American Civic Life

Announcing the Second Cohort of Sacred Journey Fellows 

Anastasia Young (left) with other Emerging Leaders and IA staff at the convening in Chicago, May 2023.

Anastasia Young (left) with other Emerging Leaders and IA staff at the convening in Chicago, May 2023.

We are excited to announce the second cohort of Interfaith America’s Sacred Journey Fellowship! It is our honor to bring together another cohort of passionate, civically engaged leaders from across the country who are committed to bridgebuilding efforts locally, nationally, and beyond.  The selected fellows serve as interfaith leaders in a wide range of sectors, including faith, public health, education, law, and advocacy.     

The Sacred Journey Fellowshipis dedicated to supporting the leadership development of outstanding and experienced members of Interfaith America’s Emerging Leaders Network and beyond. With the generous support of Fellowship in Prayer, we are devoted to investing in the ongoing leadership development, and collaboration amongthisdynamic group ofreligiously and racially diverse interfaithleaders. 

In addition to a $15,000 award for each cohort member, this two-year fellowship will include an intensive cohort retreat experience, as well as ongoing support in growing their leadership skills and professional networks through virtual workshops and peer-to-peer mentorship. 

The public will have the opportunity to learn from the Fellows as they share stories of their work and reflections on their experiences over the two years of the fellowship through pieces on Interfaith America Magazine. 

Please meet the 2023 Sacred Journey Fellows: 

Anastasia Young

Anastasia Young, DNP, AGNP-C, is a medical oncology nurse practitioner and interfaith leader who has spent over a decade merging her twin vocations within healthcare and interfaith work. She is the co-founder of the Interfaith Healthcare Cohort and a strong advocate for the inclusion of interfaith cooperation in both the workplace and patient care. Her work has been extraordinarily valuable for healthcare workers across the country who seek to develop health-related interfaith skills, address moral injury, and positively influence change. Anastasia identifies as a Christian and is driven by her faith and values to be a bridge-builder and changemaker, working towards a healthier future for all. 

Centered on interfaith cooperation, Anastasia’s project involves creating engaging workshops that integrate interfaith leadership and communication expertise. These sessions equip healthcare professionals to adeptly navigate conversations about religious and cultural beliefs with patients and colleagues. Through interactive scenarios, participants gain vital tools for effective dialogue in complex health situations. Additionally, as a Sacred Journey Fellow, Anastasia aims to elevate her leadership skills and cultivate collaborative networks among her peers in the fellowship. 

Asma Uddin

Asma Uddin is the author of When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom and The Politics of Vulnerability: How to Heal Muslim-Christian Relations in a Post-Christian America. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at Catholic University of America. Uddin is also a Fellow with the Aspen Institute’s Religion & Society Program in Washington, D.C., where she created a data-based approach to reducing Muslim-Christian polarization in the U.S. Her more recent academic work continues to rely on social science to develop innovative approaches to religious liberty de-polarization.  Asma believes that cross-religious community and literacy are key to the future of religious liberty in the U.S.  

Asma’s project seeks to depolarize the polarization of religious freedom, including the manner in which Americans understand and talk about religious beliefs that are different from their own. Her approach is two-fold (1) scholarly: generate scholarship, scholarly discussions, and potential litigation that help center cross-religious literacy in religious liberty advocacy; (2) public engagement: develop content that communicates religious literacy in religious freedom and make it available in a variety of forms for public consumption. As one activity for this part, she seeks to encourage college students and others to engage in cross-religious conversations and share insights in written and multimedia form.  

Cecil Andrew Duffie

The Reverend Cecil Andrew Duffie, Ph.D., serves as Dean of the Julius S. Scott, Sr. Chapel of Wiley College. As one of the youngest executive officers of collegiate religious and spiritual life, Dr. Duffie is known for his obsession with the marriage of education and faith, enthusiasm for Black religious history, and excitement for college and university chaplaincy. He earned a Ph.D., M.Div., and a Certificate of Executive Leadership from Howard University, and a B.S. in Telecommunication from the University of Florida. Dr. Duffie enjoys crafting interfaith experiences that highlight religious identity, diversity, and educational rigor to enrich collegiate life.  

