American Civic Life

Meet the 2022 Interfaith Innovation Fellows

March 7, 2022

Photos courtesy of the Innovation Fellows
Mohammed Baaoum

Please meet the 2022 Interfaith Innovation Fellows:

Mohammed Baaoum

(Christianburg, VA – Sufi Muslim)

BIO: Mohammed is a Virginia Tech (VT) Ph.D. candidate in Industrial and Systems Engineering. He founded the Synergy Interfaith Collective and the UN Association at VT. Prior to joining VT, he was a lecturer at King Fahd University and an ARAMCO project engineer. Mohammed has a master’s degree in industrial engineering and a master’s degree in social and cultural pedagogy from Arizona State University (ASU). During his time at ASU, he co-founded Better Together, another interfaith student organization. Mohammed believes that interfaith gives us the ability to recognize our unity while also celebrating our diversity.

PROJECT: Minimal progress has been made in recruiting and retaining students, especially women and ethnic minorities, in STEM programs, although the proportion of women and underrepresented minorities enrolled in undergraduate programs have generally increased since the 1980s (Lichtenstein & Chen, 2014). Thus, there is a need for programs that bring cultural change in STEM academia. I intend to arrange workshops to engage students in meaningful dialogue on topics spanning the boundaries of STEM, namely interfaith, & social justice, to contribute to the advancement of an inclusive environment, pluralism, and intercultural learning in the STEM context.

Laura Bohorquez

Laura Bohorquez

(Lake Zurich, IL – Roman Catholic/ Lutheran)

BIO: Laura was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. She traveled to Dubuque, IA to study film and international studies at Loras College, and during her studies she became passionate for interfaith dialogue, and social justice. She continued her education with a Master’s in International Relations at the University of Chicago with a concentration on human rights. She now lives in the Chicago suburbs and works at the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, advocating for a welcoming community, educating immigrant families on their rights, and helping them find the resources they need to thrive in their community.

PROJECT: This project seeks to address the lack of mental health resources available to immigrant families in the Chicago suburbs. The purpose is twofold: 1) to fund counseling sessions for families, with providers who are culturally and linguistically appropriate, and 2) to invite mental health experts to speak to immigrant families in their religious and cultural communities. I plan to collaborate with organizations and faith communities that serve immigrants from different nationalities and backgrounds to reach the families who most need mental health services. Specifically, I will work with the Muslim community (primarily Arabic speaking), and Christian communities (Spanish speaking) to target the mental health needs that arise for individuals with that worldview in our society.

Cherizar Tiffany- Marie Lee-Crippen

Cherizar Tiffany- Marie Lee-Crippen

(Richmond, VA – Hoodoo and Aborisha of the Ifa tradition)

BIO: Cherizar is a Black + Indigenous queer abolitionist, Hoodoo, Aborisha, facilitator, coach, and educator.  She is based in the south and dedicates her time to developing youth leadership, directing programs that bring healer organizers together, and resting. Cherizar is proud to serve as the first Black Stewarding Director of Highlander’s Children’s Justice Camp and the Co-Creator and Founding Program Director of both The ASK (Ancestral Spirit Kollective) and the SONG Grief x Spirit Care Cadre. She is mother to 40+ plants, one very resilient fish, and a heartful of brilliant BIPOC gaybies.

PROJECT: The SONG GxSCC is a beautiful collective of southern based folks who practice a range of healing modalities rooted in their culture and queer identities. We are bodyworkers, clergy, therapists, hoodoos, etc., passionate about the liberation of oppressed people. The primary goal of this project will be to create a Spiritual Landscape Map that will function like a digital green book for southern based healing institutions, individuals, and places of spiritual significance, both positive and traumatic. Other work will include a healer rolodex, community based campaigns, toolkits for different learning styles, etc. We intend to build together until freedom comes for the sake of our collective liberation.

