Director for Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs, City of Philadelphia
Urban Studies Major
In a nutshell, I’m trying to figure out what it means to be faithful in public, whether that’s in terms of government and politics, the classroom, or congregational life. For three years, I’ve served as a kind of in-house expert on matters of faith in the mayor’s office at City Hall. For example, when COVID-19 hit, I advised the administration around what our policy recommendations should be for houses of worship, and how we should communicate that. How do we talk to people of faith about this pandemic and place restrictions on them when they want to do what comes naturally in times of crisis, which is to convene, to be together?
Before, I’d thought there was the church and the academy, and that people in the academy were always trying to dismiss abstract mystical things. But Penn had people who were just as committed to the spirit as they were to the mind, and now I walk in that way.
My primary interest is making sure we are a religiously competent, responsible, and hospitable city. Philly calls itself the “City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.” Well, does that translate into religious hospitality? We know a majority of Philadelphians identify as religious or spiritual, and we know we need to be compassionate toward the thousands of people of faith in the city. How can we do that from the top down? My job is a mix of navigating the bureaucracy of government, of translating policy for everyday folks, and of being a resource to people of faith who want to talk back to their government.
I’m also an adjunct faculty member at Villanova University and Arcadia University, and I recently accepted a virtual appointment as the religion and public life government fellow at Harvard Divinity School. Religious formation for so many begins in some sort of classroom, and my goal is for students to understand that even if you’re not going to become an ordained clergy person professionally, we all should have some level of religious literacy.
At Penn, I met people who taught me that being religious is not being anti-intellectual. Before, I’d thought there was the church and the academy, and that people in the academy were always trying to dismiss abstract mystical things. But Penn had people who were just as committed to the spirit as they were to the mind, and now I walk in that way. I can be interested in rigor and analysis, just like I’m interested in the mysterious.
I can’t imagine working in a situation where I can’t be a person of faith, and also be a Black woman, and also be queer. My advice to others would be to pursue professional opportunities that allow you to live a fully integrated life. — November 21, 2022 • Photo by Brooke Sietinsons