2021 Community Leader of the Year: Rev. Natalie Wimberly

The North Fork was not exempt from the turbulence felt throughout the nation and around the world when a video of George Floyd’s murder went viral on social media in 2020.

The video inspired calls for racial reckoning which manifested in marches and protests in cities around the world.

Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man from Minneapolis, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. A jury convicted the former officer, Derek Chauvin, of murder on April 20, 2021 and sentenced him to 22 1/2 years in prison on June 25, 2021.

The North Fork had a hidden gem that guided the community through that difficult time and helped foster healing and unity. That gem — the Rev. Natalie Wimberly of Greenport’s Clinton Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church — is being recognized as The Suffolk Times’ 2021 Community Leader of the Year.

Her church hosted a vigil in memory of the anniversary of George Floyd’s death in May 2021. Russell Smith, the pastoral steward at Clinton Memorial, said that event left a positive impact on the community.

“The biggest impact is when we had the march at the church, we had the community come together in solidarity, and she brought all different nationalities together, all different speakers … She is incredible,” Mr. Smith said.

There were over a hundred people that gathered for that march, themed “uncommon courage” after Darnella Frazier, the teen who recorded the viral video of Mr. Floyd’s murder and gave powerful testimony during Mr. Chauvin’s trial.

The Rev. Wimberly has been described as passionate and caring by members of her congregation. There aren’t enough good things community members can say about her.

“She is very personal and caring about each one of her members, and the congregation and the community,” said Jacqueline Edwards, a member of the congregation at the Rev. Wimberly’s church.

Originally from Indianapolis, Ind., the Rev. Wimberly came to Greenport in 2016 after serving for over 15 years at St. Francis AME Zion church in Port Chester, N.Y. The community felt she was a perfect fit right from the start.

“When she first came, you wouldn’t think that she was a new minister and had only been there a year or two,” Ms. Edwards said. “You would think that she had [been at] the community for 10 years or more.”

There are many impactful things she’s done for the community which makes it difficult to name just one, according to newly elected Southold Town Councilman Brian Mealy.

“She’s had many hats, she’s just such a vibrant, active person that I can’t just point to one thing that makes her a wonderful part of our community,” Mr. Mealy said.

He recalled the first time he heard the Rev. Wimberly speak at a Martin Luther King program that Southold’s Anti-Bias Task Force holds annually. She echoed Dr. King’s message of “beloved community.”

“You can’t really think that you have a good community without doing the work that goes along with maintaining it and she reminded us of that important work,” he said. 

The Rev. Wimberly continues that important work by inspiring community members to stay aware and be active on what’s happening in their community.

“She’s inspired some other people to just maybe care a little bit more about what’s going on,” Ms. Edwards said.