Racial Equity & Interfaith Alumni Awards 2020-2021
January 31, 2022
Interfaith America is happy to feature Racial Equity & Interfaith Alumni Award to support IA Emerging Leaders in creating experiences and opportunities that build bridges across lines of religious, spiritual, and secular differences while simultaneously seeking racial justice. The $1,000 awards are intended to fund both programmatic expenses of the initiative (supplies, stipends to partners, equipment, etc.) and self-compensation for the time and energy an Awardee gives to a project (up to $500 of the award). Through these awards, we are eager to elevate the voices of Black leaders and other leaders of color.
The Racial Equity & Interfaith Alumni Award Project winners, listed below, created a range of initiatives, from virtual retreats and criminal justice initiatives to book clubs and racial equity workshops.
jem and her colleagues at Stanford University hosted a panel and film screening that brought three activists together to discuss faith and voting, particularly the issue of voter suppression. The panelists were Rida Hamida, founder of Taco Trucks at Every Mosque, Bambajian Bamba, Actor and Undocumented Activist, and Karla Estrada, Founder of Undocutravelers. The panel took place online and a film screening of Suppressed: The Fight to Vote followed. The panelists encouraged participants to have a conversation with someone of a different faith about important issues on the ballot in their community and to register five people to vote by calling, writing letters, or driving people.
Bharat hosted a successful two-day virtual retreat for more than 50 young adults. During the retreat, they taught the group about implicit biases, equity vs. equality, the history of the racial justice movement, gender inequality, the model minority myth, and quotes from spiritual teachers/world leaders on social justice. Bharat heard the lived experiences of the Black members of their faith group through a musical/story-based cultural program. From there, Bharat created a service opportunity for young adults to engage in what they have learned. Everyone left the retreat with takeaways and a vision for social justice (inspired by fellow IFYC Alumna Sabriya Dobbin’s retreat).
Seth used the award to host virtual lunch and learn sessions with different racial and spiritual groups on campus. There were two of these lunches with the Catholic and Orthodox Christian student group. At these meetings, both Hillel students and students from diverse groups had the chance to discuss the major beliefs and customs of their faith with each other.
Frank volunteered with Lifeline Groceries, which is a religiously diverse group of volunteers who provide nutritious weekly groceries for over 600 families who are food insecure. Specifically, the recipient families are those who both have adults unemployed as a result of the pandemic and do not qualify for public assistance programs like SNAP. As a result, the vast majority of these families are undocumented. Documentation in New York has a significant intersection with racial justice as the vast majority of those without documentation who are also in need are from communities of color. As many as 80% of the recipients are Spanish-speaking preferred, as well as Arabic, Bangla, Cantonese, and English-speaking recipients (primarily composed of those from the Caribbean).
Tulsa Changemakers is an afterschool youth leadership development and action program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that empowers elementary, middle, and high school students from Title I schools to make meaningful changes in their schools and communities. IFYC’s $1,000 Racial Equity & Interfaith Cooperation Award went towards stipends for Coach Mentors. Coach Mentors are the most experienced coaches, and they are hired as independent contractors to help support new coaches. The Coach Mentor positions expanded the organizational capacity and allowed the program to grow the afterschool program from 17 sites in 2019-20 to 23 sites and 170+ new students in 2020-21.
With the Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation award, Anu Gorukanti and co-founder Laura Holford created “Introspective Mornings”- what they describe as reflective space for womxn in healthcare. They held the inaugural event which had 32 women who registered and 25 participants. It was a morning of deep reflection, community building, and vulnerability. The event was rooted in principles of equity, justice, and human-centeredness. Anu hired an equity and diversity consultant who reviewed the event and provided them with guidance on the best ways to ensure the event structure and language were inclusive.
Angie Luo hosted a virtual 4-week Religious and Racial Equity training series on Zoom. The first session was training on workplace accommodation led by Paul Lambert from the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation. Eighteen people attended, including staff and graduate students from USC, Wharton, Loyola Marymount University, and Pepperdine. The second session was a follow-up discussion on the economic impact of religion with five participants, representing graduate students from USC, Pepperdine, and Wharton. The third session was a discussion on employee resource groups with guest speaker, Farah Siddiqui from Salesforce, with 11 total participants representing USC, Wharton, and other community members. The final session was a discussion on religious literacy with guest speaker Dr. Barbara McGraw, with 13 total participants with representation again from USC, Wharton, St. Mary’s College of CA, and community members.
Saaliha Khan hosted a virtual conversation with local Kansas City racial justice advocates and interfaith activists, along with fellow IFYC alumni, to engage in an open, honest, and courageous conversation on faith and justice. “We Are Each Other’s: A Conversation on Faith and Racial Justice” connected people from different backgrounds to explore the intersection of racial equity and interfaith cooperation, as well as share ways to take action by getting involved with local organizations like the Crescent Peace Society and national ones such as IFYC. The Keynote Speaker, Aisha Sharif, a poet, author, and educator based in the Kansas City metropolitan area, addressed the participants by sharing one of her powerful poems with participants as they came together to reflect, connect, and act around issues of faith, race, and justice.
