And, that’s mostly because wealth is controlled and informed by white supremacy and legislation; and by people who are vehemently against black people and people of color. Policies, poverty and oppression cannot be solved quickly. But, those things should not be as difficult living in one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. Another disheartening thing is witnessing faith leaders reject LGBT+ people – including those who are theologically trained and know better.”

Do you have any events coming up? “We have virtual Reproductive Justice Training 101 and Faith and Advocacy Training soon. We also have a State of LGBT: Health and Wellness webinar – June 30th. See our website at www.sisterreach.org for stay abreast of our events. Also on www.facebook.com/sisterreach . At Agape Affirming Ministries, our official ministry launch is August 8, 2020 on FB live on our ministry page: www.facebook.com/agapeaffirming.”

Do you have any needs that would help you better do what you do? “My pastor says, ‘Many hands make much work light’; so volunteers – and that is for both organizations.” 

What main point(s) do you want the readers to take away from this article? “That there is work to do right here in Memphis, TN. And, we can get it done together by supporting each other.”

How can people get in touch with you? “Through SisterReach: 2725 Kirby Rd, Suite 15, Memphis, TN 38119. And, Agape Affirming Ministries, Pastor Elise Saulsberry, PO Box 17121, Memphis, TN 38187.”

About Elise Saulsberry: Elise Saulsberry is Deputy Director at SisterReach, a 501c(3) organization and the only reproductive justice organization in the State of Tennessee. She serves as the program manager for BOITALK, a program for masculine of center womxn, gender non-conforming folx and transgender men. Elise is Senior Pastor at Agape Affirming Ministries, an inclusive and affirming ministry without walls that serves LGBT+ people, marginalized and disenfranchised people.