About This series

Building Bridges: The Rev. Paige lives to inspire equality

Rev. Rita Paige’s influence has always gone far beyond just the pulpit as she as been a vocal leader for racing justice since she was a teenager in Dover. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Substance of speech has always been one of Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige’s greatest assets when it comes to working for racial equality and social justice for African Americans — of course, her wise mind has had a lot to do with it as well.

Rev. Paige remembers those days back in school when she joked that her mouth would sometimes get her in trouble. Even back then, she saw the disparity in the educational system between Black and white people.

“Even the educational system, we need to see Black history taught in the school system,” Rev. Paige said. “I remember even when I was coming through school when we were learning European history, I used to always ask, ‘Well, what role did Black folks play in this?’ In order to find out the teachers would always say, ‘Do the research for extra credit,’ and that shouldn’t have had to be.

“Then the only time they did want to teach Black history was in February for Black History Month. In school I had the mouth and I would say ‘I think my people did some things more than are just worth learning about just in February.’ I would say that back in school. Trust me, there were many a conversation and many a time my mother would have to come to school because of (me using) my mouth like that.”

Rev. Rita Paige (left) joined her nephew Dover City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. several years ago in an effort to have the city of Dover promote Marvin Mailey to become police chief. Mr. Mailey was eventually named to the position, becoming Dover’s first Black police chief. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Ever since those formative years, Rev. Paige has remained a sounding board for racial justice and change throughout the Dover community. She currently serves as the pastor of New Beginnings Community AME Church in Frederica and is the chair of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Dover (IMA).

She was instrumental in helping have three roads in the city of Dover named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is always on the front lines when it comes to battling racial disparity, such as pushing for Marvin Mailey, an African American, to be named the Dover Police Department’s new police chief a couple of years ago and also making sure that Dover Park, on the city’s east side, is up to the standards of other parks in Dover.

Rev. Paige said she is guided by the Bible and a lifelong vision of equality among all people. She receives most of her motivation from the Bible verse, “We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).”

She said that standing up for racial injustice in the current era is as difficult as it has ever been.

“It seems like it’s getting more difficult — it really is,” said Rev. Paige. “I think at one point (racial) things were blatant, and then at another point it seems like it got subtle and you had to really recognize the racism, and now it’s back in your face again.

“We’re trying to make things better for those who are coming behind us, our younger people. I really feel bad for them because they don’t know the history of civil rights. They really can’t even take it back to slavery. They don’t know what has happened since slavery with the struggles (that we’ve faced) and we’re trying to make things better for them, and I think we’re going to have a lost generation if we can’t make things better.”

Change begins with a solid education

Rev. Paige said the educational system is always a good place to start with the fight against racial discrimination.

“There’s no history being taught in the schools, the police situation being what it is, the young (Black) people sometimes have a feeling they can do what they want to do, not realizing that they can’t,” she said. “They can’t do the same things that their white friends can do. If they do something, they’re going to have an increased (police) charge, a different charge or a different sentence than their white friends, but of course, they don’t understand these things.”

She also said there is something to be learned from all the monuments and statues across the country that have been brought down amid protests recently.

“I think that some of these statues need to come down and they need to go in museums,” said Rev. Paige. “I think that they need to be used as teaching points. For instance, the whipping post (in Georgetown, which was taken down earlier this week), I was glad to see it removed because of what it represented, but I didn’t want to see it destroyed. I felt as if it needed to go into a museum and it needs to be used to teach our young people about what our ancestors actually went through and how we might not be that far removed from it now … how Black people were treated so unfairly with whipping.

“As young people, then you need to be trying to work towards changing your behavior or changing rules, being a part of making a difference in our communities so that no one ever has to go through this act of hatred and evil.”

She added, “We as Black folks are not put on a whipping post like that today, but that’s the kind of thing that’s still being experienced by cases such as George Floyd (killed by police during an arrest in Minneapolis) and Lateef Dickerson (kicked in the head by a Dover police officer during an arrest in 2013), those kinds of things.

“We need to use those statues as an educational tool, even those that held slaves, they need to be reminded that these were people who once held our people in captivity, that didn’t believe in freeing slaves and didn’t believe that Black people were whole people just like they and considered us property.”

Rev. Paige certainly has the education and experience to bring about change. She earned her Master of Divinity degree in May 2009 from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and her Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism from Howard University in 1981.