Aroona Toor is the founder of the Muslim Women Professional Network. She used the funds to host training by the MuslimARC (Anti-Racism Collaborative) workshop to her network of current and aspiring professional Muslim women as well as current board members. The training helped participants to engage across lines of difference in various ways including faith and race. Attendees left the training feeling like they wanted to learn more about what they can do to advance racial equity both in their personal and professional spaces.
Alexis Rixner collaborated with BRforThePeople, a nonprofit advocacy organization fighting for and maintaining justice and civil liberties. Alexis hosted virtual town halls that included leaders and influencers from different fields. Each town hall had a different political and cultural focus, with discussions addressing racial equity, urban and inner-city youth needs, womanism, LGBTQ+ discrimination in south Louisiana and the United States.
Amar developed an anti-racism curriculum specifically for multi-ethnic, Christian churches. The curriculum emphasizes a biblical mandate for justice, equality, and neighborly love. This curriculum was then given to Jacob’s Well NJ, an evangelical church in North Brunswick, to use for a future “Discipleship Course” – a six to eight-week church-wide program that occurs each spring and fall. This curriculum has become a launching point to develop a greater, more holistic curriculum that will be a part of the Ideos Center for Empathy in Christian and Public Life (CECPL), which Amar directs. Thanks to the IFYC’s award, Amar was able to lay the groundwork for this curriculum. With the CECPL, he will be able to continue to develop this program and distribute it to a national network of churches, institutions, and Christian leaders.
Shivam created a counseling group for Hindu Indian-American youth (HIAY) ages 14 to 18 to discuss identity, race, and Hindu spirituality. The format was one weekly session for 60 minutes for six weeks. Ten teenagers throughout the U.S. participated over Zoom. Session topics included: Identity and Intersectionality, Hindu Indian American Stereotypes and Internalized Bias, the Model Minority Myth, Implicit Bias, Dharma and Anti-Racism, and Anti-Racism Action Steps (included guest speaker Shameem Patel). Students and Shivam experienced a renewed awareness of their own identities. Being first-generation Indian American, each member shared their struggle to balance their Indian and Hindu identities with those of the dominant norm. Sharing these struggles and finding that they are not alone in seeking balance in their Indian-American identity bonded the members. Each member noted that despite race and racism being briefly discussed in school, they had very little knowledge and experience speaking about these topics. Furthermore, they were not aware of any opportunities in the South Asian community to discuss this topic. With a lack of resources, group members often resorted to social media (e.g., TikTok) to learn about race and racism. Upon joining this group focused on anti-racism, many members felt relieved to have a safe space to talk about race and explore vital topics previously unknown.
Through the Critical Religious Studies in Higher Education Network, J.T. hosted a book club. The club read the book” White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” The author, Robert P. Jones, also spent an hour with the group discussing the book.
LaTanya hosted a book club to discuss Valarie Kaur’s new book, “See No Stranger,” and explore the ideas of how communities heal from hurt and repair harm. The group ended up calling it the Slow Reads book club because they gave themselves a lot of time to read the books.
Aamir hosted a series of Zoom webinars and mentoring sessions focused on improving diversity in the physician workforce. Aamir aimed to help students of underrepresented backgrounds apply to medical school and residency. The webinar’s emphasis on Jesuit values resonated with a lot of students. Aamir was able to tie his own personal journey into how applicants should think about careers in medicine.
Clare hosted a conversation series about privilege and seeing racism as systemic rather than bigoted comments from an individual. The series was taught by a millennial and a baby boomer engaging with youth from Gen Z. Each guest speaker addressed something specific about the intersection of their identity with their race and that of their values in action on the topic of racial justice.
Tasmiha looked at COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black Muslims. The issues that this population is facing extend beyond lack of access; there is the bias that goes into diagnosis, such as when people are turned away, as well as the actual care and treatment of patients. Then there are other factors that leave Black communities vulnerable, such as access to food, especially in places considered “food deserts” where affordable and healthy food is difficult to come by.
The IFYC Racial Equity & Interfaith Cooperation Award was used by Historic Trinity African Methodist Episcopal to support the organization of vaccination clinics in rural Marion County, South Carolina. Initially, Historic Trinity (located in rural Clarendon County) and partners planned to host a service-learning weekend for youth from St. Teresa the Little Flower Catholic Church, (a predominantly white congregation located in the suburbs of Charleston,) the weekend of April 16. The goal was to bring youth from an affluent urban area into one of the poorest counties in the state to help build ramps on homes, complete minor home repairs, and learn about rural poverty.
