Meet the Emerging Leaders of Interfaith America
May 6, 2022
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again”
Langston Hughes understood America as an evolving project, where the repeated failure of achieving freedom still couldn’t erase it as the nation’s central idea. His words have inspired generations of leaders to build toward the land that “yet must be.” It’s also worth noting that his faith in America was rooted in his approach to faith itself. While he deliberately never identified as a Christian, he was a regular churchgoer to churches of many denominations and wrote religiously-inspired works such as “Black Nativity.” His appreciative eye for beliefs that are not his own mark him as an interfaith leader ahead of his time.
Hughes would understand that our vision of Interfaith America – both the organization and the social reality – is a work in progress. The daily news reminds us of our failings: incidents of hatred and violence, bigotry, and intolerance. But in 2022, that’s not the whole story. In fact, it’s not even half of it. We live in a time of unprecedented interreligious encounter, and thousands of Americans, in big and small ways, are weaving those encounters into a pluralist nation.
Let me introduce a few of these interfaith leaders to you:
Tameeka Washington is a Seventh-day Adventist, a mom, and a government administrator who lives in Bowie, Maryland, about halfway between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Bowie is an interestingly integrated town of 60,000 that is home to Bowie State University, an historically Black university. In the midst of the George Floyd protests, Tameeka started gathering people together across religious lines to form the Interfaith Coalition of Bowie. Never having organized across religions before, she befriended a local rabbi who had been engaged with interfaith work for decades, and who became her co-conspirator in launching the organization. Under Tameeka’s leadership, the coalition has spoken out against both racist and anti-Semitic incidents in Bowie, and has begun providing activities for young people. This summer, Tameeka is planning the organization’s inaugural Vacation Interfaith School, a variation on vacation Bible school programs that engage kids in learning, service, and fun while giving parents a break during the summer.
Chloe Henry has been in her job as Faith in Action Program Manager at Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity for about 9 months. She is a product of Christian colleges, including Azusa Pacific and Pepperdine, and has worked for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (where she first heard about Interfaith America). She has done extensive faith-based service work, including international projects and work with people in the criminal justice system. Through her work, she’s trying to answer the question of what responsible interfaith work would look like in El Paso County, Colorado, where the major city is Colorado Springs. Chloe’s done a remarkable job bringing to fruition the affiliate’s first Interfaith Build for Unity, which united people across faith communities in building a home for a family in need. In a predominantly but not exclusively Christian area, she’s brought everyone into the tent, from the local Latter-day Saints group to a Buddhist sangha. The completion of the last house was celebrated with a traditional round dance from the Native American Women’s Association. Chloe’s already planning the group’s second build.
Salmah Abdulbaseer is now in her fourth year of medical school at the University of Illinois Chicago College of Medicine. She’s already shown her talent as a leader, having been president of the Muslim Student Association at her undergraduate institution where 15% of the nearly 30,000-person student body is Muslim, advocating for a student prayer space and helping the organization receive the Diversity Award in 2019. She is also currently the president of the Health Professions Student Council on her campus and an avid volunteer at her local mosque. She has ambitions of becoming a medical school or hospital administrator who can support and emphasize the religious needs of her students and patients. Recently, she presented a conference paper on complementary and alternative medicine use among Chicago Muslim women at the Conference on Medicine and Religion 2022 and is working on a national study looking at the experiences of Muslim Americans in healthcare/hospital settings with the Initiative on Islam and Medicine. She has a great interest in Islamically-informed care and is interested in working with Interfaith America to create easily accessible material for hospital staff on religiously-informed care for folks of a variety of religious backgrounds.
Tameeka, Chloe, and Salmah are the face of Interfaith America today. They are the leaders who take it upon themselves to build bridges of pluralism in a diverse society, to make America what Langston Hughes calls “that great strong land of love.”
Are you or someone you know doing innovative interfaith work in your community? Send an email to [email protected] to tell us about your work, your dreams, and how we can help. We’re especially looking for people beyond the existing Interfaith America network who are starting interfaith work in unlikely places and spaces.
We are happy to welcome new members to Interfaith America’s Emerging Leaders network of more than 2,000 people across the country. A select group of new members to the Emerging Leaders Network will be supported with a special micro-grant, skill building opportunities, mentorship, and a cohort experience.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life