Phyllis Kimber Wilcox |

“It brought awareness and I was blown away that senior women were still dramatically affected by ex-husbands who abused them twenty, thirty years ago. I mean moved to tears. And it really blew me away that these individuals were in my congregation and I had no knowledge that they had even been affected by it.”

– Reverend Barry Settle

When Reverend Barry Settle, who leads the Allen Chapel AME Church in Riverside, was asked to partner with Alternatives to Domestic Violence to create a program to assist young people who are victims, it was no surprise. 

Allen Chapel has continued creating  community, healing the broken, and fostering opportunities for growth and improvement since its inception in 1875, and the need to heighten focus on the issue of domestic violence within the broader Riverside community aligns with this mission. 

Allen Chapel Source: facebook.com

The Numbers Highlight the Need

According to the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) data, domestic violence calls to 911 for the years 2011-2020, the number of calls in Riverside County were down in 2020 from 2019 from 7169 to 6,344 respectively. Taking a longer view however, domestic violence 911 call had steadily trended upward for the most part since 2012

(source:openjustice.doj.ca.gov) (Graphic by Phyllis Kimber Wilcox)

This downward trend, however, was reversed relative to domestic violence calls involving firearms and strangulations. In 2019 the number of 911 calls for assistance where one  partner attempted to strangle or suffocate the other were 244 in contrast to 274 cases reported in 2020. To some extent, the CA DOJ data is limited. According to the DOJ Open Justice site, some information was not  available for years prior to 2018. 

Statewide the trend was similar, overall 911 calls were down slightly from 2019 to 2020 while the number of calls related to the use of firearms and/or strangulation were up. 

There are also concerns that Covid-19 and the ever changing social and economic situation the pandemic brought with it continues to increase stressors that will increase the problem. During lockdowns, victims and their abusers were forced into more frequent contact with one another, perhaps making it more difficult to report crimes or call for help.

In the Spirit of Service

Speaking about his non-profit and how his ministry began to focus on the serious issue of domestic violence Settle shared, “The name of [the non-profit] is, In the Breech, and the mission is primarily focused on providing individuals, whether male or female, pathways to success in life. Helping them navigate through life, connecting their passions, gifts and talents to their purpose.” 

In the Breech does this by providing training, encouragement, and guidance to those they assist. The primary focus of the non-profit is to help youth and young adults.

A New Focus

Florence White, Chief Executive Officer, Alternatives to Domestic Violence, Riverside, CA. (source: https://alternativestodv.org/)

Reverend Settle began his focus on the problem of domestic violence when he was invited by Florence White, Chief Executive Officer of Alternatives to Domestic Violence   to sit in on a panel discussion with men who were victims and as he noted, “Possibly instigators of domestic violence.”  He also attended a conference on domestic violence, intimate partner violence (IPV) and the church in San Diego with a colleague. 

According to Settle, both experiences made an impact on him, however it was through his association with Florence White, that his mission began to grow. Settle was asked to assist with a new program specifically designed to help young victims and survivors of domestic violence, IPV, sexual assault and date rape, deal with the trauma. It is called the Chrysalis Program. It offers information, assistance, resources and help to those who need it.

Reverend Settle assists with outreach. A role he is uniquely qualified for, through the church’s connection with other congregations not just in the Inland Empire but “… throughout Southern California…”  Through his ministry and community connections, he hopes to identify those who are suffering with issues of domestic violence and provide them with assistance.

The Chrysalis Program is designed to help young victims and survivors of domestic violence, IPV, sexual assault and date rape, deal with the trauma. (Source: Instagram, Alternatives to Domestic Violence)

In addition to his work with Chrysalis, the Reverend teaches for the Board of Examiners (Board) in the Southern California Conference of the AME Church. The Board is responsible for the training and education of those called to the ministry. 

Through his association with the Board, Reverend Settle has made identifying those who are victims and survivors of domestic abuse a priority in the ministry by teaching a workshop on domestic violence and the church, to student ministers. He also teams with Riverside law enforcement to refer cases involving victims of domestic violence or sex trafficking to his organization for assistance in overcoming the trauma inflicted by those experiences.

A Path Revealed

The path Reverend Settle is on regarding domestic violence revealed itself over time. “You know this isn’t  something that I went after. I guess I kinda stumbled  into this, actually like I said, through Florence White. What happened was during domestic violence month, I think it was in 2019, 2018,  we had domestic violence awareness day. We held various workshops throughout the church that morning and I was very much moved at the number of women in my church who have been victims of domestic violence. It kinda brought [me an] awareness.”

He continued, “I was just blown away that senior women were still dramatically affected by ex-husbands who abused them twenty, thirty years ago. I mean moved to tears. And it really blew me away that these individuals were in my congregation and I had no knowledge that they had even been affected by it.”

According to Settle, this moved him to do more research and reading on the subject. “I thought that this would be a good thing to teach to the student ministers. I never learned it in seminary or in my Board of Examiners, but it’s part of my curriculum now.”

Making it Known

Reverend Settle strives to teach and preach  against the negative behaviors which lead to domestic violence. He explained he preaches it whenever something occurs in scripture that has to do with sexual assault or control of women. He encourages student ministers to mention it in their sermonic presentation or in their teaching. “You don’t have to do a whole sermon on it,” he  noted, “but just to let the congregation know this isn’t right and kind of bring awareness from that perspective.”

The Reverend recalled a time when a young person, a teenager attending his workshop, came to him afterwards to seek help for a relative, an aunt who she believed was being domestically abused. 

“So, we had interactions with her, provided her with resources that she gave to her aunt and told her she can have her aunt contact us.” 

According to Settle, to his knowledge the aunt never followed through, but he believes just making teens, society in general, aware that it is wrong is important. 

Settle is also the father of a daughter and he wants it to be known how he feels about the treatment of women.  He describes his method as a meshing of both secular and theological approaches to domestic violence.  He accomplishes this by pointing out in scripture where women are being controlled or abused and he makes the congregation aware of where he stands on the issue, perhaps making them less afraid to share their personal pain and problems stemming from domestic violence with him.

The Allen Chapel Legacy

Allen Chapel  is one of the oldest  predominantly Black churches in Riverside, California. It began in the home of Mrs Dobbs and opened its doors in November, 1875.  With an eye toward, “racial equality, compassion and forgiveness,” the parishioners helped Black people newly arrived in the county of Riverside, California establish themselves and build a new society. 

Through that work the church prospered. The congregation is AME or African Methodist Episcopal–the term African refers to the descent of its founders. The church itself is welcoming to everyone in the community. 

Forever Stamp Honoring Richard Allen, Founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (source:aboutusps.com)

Allen Chapel carries the name of the original founder of the AME Church, Richard Allen, who established the first independent Black congregation in the United States in Philadelphia in 1816. Allen, who helped care for the victims of a plague of yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793, could not know the echoes of healing and of service set by his acts would be followed by Reverend Settle and his church during the current time of plague.

Reverend Settle, in the best traditions of the AME Church, community building, education and assistance to those in need, has helped improve the lives of those he has been called to minister to as well as society in general. In that way he carries on the idea of service and uplift begun with Richard Allen and for that we should all be grateful.

Click here to learn more about the Allen Chapel in Riversider and/or to reach out to Pastor Settle.  

The Black Voice News Domestic Violence Series is supported by California Black Media’s Domestic Violence Journalism and Awareness Project and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of California.

Phyllis Kimber Wilcox is a reporter for Black Voice News. Her interests are the intersections of historic events with contemporary realities and their impacts on the persistent social, structural and economic barriers which continue to adversely affect and limit Black lives with an eye toward  community-based  solutions.