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Renew, Restore, and Rebuild

Kingdom Living Temple, Whitney M. Slater Foundation, New Alpha Community Development Corporation

“...but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

by Andrea Breaux ([email protected])

It is said, grieving is the process God uses to bring us to a place of wholeness. Grief is a painful yet necessary progression that leads to healing. Ms. Loretta Slater has known grief, the type no parent ever expects to experience. The genesis was the loss of her beautiful daughter, Whitney, to breast cancer in June 2011. As part of her healing, Ms. Loretta established a foundation in Whitney’s name that supports her daughter’s passion for environmental justice.

The cause of Whitney’s illness is not officially established; what is known is the family lived between two processing plants in Florence, South Carolina. After her daughter passed, Ms. Loretta became aware of fifteen families in her immediate neighborhood with members who were also diagnosed with various cancers. Something was going on, and, “Something had to be done.”

Florence is a city within the historical “Pee Dee” region of South Carolina. It was incorporated in 1890 and served as a transportation hub at the junction of three major railroad systems. Manufacturing followed the railroads, and thousands of workers settled in the area. Today, Florence boasts a population of over 38,000, with many employed in industry and manufacturing.

At the time Whitney’s tumor was found in 2009, she was studying to become a nurse at South Carolina State University. The shocking cancer diagnosis spurred her into action. Despite suffering the effect of chemotherapy (she even made her own wigs), she launched Early Detection and Second Opinions seminars at her HBCU. Whitney believed her illness was due to the unhealthy land, water, and air in her community and crafted messages focusing on how a polluted environment can impact human health.

“And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

 

Loretta Slatter and Rev Leo Woodberry of Kingdom Living Temple

A few years after Whitney’s death at age 21 in 2011, Ms. Loretta met Reverend Leo Woodberry, pastor of Kingdom Living Temple, and joined his church. They both recognized the need to address environmental injustices in their community. Together and with other church members, they developed a three-pronged plan to address inequities that adversely impact Florence and surrounding communities. The Three Rs of the plan are: Renew Ties with God (Kingdom Living Temple), Restore Families (Whitney M. Slater Foundation), and Rebuild Communities (New Alpha Community Development). Together with the partnership proactively addresses the spiritual, mental, and physical health issues of constituents.

In 2018 the powerful Hurricane Florence caused catastrophic damage throughout the Carolinas. Following the storm, Ms. Loretta discovered her well was contaminated from pesticide run-off. She accompanied Reverend Woodberry to the local health department. They learned the only solution available to her and others experiencing a similar problem was using bottled water and bleach tablets. Residents were left to boil all their water in the short term, and in the meantime, were instructed to wear gloves, collect the tap water, add bleach to it, wait 7-10 days, then take it to the health department for testing before use. This was clearly an untenable situation.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened,
and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Throughout the long struggle to address the need for clean, accessible drinking water, Reverend Woodberry, his congregation, and Ms. Loretta have worked side by side. The fight is not over, but progress has been made. On March 10, 2021, in partnership with Xavier Boatright, Sierra Club representative, and All Aboard for Justice, a local organization that fights single-use plastic, Florence Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin tasted the first glass of water generated from hydropanels installed at the church. She was part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the partnership’s recent project to create a sustainable water source using Source Global Hydropanel technology. The hydropanels generate power that draws water vapor from the air and condenses it into clean drinking water. Once the success of this program has been established, there are plans to expand throughout the community.

 

Teresa Myers Ervin Mayor of Florence, South Carolina
Hydro panel at Kingdom Living Temple

Reverend Woodberry preaches independence and points to this project, “This self-reliance is a product of necessity for the Black community that makes up nearly half of the population in a city where nearly 1 in 5 people are living in poverty. Florence is over 50 miles from Myrtle Beach, where sea levels are rising faster than predicted.” 

 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:2