She was the first African-American female to be employed in an administrative capacity for the city of Milford (1983-85), serving first as the assistant administrator for the city’s Community Development Block Grant program before being promoted to the role of CDBG Administrator.

These days, Rev. Paige serves as vice president of the Central Delaware Branch NAACP and was instrumental in speaking out and writing letters in favor of repealing the death penalty, restoring voting rights to ex-felons and extending the city of Dover property tax extension due date to Aug. 31, 2016.

The many other titles and distinguished awards she has won are far too numerous to list.

Dover City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., Rev. Paige’s nephew, said he is proud of everything that she, and his mother Wilma Mishoe, have been able to accomplish and said he is just getting started in following in their footsteps when it comes to racial justice.

“Reverend Rita Mishoe Paige has been on the frontline of social justice since the beginning of her teenage years,” Councilman Sudler said. “Her keen sense of justice for all, in conjunction with love for all humanity, has tremendously helped to construct new bridges that, at one point, were perceived to be unattainable.

“Reverend Paige’s work as IMA Social Action Committee Chairwomen is impressive. Her demonstration of persistency in addressing the activities, events and programs desired at Dover Park by the residents in the 3rd District and throughout the city of Dover serves as a model for current and future council members to mimic.”

Trying to spark change in Dover

While Rev. Paige was born in Baltimore, she has spent most of her life in Dover. She does her best to inspire change in Delaware’s capital city — and throughout the state — every day.

“We want to see equal rights for people of color,” said Rev. Paige. “We need to seek more diversity in the police department. We need to see more diversity even within state government. People of color have a hard time being able to get promoted to higher level positions within state government and I think people of color need to see people in a position who look like them. That could be a motivating point to let them know that they can be who they want to be. They can achieve success.

“Because of (minorities) own feel for things, then they’re going to think that those are positions that are never meant for them. I think there needs to be more diversity and we need to be promoted at the same level as others. We need to have those opportunities, just like everybody else. Doors need to be open for us and they’re not.”

Rev. Paige is also a member of the city of Dover’s Human Relations Commission and would like to see it get a little more authority in addressing racial injustice issues that occur in Dover.

“I believe we need to revitalize the Human Relations Commission in the city of Dover and give it more authority,” she said. “Right now, the Human Relations Commission cannot do any investigating. They don’t have any investigating authority.

“There is a divide (in racial aspects in Dover). I think there needs to be a whole different mindset. We can change, even with police reform, the police department can institute new policies and have the reform and all that kind of stuff, but nothing is going to change unless there’s a change of the mind — a new mentality and a change of heart. If we have a change of heart that will cause our minds to change.”

Councilman Sudler acknowledged that Rev. Paige’s authority reaches out far from the pulpit, where she has always felt right at home.

“Her capability to be a trailblazer for social justice continues to be illustrated as she serves on the Dover Human Relations Commission, where the aim is to foster amicable relationships among all sectors in the Dover community,” he said. “Her integrity, unwavering dedication, outstanding leadership, and authentic commitment to serve all segments of the Dover community and the State of Delaware indeed serves as the focal point of a blueprint for all humanity to approve during a time of social reform and global unity.

“Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige’s servant and transformational leadership style are worthy of being elevated to be among the next group of individuals to be elected to city council or even to the mayor’s position.”

It all circles back to education

Rev. Paige said that while discussions are always welcome to take place regarding racial relations and injustice, much of the issue always reverts back to education.

“I just think that doors need to be opened for people of color just like they are for white people,” she said. “We just weren’t taught, and I think that’s part of the problem today. These young people aren’t taught about Black history. No race is better or superior over another race.”

It saddens her when she turns on her TV and sees demonstrators and protesters rioting and looting in cities.

“There’s nothing wrong with peaceful protest, but I think that there is something wrong when young people want to have peaceful protests and then the violence – I don’t like the looting,” said Rev. Paige. “I understand it, but I don’t like it because I think what’s understood is that the police are going to come back with the excessive force.

“I don’t want to see it come back to the water hose and those kinds of things in which young people have not had to experience like we did back in the ’60s, because they really won’t know how to handle that.

“I’m just trying to achieve equal rights for all people and especially for people of color. I’m just trying to make things better for people of color – and right now in today’s world, it’s not equal.”

She vowed she will never give up — after all, with God anything is possible.