First woman to lead SE Queens clergy plans voter registration, education

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The influential group composed of religious leaders from around the region is planning its 20th anniversary celebration this fall as the organization reflects on its past and outlines its future.

But there is something different about the leadership this year, as well. For the first time in its history, the Southeast Queens Clergy is being led by a woman - recently elected President Henrietta Fullard, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Arverne.

"My goal is to take us beyond where we are, which is a legacy, and begin to actualize some new ideas," she said in an interview with the TimesLedger Newspapers. "It's a matter of bringing the past to bear on the present and looking to the future."

Fullard of Far Rockaway was elected president of the non-profit group in September, she said. Southeast Queens Clergy was founded in 1984 and operates as a social services organization out of its Jamaica headquarters. The group aims to help congregants of its 90 member churches, as well as others, cope with homelessness and low-cost housing needs, abuse, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS, she said. The Southeast Queens Clergy runs about 11 funded programs, which rely on government funds, she said.

The organization also provides informational services, such as legislative breakfasts and other programs for those in the educational community, Fullard said.

"We want to better reach them and serve them throughout the year," she said. "We are looking to expand."

Fullard began her professional life as a chemistry teacher, and her work at the Cambria Heights-based Andrew Jackson High School, now called Campus Magnet, helped her to become the first principal of the Mathematics, Science Research and Technology Magnet High School when the institution created specialty schools, she said.

"I was able to partner the school with federal agencies to enhance the students' education," she said. NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture still run programs there, she added.

It was in the late 1970s that Fullard began to look closely at the church, she said. She got her training under the Rev. Floyd Flake, pastor of the Greater Allen Cathedral in Jamaica, but it was not until 1990 that she got a congregation of her own in Westchester County, she said. She was later assigned to be senior pastor at Bethel AME in Arverne, she said.

"Women are moving in many areas in which men used to dominate," she said. "This is a calling, just as it is for men."

As a female reverend and pastor, Fullard believes women bring a unique perspective to the pulpit, she said.

"It's a different type of focus we bring to many issues, a certain sensitivity," she said. "We need to kind of bridge those sensitivities with that which has been predominantly male."

And her new post as the head of the Southeast Queens Clergy is just one extension of that, she said.

"I'm honored to be the first woman president," she said. "It's a humbling experience."

Fullard plans to use her education background to lead the organization into that area, she said. She would like to see the group's influence brought to bear on parents and guardians in the public school system, she said.

The group also plans to hold voter registration drives to encourage people to vote in the upcoming presidential election, Fullard said.

"Our clergy have a listening ear captured every Sunday," she said. "We can use that to notify parents, to engage them. There are many issues we would like to support."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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