Cecil’s project seeks to address a dearth of professional development offerings for Black college and university religious and spiritual life leaders on interfaith collaboration. The project would host a one and half day convening on interfaith collaboration, dialogue, and development for 10-15 Black college and university religious and spiritual life leaders. The goals are understanding denominational and multi-faith distinctions, sharing best practices, networking, producing knowledge and navigating interfaith collaboration from a Black context. Cecil will work with Black religious and spiritual life leaders from historically Black colleges and universities, other minority serving institutions and predominantly white institutions from across institutional types.   

Danny Richmond

Danny Richmond is a Community Lead for the Forum of Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum. Previously, Danny has worked in various roles focused on civic engagement, youth leadership, and social inclusion including the Parliament of World Religions, Inspirit Foundation, Ve’ahavta and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. He got his start in interfaith engagement as a Faiths Act Fellow of Interfaith America back when it was Interfaith Youth Core. Danny has a passion to demonstrate the power of communities working together to be a force of social change. 

Danny’s project seeks to lay the foundation for Jewish youth to be bridge builders and explore issues related to interfaith cooperation, reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and racial justice. He plans to seed a new annual lecture and social action project/challenge at various schools and summer camps. In addition, Danny will explore how leaders can maintain and mature a sense of idealism during their mid-career (whatever mid-career means 😊) as many people struggle with burnout, cynicism and defeatism.  

Irshad Osman

Irshad Osman is an Imam by training and a fundraiser by profession. He completed his BA in Islamic studies in Sri Lanka and MSc in Public Policy in UK.   Passionate about Inclusive Philanthropy, he has worked at many local and international non-profits overseeing fundraising portfolios worth of millions of dollars. He was an Interfaith Innovation Fellow with Interfaith America in 2020.   He is the founder of Muslim-Indigenous Connection program that aims to increase Muslim youth engagement with Indigenous communities through interfaith, intercultural dialogue and education. It trains a cohort of Canadian Muslim youth every year to learn about the Indigenous Peoples and their past and present struggles due to settler-colonialism.   

Irshad’s project envisions to galvanize the Canadian Muslim community to be part of reconciliation efforts with the Indigenous communities.   The colonial oppression and the dark legacy of residential schools caused Indigenous Peoples to lose trust in faith institutions. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued 94 “Calls to Action” to further the reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. However, awareness for such relationship-building measures among Muslims, who are settlers through migration, is lacking.  Hence Irshad’s vision is to spark a change in the public mindset and get the wider Muslim community involved in national reconciliation efforts by building a tangible framework for reflective practice and visionary leadership among Muslims.  

Kenji Kuramitsu

Kenji Kuramitsu is a spiritual care and mental health professional rooted in Chicago, IL. Kenji holds graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and McCormick Theological Seminary, where he has served as an Adjunct Professor in Ministry. Kenji works in LGBTQ health care and has led interfaith projects focused on historical memory, pilgrimage, race, and social determinants of health in nonprofit, faith-based, and social movement settings. His writing has been nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. Licensed as a clinical social worker and board certified as a Group Psychotherapist, Kenji believes in the healing power of relationships and the witness of diverse communities working for justice and solidarity. 

Kenji’s project seeks to increase access to historical narratives related to the intersections of race and interfaith histories on the South Side of Chicago. Drawing upon experiences from leading Hyde Park/Kenwood Racial Justice History walking tours since 2018, Kenji aims to center a specifically interfaith lens to explore the textured, complicated work of racial justice in these neighborhoods. This project will create a digital resource and archive to offer these local narratives for wider engagement, as well as host public in-person offerings by partnering with local religious institutions. This project plans to draw upon pilgrimage experiences to other sacred sites while emphasizing the “sacred soil” under all our feet. 

Mohammed Al-Samawi

Mohammed Al-Samawi is an interfaith activist, a refugee from Yemen, and the author of the best-selling autobiography The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America. His nonprofit interfaith organization, Abrahamic House, builds sustainable interfaith learning and action by fostering an environment of learning, respect, and social change. Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg, and Marc Platt are developing the movie, The Fox Hunt, based on his autobiography.  He has received accolades such as the Daniel Pearl Award from the ADL for fighting antisemitism and the Medal of Honor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. 

