As the daughter of businessman Sphinx Tsikirayi and diplomat Eve Tsikirayi, native Zimbabwean Sophie M. Lancaster has traveled the world, including living for years in Australia and Japan while growing up.
But not until she moved to the United States did Lancaster discover that her skin color could hinder her from opportunities to advance.
“In Africa, I never had to think about being a black person,” says Lancaster, 40. While attending school in Australia — albeit often being the only black in class — she never felt her race prevented her from reaching her goals. In Japan, she attended an international high school with classmates from 20 countries, who never viewed their different social, racial, and ethnic backgrounds as a barrier to getting along.
Later in Japan, she met American Joel A. Lancaster when he served in the U.S. Marines stationed at Camp Fuji. They wed in 2003. Today, Joel is now a full-time officer with the local sheriff’s department and member of the National Guard. They have three children: Munashe, 17; Malachi, 13; and Natalie, 11.
Sophie says the first time she became self-conscious about her ethnicity after she settled in the U.S.
“I didn’t know my color could stop me from accessing opportunity,” says Lancaster. “I always believed education is the bridge to opportunity, and if I was willing to put in the work, I could achieve whatever I want.” Instead, she had to learn in America of prejudice in some quarters against people of color — and how to navigate that reality in her day-to-day professional life. Some warned her that Afro-centric hair or clothing styles could hinder her advancement.
Still, Lancaster found success working for Edward D. Jones by establishing a branch financial services office in Newberry, Florida. In 2009, she went independent, opening her own firm, Heritage Wealth Management. The company has four employees.
Likely because of her cosmopolitan upbringing, Lancaster has a neutral-sounding voice, without a trace of African or Southern U.S. dialect. Clients she has conversed with over the phone every so often are taken aback upon meeting her in person.
“Many times I have heard, I didn’t know you were Black! when they come to the office,” she says.
Lancaster found faith in a Pentecostal church in 2005 when she accepted Jesus as Savior. For several years, she and her husband served as youth pastors at Christian Life Church in Newberry, but now they lead the outreach team at the church. Pastor Gary E. Bracewell says the couple have been invaluable contributors at Christian Life.
“Their emphasis on evangelism has been a great spark to our church,” says Bracewell, who planted Christian Life in 1989 and has been back eight years after an initial stay of nine years. “I so appreciate their vision for reaching the lost.”
Bracewell, 57, is grateful that the Lancasters have stepped into supportive teaching roles in youth and young adult ministries. The couple soon will begin leading a separate service for young adults, which might result in a church plant. Sophie became a credentialed AG minister last year.
Newberry, a town of 6,200, has a checkered history regarding race. On Aug. 18, 1916, a white mob of 200 lynched six African Americans, including a minister and two women, in a mass hanging. None of the perpetrators ever faced arrest. However, in recent years, the town has acknowledged the wrongful acts and churches have joined together to sponsor reconciliation and unity events.
Lancaster is one of those leading the effort. Lancaster is also a registered Assemblies of God evangelist who recently joined the National Black Fellowship because she wants to be part of the growing constituency within the denomination. She is hoping recent racial injustice events will spur people to reassess long-held attitudes.
“We all need to look within ourselves and ask God if we have any heart issues that prevent us from loving others in a pure and perfect way,” Lancaster says. “The Church must reach people of all backgrounds, because it doesn’t happen organically. Sometimes that makes people feel uncomfortable, but that might be God working in their hearts.”
–John W. Kennedy | AG News Service