Associate Pastor Sharon Stroye is the inaugural Director of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Initiative at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
Sharon is a friend and colleague of Interfaith America and partnered with us last year to facilitate a yearlong Black and Jewish dialogue and dinner series in Newark, New Jersey, where she is from.
We sat with her recently to celebrate the release of her “United We Build” mini-documentary and catch up with her to hear about the new job and how her spiritual path brought her to this work of racial healing and transformation.
Sharon Stroye, in her own words, as told to Interfaith America Magazine:
We weren’t churchgoers as kids. But we always seemed to live across the street from a church. They would also have Vacation Bible School in the summertime. My single mother, who worked as a home health aide for a nursing home, signed me up, and I would always be in the building during the summer. We’d learn about Moses, Joseph, and Adam and Eve, but the Church did not become a significant part of my life until I had children.
However, there was always this moment where I was seeking truth. Even when I was a teenager, I always felt different. Like I didn’t necessarily belong in any space or place. I distinctly remember standing in front of my house in north Newark, looking down at the one-way street, and hearing, “There is something better than this.” And I just heard it and didn’t know what it was. But that’s what I heard. And because that’s what I heard, the decisions I made for my education differed from what my friends were doing.
My childhood was grounded in the diversity of Newark. I had Hispanic, Jewish, Black, and Italian friends. And I’m not just saying friends you see in school, like, I would go to their house and eat dinner. Two of my friends were Puerto Rican, and we would leave school at lunchtime; this is probably when I was in middle school; now, I don’t know if we were supposed to be leaving school, but we did. We would leave school at lunchtime, go to their house, and get leftover rice and beans in the refrigerator to avoid eating food in the cafeteria. When I was in the fourth grade, we were supposed to go home after school, but we’d be in the playground jumping rope or on the swing or the slide. And then it’d be an hour later, and we should have been home, and now we are in trouble.
I became grounded in my faith in March 2009, two months after my marriage and my kids were teenagers. I called my girlfriend and said, “I got all of these people who are now living in this house together. They’re making me crazy.” And she said, “Find your church home”. The Pastor who married us, his wife, was a friend of mine, and three weeks after the wedding, I’m going to Church. And then the next week, my husband showed up, he said, “I’m going to go with you,” and literally that day, we joined the Church.
The Pastor was a man of God. I would read the Bible on my own, the King James Bible, and different translations, but I could never understand Revelations. I didn’t get it. This Pastor taught a Bible Study Lesson, teaching Revelations, and it clicked. My husband, my children, and I spent 10 years in this one congregation, and my relationship with God completely shifted.
New Year’s Eve, Watch Night service, I want to say 2010 going into 2011, I started a new role at my job, and I’m sitting in the first row, in the pew. I’m always in the front because I need to hear it all. The Pastor reached across the pulpit and pointed at me. He prophesied; he said, “Students are going to come into the office talking about God, and you’re not going to have to say anything.” And the first student in my office told me he was Christian and going to Bible study. And every week, for an entire month, he would come into my office on a Friday, and we would talk about God.
So, I called the Pastor, “What did you do?” And he was like, “What do you mean?” I told him, “This person came in; he’s Korean. This person is African. This person is Haitian. And I didn’t ask about God; they just start talking about God.” So, he started laughing and said, “So you just called for the confirmation?”
I’ve always known my husband was a man of God and was called to be a pastor. So, during COVID-19, we left that ministry. We knew it was time to go, and in 2019 or 2020, God called us to start an online ministry, God’s Kingdom Heavenly Church. It is a nondenominational, online ministry that follows the Sabbath and teaches the Word of God.
I am a daughter of the Most High, and when He says I need to love my enemy, what does that mean? Because if you’re my enemy, you’re not getting that close to me. But what it really boils down to is I needed to love the enemies that were part of my own family. Because they are the only ones that can get that close and cause some harm. How will I minister to students, young people, and all of these strangers? If I can’t minister to my own family members?
So it actually starts there. And what it did for me goes back to that voice, looking for something better. I needed to understand why my family members behave in a particular way. I have family members that grew up in trauma and didn’t talk about it. They had all these secrets. Well, I had questions, and I needed to know why. So, once I found out why they behaved the way they did, (it clicked) “Oh, that’s what you mean: Love your enemies. They’re people who have been through something.”
Everyone has a role. And I don’t know if this is an official biblical term, but those individuals that tend to challenge my nerves, I call them irritant disciples because everybody has a purpose. If you are breathing the same air I am breathing, created by the Father, you have a purpose. Whether you believe in the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit is not my business. It’s irrelevant to me. But you have a purpose. So, if you’re getting on my last nerves or trying to create difficulty in what I’m doing, I’ve termed them irritant disciples who will have me go to God and pray for them. Pray for the situation, the circumstance, the revelation, and the resolution.
But to pray for them, I must have a sincere heart as a daughter of the King. I can’t go to God and say, ” I need you to do something today. ” That’s not how it works. So, I’m going to pray for them. It allows me to have a more intimate and personal relationship with God. And that’s their purpose.
Once I give it to the Lord, I also have empathy and the willingness to listen. The other aspect of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Spiritual Transformation (TRHT) framework is active listening. That allows me to look at it from a different perspective. We may have started where I want to put my paws on you. Okay, but you’re an irritant disciple. Let me go to my faith, which gives me a different lens.
I’m on a Godly ordained divine assignment at Emory. I believe that. Now, whether anybody else believes that it doesn’t matter, it’s irrelevant. But I’m sent here on assignment so that everyone, no matter what department you’re in or your role at the institution, I’ve come in service to help. I want to understand what you’re trying to do. What are some of your obstacles? What are some of your challenges? I say to everybody, I’m here to help. I want to listen to what you are doing, how stressed you are, and what audience you are working with that can benefit from a racial healing circle. Where do you want to start? How can I strategize? I can sit there and listen to them and devise a quick strategy about how this can work and how this framework can be integrated into what they are already doing. You don’t need to schedule a different meeting; I’ll attend your staff meeting. I’ll come to your DEI meeting. I’ll go and meet you. I am serving the Kingdom of God, walking, and living in my purpose. This is what I am supposed to be doing.