Sabriya Dobbins

Sabriya Dobbins

(Orlando, FL – Non-denominational Christian)

BIO: Sabriya, award-winning Founder of Project Passport and Life Discovery Expert, graduated from North Carolina State University with dual Bachelor’s degrees in Animal Science and Social Work. Currently she is serving as a Counseling Intern as she works to complete her masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She joyfully runs Project Passport, a proactive wellness service company designed with the goal of providing preventative mental wellness tools and solutions to companies, organizations, and individual women. As a nondenominational Christianity, she uses her platform to help others develop an acceptance of one another through the lens of empathy and authentic compassion.

PROJECT:  This project is an interactive 4-part series that challenges a diverse cohort of participants to become aware of and confront their worldviews through designing their own ‘life lenses’ in a hands-on, creative project. By navigating their unique designs together, participants have the opportunity to explore the worldviews of others via a facilitated dialogue and storytelling experience. With faith, spiritual, and moral foundations serving as the backdrop for all people, the core aspect of this project encourages participants to understand how their life beliefs shape how they show up in the world and how it impacts how they perceive others.

Janice D'souza

Janice D’souza

(Brooklyn, NY – Roman Catholic)

BIO:  Janice was born and raised in South India and is professionally a mixed-methods researcher and evaluator with a focus on gender, sexual-reproductive health, religion, and social inequities. She has worked at these intersections at the CDC, NYC Department of Health, a girls’ education program in India, and other similar organizations. She also works as an evaluator with national advocacy groups on matters of safe abortion and family planning and instructs youth, parenting adults, and teachers in sex education.
She has a Master of Public Health from Emory University with a focus in sexual & reproductive health and a B.A. from Berea College in Gender Studies. She is happiest reading Bollywood gossip, twisty mysteries, and in kitchens.

Laura Bellnier

Laura Bellnier

(Lexington, KY – Non-denominational Christian)

BIO:  Laura (she/her) works to increase access to health care and evidence-based interventions for children and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing through research at the University of Kentucky. Previously, she worked for Habitat for Humanity and Save the Children, expanding access to affordable housing and educational opportunities for low-income Kentuckians. Laura holds a Master’s of Public Health from the University of Kentucky and a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies from Berea College. In her free time, Laura enjoys sewing, spending time with her family and making terrible puns.

Shivam Gosai

Shivam Gosai

(Boston, MA – Advaita Vedanta Hindu)

BIO: Shivam is a mental health counselor currently practicing in the greater Boston area, specializing in trauma work and Internal Family Systems (IFS). He obtained his master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Villanova University and prior to that completed an intensive three-year Hindu spirituality (Advaita Vedanta) course at Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in South India. He is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute to further the intersection of spirituality and psychotherapy. For fun, Shivam loves biking, hiking, cooking vegan dishes, and watching documentaries with his wife.

PROJECT:  The primary goal of this project will be to create a podcast that focuses on the intersection of Hinduism and mental health. In conversation with various Hindu monks, scholars, and psychotherapists, each episode will explore ways in which psychology and Hinduism can impact one another. As a mental health clinician and Hindu-American, Shivam is uniquely positioned to engage these two world views in conversation. This single-season podcast will allow listeners to gain insight into Hindu spirituality and knowledge that can improve their mental health practices. These deliberate conversations will also aid mental health clinicians in increasing their sensitivity to religious diversity. As more people seek to improve their mental health, these conversations will illuminate the ways in which Hinduism and psychology can provide a unique way forward.

Kalilah Jamall

Kalilah Jamall

(Jacksonville, FL – Agnostic)

BIO: Kalilah is the Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement at Jacksonville University. In this role, she strengthens community relations between affinity groups by creating a sense of connection and belonging through shared experiences. In her previous work as the Interfaith Center Specialist at The University of North Florida, she also helped to oversee The Interfaith Center which assists students across religious and non-religious identities to feel seen and respected on campus through creative programming, cultural exchanges, and opportunities to find common ground.
Her passion for student leadership also helped her oversee The Better Together Leadership Team which provides additional opportunities for student growth and development within the center.

PROJECT: In order to spark more celebration, appreciation, and awareness of the cultural observance of Kwanzaa, Kalilah will provide up-to-date resources, guides, videography and photography of her mother’s Kwanzaa rituals. Her goal is to inspire the new generation of Black Americans to create their own traditions for the holiday season that can exist outside of the Christian tradition to be inclusive of nonreligious or non-Christian Black folks. She also aspires to provide the educators of tomorrow with tools to teach about Kwanzaa with modern twist that will resonate with the generations of today.