Last year Alexis’ congregation, Little River UCC, dedicated itself to reevaluating their anti-racism commitments. This process involved several steps but has included intentional space for children and youth to be a part of informing anti-racist identity. They partnered with Challenging Racism, a nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, to host a two-part workshop on talking about race and racism with children. The first part of the workshop was designed for parents of children under 18 and led them through how to talk to their children about race. The second part of the workshop dug deeper into the challenges and hesitancies white parents have in talking to their children about race and racism. Both sessions were facilitated by Alexis and Challenging Racism facilitators who are also public-school teachers. In addition to parents from the congregation, Alexis invited parents from the Jewish Community Center down the street to participate as well. Three families from the JCC participated in addition to the 14 families from Alexis’ church.
Seán convened an interfaith book club-style discussion group around the recently published book “Native” by Kaitlin Curtice. A small group of individuals from different backgrounds, holding different identities, in different geographical spaces convened virtually to discuss the book and to reflect together and individually on their responsibilities as people living on colonized Indigenous land in the U.S. Seán pursued this project because he feels passionate about racial justice, Indigenous rights, and reconciliation. Gathering around this book deepened his interest and commitment and gave him a small community of folks with whom he could be excited to continue growing, deepening, and working for change.
In collaboration with the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Joshua advocated for the removal of the statue of Peter Stuyvesant and the renaming of a New York City park within which it resides. They spoke with community boards, political clubs, and civic organizations to see how best to move forward. In a way that does not harm any property, Josh plans to put up signs near the statue of Peter Stuyvesant, describing him as a white supremacist. They argue that at the very least, doing so will serve as a temporary corrective for his glorified place, and at best, they hope it will foment needed public conversation.
Monique facilitated a University of Massachusetts accredited course called “Organizing for New Movement Leaders.” This course aimed to address the gap in training that new activists/community members are facing as they organize their local communities in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. The award helped to cover course tuition for new young organizers’ participation. Monique taught students of various faith backgrounds and incorporated and engaged a faith perspective throughout the course. She shared her faith perspective, encouraged all students to consider the benefits of spiritual grounding, and gave them some tools to do so.
Arpan used the grant to advance racial equity work at Hinsdale Central High School through book studies, workshops, and sponsoring professional development for allies. Arpan’s workshops taught participants to center racial equity conversations on lived experiences and equip them to have discussions about other topics too often ignored in schools: religious bigotry, homophobia, gender bias, and more.
The Neighbors in Action Training Project, hosted in collaboration with the American Muslim Advisory Council, provided three all-staff pieces of training for Conexión Américas, the largest Latin0-led and Latino-serving organization in Tennessee. Beginning in June 2020, Conexión Américas began a series of charlas for their staff team to bear witness to the suffering caused by systemic racism and to advocate for racial equity. IFYC’s Racial Equity & Interfaith Cooperation Award funded its collaboration with the American Muslim Advisory Council (AMAC), whose mission is to empower Muslims across Tennessee through civic engagement, community building, and media relations in order to protect all Tennesseans from prejudice and targeted violence. AMAC is a long-term organizational partner co-located at Casa Azafrán, a community and cultural empowerment center-led and managed by Conexión Américas in South Nashville.
With the Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation Award, Taulau’s original intent was to purchase physical workbooks authored by the men and their spiritual care for prisons cohort, and purchase materials that would assist the incarcerated men with teaching and mentoring inside Oregon State Prison. The project proposal was to create a graduate certificate for crisis management, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding at Claremont School of Theology. However, the focus drastically shifted as the project progressed. Claremont School of Theology already had an existing certificate program that highlighted some of the desired foci from the men. They, and other prisoners who are interested, are now welcome to participate in the Center for Engaged Compassion‘s 12-week Certificate in Engaged Compassion during Fall 2021 and Engaged Compassion Facilitator Training during Spring 2022. With these certificates and training under their belt, they now have the backing of Taulau’s institution for their skills in engaged compassion and peacebuilding. In addition to the drastic changes, Western Oregon University’s Criminal Justice Department approached Taulau to create an undergraduate certificate in crisis management, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. This project will become long-term due to the nature of the institution and the requirements for proposals. However, Taulau is continually working with both the Criminal Justice and Communications Departments to further develop our proposal. The proposal has also gained the attention of other departments throughout the institution so the peacebuilding certificate may become an interdisciplinary one. Finally, the workbook has shaped into great teaching material for restorative justice mentors, and they are going to begin using the book in future mentoring and teaching opportunities at Oregon State Prison.
Sabriya hosted a 2-hour Grand Racial Justice Retreat event on Zoom. The 48 participants discussed the intersection of faith, mental health, and racial justice. Guest speakers from different religious backgrounds helped to promote break-out room conversations.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life