The recently elected lieutenant governor of Virginia is someone who shatters political and ethnic stereotypes.
“I’m an immigrant, I’m a woman, I’m Black,” says the confident Winsome Earle Sears, who started in the post in January. “Yet here I am, by the grace of God, serving in the former capital of the Confederacy.”
She also attends Victory Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Winchester, Virginia. Her Christian faith has brought her through multiple crises, including the deaths of her daughter and two granddaughters in a car wreck.
Sears was born in Kingston, Jamaica, not long after her father moved to New York seeking better work opportunities with just $1.75 in his pocket. Her father immigrated to the U.S. in August 1963, only 17 days before Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
After securing employment and putting himself through trade school as a master welder and mechanic, her father brought the 6-year-old Winsome to the U.S. However, because she didn’t seem to be learning much in public school, he sent her back to Jamaica to be educated. By the time she settled permanently in the Bronx in 9th grade, Winsome already had passed courses such as physics and chemistry. She graduated early from high school, with honors.
Because education had lifted her father out of poverty, Winsome made plans to attend college. But a month before classes began, the death of her 75-year-old grandmother, Valda Earle, devastated her. Winsome became a Christian at the age of 12 in part because of Valda’s godly influence.
“When she died, I wondered what is the purpose of life,” remembers Sears, 58.
So, in an effort to instill discipline, she joined the U.S. Marines, which she credits with saving her life. Her grandfather, who grew up in the Great Depression, encouraged her to learn a trade while in the military. Sears became an electrician.
After service in the military, Sears resumed her education, earning an associate degree from Tidewater Community College, a bachelor’s in English at Old Dominion University, and a master’s in organizational leadership from Regent University. She maintains that education is the key for anyone to improve their economic lot in life.
“Education will take you places,” Sears says. “It means you can rely on yourself.”
Winsome in 1986 married a Marine officer, Terence Sears. They raised three daughters.
For a couple of years at the turn of the century, Sears operated a Salvation Army shelter for women and children. The experience proved frustrating at times because Sears witnessed mothers who didn’t seem to want to improve their situation.
“I had aspirations for some of the women they didn’t have for themselves,” Sears says. “I couldn’t force them to accept available opportunities.”
From 2002-04, Sears served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. She became the first female veteran and first naturalized citizen delegate elected to the body. She later served as vice president of the Virginia Board of Education and received a presidential appointment to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In an effort to chart her own financial course, Sears opened Shenandoah Appliance, Plumbing, and Electric in 2010. Despite launching in a recession, the store turned a profit.
“I told the Lord I wanted to work for myself and this is what I got,” Sears says. “I guess I should have asked Him for a bridal salon.”
TEST OF FAITH
As she does with most everything in life, Sears decided to start attending Victory Church after consulting with God. A conversation with a hairdresser who belonged to the church and said it helped break her drug addiction convinced Sears to join in 2003.
Sears especially needed to rely on the Lord in 2012. Her daughter DeJon died at 27 in a car crash, along with Winsome’s granddaughters, 7-year-old Victoria and 5 year-old Faith.
Sears says the Lord had prepared her for the tragedy and sustained her in the aftermath.
“A month before it happened, Faith kept saying repeatedly, ‘Jesus is going to give us a really big house,’” Sears recalls. “I heard her praying, Thank you Jesus for this really big house. She drew pictures of mansions.”
Last November, Virginia voters elected Sears as lieutenant governor as the running mate of 55-year-old white Republican businessman Glenn A. Youngkin. In doing so, she became the first woman, first Black woman, and first woman of Jamaican origin elected to a statewide office in Virginia.
Education remains a priority for Sears, who finds the mediocre science and math scores of American high school students worrisome. She sees it as a national security issue.
“We have to elevate the test scores,” Sears says. “They are unacceptable.”
She has a prayer support team that meets daily, even when she is not available. She says the Lord is long-suffering and patient with His followers.
“His first thought toward us is always love,” Sears says. “He is dependable.”
That doesn’t mean Christians will be spared trials, according to Sears. There will be fires and floods to walk through. Those who don’t survive still are promised heaven in the afterlife, she says.
Sears maintains she didn’t do anything exceptional to become lieutenant governor. She just studied in school, prepared herself, and obeyed God’s leading.
It’s become fashionable in recent years for Christians in the limelight to quote Esther 4:14, which speaks of God appointing them to their position “for such a time as this.”
But Sears likes to focus on the first part of the verse: If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but you will perish.
“People won’t be safe if they remain silent,” Sears warns. “We need to do what we’re supposed to do: speak up.”
David P. Cunsolo, who has been on staff at Victory for 43 years, has known Sears since she first started attending 19 years ago. He officiated at her daughter’s funeral.
“Winsome and Terry both have a genuine, powerful faith in God,” says Cunsolo, who retired as senior pastor after 14 years in 2020, but remains facilities director. “They are extremely loving, caring, and prayerful.” He notes that Terry served on the deacon board and Winsome has been involved in media and music ministries at the church, which has a weekly attendance of 325.
Although Winsome works during the week in Richmond, 135 miles south of Winchester, she attends church whenever she is back home. Cunsolo believes God propelled the underdog team of Youngkin and Sears to victory.
“Winsome is an Esther for our time,” says Cunsolo, 68. “Her charismatic personality has endeared her not only to the Commonwealth of Virginia, but to the entire nation.”