Anthony Cruz Pantojas

Anthony Cruz Pantojas

(Brighton, MA – Humanist)

BIO: Anthony, MTS (they/he/elle), is the Humanist Chaplain at Tufts University. They earned a Masters in Theological Studies from Andover Newton Theological School.

In the Fall of 2021 Anthony worked as Program Coordinator and Educator at Faith in the Vaccine, where their work focused on vaccine hesitancy, as well as spearheading projects promoting civic engagement and critical consciousness through action research and narrative methodologies.

As an extension of their community-based work, Anthony is also a Dignity Project Mentor for the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for lnterreligious Learning & Leadership at Hebrew College and Boston University School of Theology. As a Youth Fellow for We Got Us, a grassroots collective supporting Black community members and allies, Anthony facilitated trainings on medical racism, activism, and research. Most recently they returned to We Got Us as Assistant Director of Youth Programming. Their academic research interests are Cultural Studies, Afro-Caribbean subjectivities, and Spirituality.

PROJECT: This project will develop a mentorship program to foster community among first-generation students from diverse social locations. Furthermore, this project centers marginalized spiritual, philosophical, and cultural traditions not typically represented in interreligious engagement. The project seeks to not only explore historical elements of interreligious literacy and cooperation. It aims to mobilize college students to navigate the complex social structures that influence the formation of identity, social conscience, and systemic barriers that impede human flourishing. This program will serve as a hub by providing learning opportunities in an experiential and cooperative setting.

Kianna Ruff

Kianna Ruff

(St. Charles, MO – Christian)

BIO: Kianna is a St. Louis native, activist, minister, and creative. She received her Master of Divinity at Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University. Her leadership work has been featured in the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and more.

Kianna is currently managing operations in St. Louis where she supports re-entry community members and local carceral policy change. Kianna has formerly worked at Center for Court Innovation in New York City where she focused on reimagining neighborhood-led safety as a mechanism to minimize over-policing and strengthen community resiliency. Kianna is also a former NCAA Division 1 track and field athlete at the University of Tennessee.

PROJECT:  The central focus of this project will be to create a documentary style video with animated digital highlighting how cash bail and the carceral system exist at the heart of the intersectionality of most socio-economic issues with Black and Brown communities. The documentary video will also provide a framework for connecting community, promoting deincarceration, and minimizing over-policing while reimagining public safety through a racial equity lens that encourages community members of all faiths to build power and work together toward a solution. The project will culminate in a fun “Interfaith Night Premiere” of the documentary for organizers, activists and spiritual leaders of all faiths (as well as those who simply want to see racial equity built within their community).

Emma Wonsil

Emma Wonsil

(Tacoma, WA – Roman Catholic)

BIO: Emma is a Behavioral Health Clinician at Catholic Community Services where she works with folks experiencing housing instability or homelessness in Tacoma, Washington. A native Michigander, Emma was raised Catholic and deeply formed by Catholic Social Teaching. She was a member of Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest at the Poverello Center in Missoula, Montana. Emma graduated from Fordham University with an MA in Ethics & Society in 2019 before returning to direct service. In her current work, she feels ridiculously lucky to accompany and witness individuals on their healing journey. She is passionate about harm reduction, trauma-informed care, and podcasts.

PROJECT: Despite the prevalence and efficacy of harm reduction programs across the county, there is still significant resistance and stigma associated with the practice – particularly among faith communities and healthcare providers. To combat stigma and establish a narrative of communal cooperation, this project will combine direct aid and educational advocacy through the creation of accessible, informative graphics. The first graphic will outline the values of the secular harm reduction movement and the Catholic spiritual tradition, which has historically opposed harm reduction strategies. The second graphic will be created in collaboration with people who have lived experiences of substance use to share their values and hopes for healthcare providers. The distribution of these graphics will contribute to a narrative of interfaith cooperation by designing tangible resources that will highlight the intersections of harm reduction, a faith tradition, and lived experience.

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