President Donald Trump is expected to name the Rev. Tony Lowden, the first black American to lead Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, where former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, are longtime members, as the administration's "reentry czar," to help former prisoners reentering the workforce.
A White House official confirmed the pending announcement in a CNN report which also cited a statement from Carter praising Lowden’s selection.
"I cannot think of anyone better than Tony Lowden to lead a national effort to help those who have served time in prison get a true second chance once they are released," Carter said in the statement praising Lowden, who previously worked on prison reform initiatives in Georgia and served as the director of the faith and justice initiative for former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal in his Office of Transition Support and Reentry.
"With support and resources, recidivism can decrease and former inmates can become productive members of their communities. The congregation at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains will help in any way we can."
In a 2018 executive order Trump established a Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry that he tasked with developing recommendations for reform. Lowden will be named executive director of the council which Ja’Ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the president and member of the council, told McClatchy DC that Trump is fully committed.
“The president has been totally committed to second chances and this is that next step to pave the way, and really creating, and reducing recidivism,” Smith told the publication.
In addition to Smith, Lowden’s team at the council will include Ashley Bell, a new policy adviser from Georgia focused on entrepreneurship and minority and distressed communities; Johnathan Holifield, who leads the White House HBCU initiative; and Scott Turner, a former NFL player who Trump appointed executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.
“We’re committing a real team that’s not just talking about results but creating opportunity now,” Smith told McClatchy DC. “It’s not opportunity tomorrow. It’s not opportunity yesterday. It’s opportunity right now, and in order to get opportunity right now, we need robust partnerships.”
Lowden’s appointment as pastor at the 42-year-old Maranatha Baptist Church last summer was noted as significant because it was started in 1977 by members of Plains Baptist Church who broke away from the congregation after that church voted against allowing blacks to become members.
Carter, whose presidency began in January 1977, continued to attend Sunday school at Plains Baptist after the vote and worshiped at the new church. Once he was out of office, however, he became a member at Maranatha.
In his bio on the church’s website, Lowden is described as “a well-rounded, godly man” who grew up in a single-parent home in North Philadelphia.
The pastor, who studied economics and government at the University of Southern California while on an athletic scholarship and later earned his M.Div. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said he had always been involved in ministry but never started doing it full time until he moved to Georgia and began “trying to save young people.”