“EPEA and the work directly tied to my Doctor of Ministry Project in particular, signalled a reimagining of my call to ministry in this season – one that involves more focus on equipping other congregations and leaders to disrupt the status quo, step out of the boat, and engage new and innovative ways in which God’s Church can truly be a beacon of light.”
Tell us about the East Preston Empowerment Academy (EPEA) and how it started
EPEA is a non-profit educational and empowerment organization that I and other leaders of the East Preston United Baptist Church of Nova Scotia started just before I enrolled in the ADC DMin program in 2013.
It was developed and launched as a labor of love in the Education/Empowerment Ministry of the church I pastored at the time. It serves as a bridge to educational and employment opportunities, primarily for the previously underserved African Nova Scotian community. This venture was in direct response to a desire and need for training to equip people with the necessary tools and confidence to secure trade certifications, better employment, higher educational opportunities and to better operate in their entrepreneurial ventures.
In particular, when planning a Men’s Ministry Mentorship program, many of the elder men that we sought out to serve as mentors indicated that they didn’t feel qualified to mentor the young men, because they didn’t feel adequately educated. Recognizing that this was a community wide issue, we immediately got to work, partnered with the Black Educators Association (BEA), the Labor and Advanced Education (LAE) governmental agency which funded BEA, and later the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency to get the necessary knowledge and skills to the people who needed them… and EPEA was officially born!
How was EPEA connected to your Doctor of Ministry project?
My DMin project was centred around an Empowering Leadership Training and Development program which I customized to our context, utilizing an established leadership model – The Leadership Challenge® by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, which is detailed in my Thesis.
My goal was to test the basic premise of The Leadership Challenge® – that there are established practices of exemplary leaders that have successfully enabled them to ‘mobilize their organization to make extraordinary change…and to transform its values into actions’.
EPEA quickly became one of the testing grounds for many of the concepts explored in my doctoral work. It’s an actualization of the principles we explored in the Leadership Project and that we believed could work in, with and through our leaders and congregation, transforming our church and community!
What has the impact of the EPEA been on the local community (and beyond)?
In conducting an Economic and Social Impact Study of EPEA from 2016-2021, Deloitte LLP Consulting concluded that EPEA has significantly impacted the Nova Scotia economy, contributing “$1.02M GDP contribution, $783k Labour Income, $161k Government Revenues and 14 Sustained Full time equivalent Jobs.” The study also found that the socioeconomic benefits were found in the following areas: “Removing Barriers to Education, Strengthening the Labour Market integration into Skilled Trades, and Supporting Better Employment Opportunities.” 4
Anecdotally, as an EPEA instructor and former Chair of the Board who speaks with many of the students, I know that many people have experienced an increase in confidence and many have begun new ventures and educational pursuits that are propelling them to new and higher heights, because of their involvement in EPEA’s educational and empowerment program.
Since I returned home to the States, I continue to teach an EPEA Public Speaking Class Online each year. I have personally spoken to many students of our classes who have told me how much their “basic training” has meant to their overall confidence and willingness to Say Yes! when invited to speak. Many have embraced EPEA’s Africentric approach to education where everyone learns at their own pace, while moving forward with all intentionality.
Lastly, a beautiful outcome and impact of the work that EPEA has realized is in the creation of a cadre of former students as Mentors and regular contributors to the community, tutors to current EPEA students, with an overall willingness to give back to the community and to EPEA.
How has the EPEA evolved since the completion of your DMin project?
EPEA has achieved independent non-profit status from the church and has continued to grow in the past years attracting more and more students and sources of core funding from government, private sector, and other donors. EPEA’s offerings are now available in various geographical areas throughout Nova Scotia in line with our original vision of eventually expanding our offerings through distance learning. All EPEA courses are now offered online and on-site where practical, and we have students who attend classes from places as far as Yarmouth, Cape Breton, and beyond.
Thanks to the continued work of EPEA’s Board led by Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard as Interim President (an original co-founder), and many other talented professionals on our Board, as well as the Staff and Volunteers, EPEA has achieved broader public recognition as a model for other agencies and institutions to replicate, even beyond Nova Scotia.
How did the DMin program as a whole impact your personal journey?
Practically, I was able to engage in experimentation of new concepts and ideas in real time. My DMin studies greatly informed my Bible Studies and Sermons at the church. My knowledge base grew in leaps and bounds as I attended each intensive and learned not only from the material, but from the rich experiences and passion for ministry of my colleagues!
This practicum of exploration, experimentation, and execution allowed me to better hone my skills as a Pastor and Minister, as well as to better utilize all the skills I have garnered over the years from my work in business, law, and religion.
The Doctor of Ministry program opened up new areas of research and study for me that have ignited an interest in seeing other forms and expressions of the Empowerment model in God’s Church in the 21st century and beyond.
I believe firmly that change and innovation is critical. This program, along with opportunities I have explored since completion of this work, have allowed me to tap into ways in which change, and innovation can greatly transform a community’s practice – setting that community on a forward and upward trajectory for years to come.
Personally, this program allowed me an opportunity to step outside of the box that I had erected as a Pastor, and to explore what I believe God is calling me to in this season – very exciting!
What advice would you give to current DMin and MA students embarking, or about to embark, on their own projects?
Select a project, an area of research that you are personally passionate about. God has called us to this work and we do ourselves, our congregations, our communities, and our God, a disservice when we choose areas of study that we are, at worst, dispassionate about, but at best, choosing because they seem to be areas that might be popular or more visible areas to explore.
Set your goal of doing this work and completing it in the prescribed time allotted. With the help of the Lord, it is possible to successfully perform your duties as a responsible full-time Pastor of a vibrant congregation and to successfully complete the requirements of the DMin program in the prescribed time. The key is discipline, goal setting, responsible delegation, self-care, coordination of events, and framing many of your congregational studies around the important work you are already doing in your research.
Enjoy the journey! Paraphrasing a fellow classmate in the DMin program: ‘It is a privilege to be able to set aside time to study and learn more about God in this way.’ Make sure you allow God to bless you through this process!
Banner Images (left to right): EPEA Closing Ceremony (2018); Rev. Dr. LeQuita Porter in the East Preston Church Sanctuary; the official announcement of the Irving Shipbuilding partnership with EPEA and NSCC
Body Images: Rev. Dr. LeQuita Porter after successfully defending her DMin Thesis at ADC; EPEA’s Irving Shipbuilding cohort all of whom are currently working as Welders after training at NSCC with support and assistance from EPEA; Rev. Dr. LeQuita Porter at her graduation ceremony (2018)