Abrahamic House is a multifaith co-living and co-creating space to learn, share, pray, celebrate, connect, and serve. “We challenge assumptions, prejudices and inequities, then we inspire and mobilize others to do the same,” is their mission. This is achieved by Abrahamic Houses hosting emerging interfaith leaders for 1-2 years in cities across the United States.  Fellows design and facilitate programming together, culminating in a capstone service project. Leaders will engage an extensive network of residents in their urban community through accessible-to-all programs and interactive events. 

Nikhil Mandalaparthy

Nikhil Mandalaparthy is an Executive Board Member of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus and curator of Voices of Bhakti, a digital archive showcasing translations of South Asian poetry on religion, caste, and gender. Nikhil’s writing and reporting on religion and politics has been published in outlets such as Foreign Policy magazine and Religion News Service, and he has been featured in BBC World Service, Al Jazeera, and the Huffington Post. Nikhil believes interfaith solidarity is a critical strategy to push back against far-right religious nationalist movements gaining power around the world.  

Nikhil will be leveraging the power of the arts to combat political and religious polarization among South Asian communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they make up nearly one-fifth of the population. Nikhil will work with an interfaith cohort of South Asian American performing artists from the Bay Area to commission original works inspired by specific poems featured in his Voices of Bhakti digital archive. The poems will challenge religious nationalism, hate, and exclusion. These original works will be shared through social media and in-person performances in the Bay Area, in collaboration with local South Asian community organizations. 

Olivia Elder

Olivia Elder is an advocacy professional, organizer, and dancer based in Washington, D.C.   Olivia is currently a Senior Project Manager at the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) and a Religion and Public Leadership graduate student at Boston University. Prior to her work at CPE, she worked at Meta, Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, and supporting partnerships, engagement, electoral organizing, coalitions, and grantmaking. Olivia also served as a Commissioner on the D.C. Mayor’s Commission on Reentry and Returning Citizen Affairs.   Outside of work, Olivia is the founder of Project 117 – a micro-consultancy providing education around climate justice, criminal injustice, and faith-based action. 

Olivia’s project is to expand her work on Project 117, a faith-based initiative to “seek justice and correct oppression” as the Bible calls Christians to do in Isaiah 1:17. Through public education, community connection, and spiritual care, Project 117 supports people of all and no faiths as they share resources, meet their care needs, and empower their communities to keep themselves safe.   Through this grant, Olivia will expand this work, offering faith-based opioid overdose prevention trainings, local advocacy toolkits, and a comprehensive training series with an accompanying zine on an interfaith approach to wrongdoing, retribution, and redemption. 

Shannon McCray

Shannon McCray is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor based in Chicago, Illinois and holds master’s degrees in African American Studies and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Shannon believes interfaith collaboration is key to successfully addressing racial trauma, community violence and childhood adverse experiences–all of which are her clinical interests. 

Shannon’s project seeks to develop and provide gender-responsive, trauma-informed, socially just, and culturally competent professional development for other behavioral health clinicians (social workers, counselors, etc.). These trainings will inform clinical professionals who serve communities from diverse racial, faith and cultural backgrounds and who need responsive and effective mental health treatment.  

Tahil Sharma

Tahil Sharma is an interfaith activist based in Southern California born to a Hindu father and a Sikh mother. He is the Regional Coordinator for North America at the United Religions Initiative, serving dozens of grassroots interfaith communities in their pursuit of peace, justice, and healing through program support and capacity building. Tahil also serves as an Interfaith Minister in Residence for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, a Board Member for Sadhana: A Coalition of Progressive Hindus, and a member of the Racial Justice & Religion Collective at the Aspen Institute’s Religion & Society Program. 

Tahil’s project aims to bridge a divide that exists between various faith communities and the LGBTQIA2S+ community at large. His goal is to create an intersectional collaborative space that supports a pluralistic and dynamic relationship between queer people and their religious, secular, and indigenous counterparts. This projects hopes to serve and uplift LGBTQIA2S+ people by: 1) Creating a national, interfaith database of queer-affirming spaces across traditions, 2) compiling a roster of religious leaders, spiritual guides, indigenous elders, and interfaith chaplains who can provide various services and rites to those in need, and 3) creating identity-based affinity groups to allow various communities to create intentional communities through identities they care about. 

Fellowship in Prayer is a grantmaking organization based in Princeton, New Jersey. It was founded in 1949 and has been awarding Sacred Journey grants since 2015.