Rev. Marlon Tilghman had already cut his teeth as an organizer before he received any formal training.
In 2009, Tilghman organized several community groups from the area around the congregation he pastored in the Baltimore area. His efforts caught the attention of BRIDGE (now Gamaliel statewide affiliate BRIDGE Maryland, Inc.) founder Rev. David Casey, who visited Tilghman to see how he’d pulled it off – and to invite him to attend Gamaliel’s National Leadership Training.
Tilghman said the training inspired him to join BRIDGE and get involved in its work. When Casey fell ill with cancer, his last request to Tilghman and a fellow pastor, Robert Walker, was that they continue growing the organization.
“On his deathbed, he said to me, ‘Marlon I need you to make sure BRIDGE continues to grow,’” Tilghman said. “I said, ‘Well, David, I’ll do my best.’”
Tilghman ultimately served as Co-Chair of BRIDGE for three years alongside Rev. Brian Murray.
This work has always been personal for Tilghman – his son, Steven, was frequently affected by issues central to BRIDGE ’s inequity in public transportation and police harassment.
“He fit the profile. Dark skin, African American, pants around his waist, the whole nine. And so he was harassed a lot,” Tilghman said. “So I said, ‘What can I do to try and change this culture in my community?’ That’s why I stayed involved with BRIDGE .”
Tilghman now serves as a Co-Chair of BRIDGE ’s Criminal Justice Work Group and is working on a campaign to change Maryland laws around police interrogation of minors. The initiative began with a town hall Tilghman convened to educate his community in Harford County about the treatment of minors during police interrogation, an issue he was inspired to raise after watching Ava Duvernay’s series When They See Us.
After the town hall, Tilghman helped to launch Protect Our Minors, a campaign to pass legislation to protect minors in police custody. The campaign led to the Child Interrogation Protection Act, which was presented in the Maryland House and Senate in the 2020 Legislative Session and called for age-appropriate Miranda Rights, notification of parents when a child was taken in custody, and the presence of a lawyer during the interrogation of a minor. Although the bill didn’t get out of committee, Tilghman said it has new champions for the next legislative session which convenes on January 13, 2021. BRIDGE will continue to hold town halls to prepare its leaders to advocate for its passage.
Tilghman is also working on a PhD dissertation titled “Developing a Legacy Ideology for a Black Church” that seeks to use his own church as a model to develop a culture dedicated to generational wealth in African American churches. Tilghman said the project was partially inspired by the organizing principle of organizing people and money to build power.
“I’m trying to develop a culture within this context that will be a model for other black churches, or churches in general, that when you have organized money and you plan for generational wealth, you can really make an impact in your community and have resources in times of scarcity,” Tilghman said.
Tilghman said he plans to continue organizing and working with BRIDGE after he finishes his PhD in 2022.
“I continue to stay with organizing, not only now for [my son], but for my grandchildren,” Tilghman said. “I’ve got two small granddaughters…If this world’s going to be better, to be that beloved community that Dr. King and Jesus talked about, I’ve gotta put in the legwork now so they don’t have to deal with the same struggles that we’re dealing with today, particularly with a rise in blatant racism and racial injustices in this country.”