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2015 Conference Presenters

2015-Almontaser-DebbieDebbie Almontaser is the founding and former principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. As a 20-plus-year veteran of the NYC public school system, she taught special education, inclusion, trained teachers in literacy, and served as a multicultural specialist and diversity advisor. She co-designed a curriculum for the Muslim Communities Project at Columbia University and for Educators for Social Responsibility/Metro. She has contributed a chapter in The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11 for New York University’s Child Study Center and the Museum of the City of New York as well as articles and essays in several magazines. Almontaser has worked as a consultant to groups such as Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr., Channel 13 WNET, and the Interfaith Center of NYC. Almontaser lectures frequently and serves on panels as well as facilitates teacher and public workshops on conflict resolution, Arab culture, and Islam at universities, libraries, museums, churches, and synagogues across the city and at local, national, and international conferences.

Macky Alston is Vice President for Strategy, Engagement, and Media at Auburn Seminary, where he equips faith leaders to stand for justice through the media. Alston founded and has directed Auburn Media since 2002, innovating programs related to media and religion and media training more than 5,000 faith leaders on a wide range of justice issues, including many of the most influential religious leaders of our day. Alston is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, whose films include Love Free or Die (PBS); Hard Road Home (PBS), The Killer Within (Discovery), Questioning Faith (HBO), and Family Name (PBS). He has won at Sundance twice and received a Gotham Award, three Emmy nominations, and appeared widely in the press, including The Oprah Winfrey ShowThe Today Show and The New York Times. He was recently named one of “Fifteen Faith Leaders to Watch in 2015” by the Center for American Progress. A graduate of Union Theological Seminary, Alston comes from a long line of ministers in the American South and grew up exposed to the power of religion, politics, and the media as charismatic leaders on the Left and Right shaped society and history for generations to come.

Onleilove Alston is the Executive Director at Faith in New York, an affiliate of the People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) National Network, where she works with a multifaith and multiracial coalition of more than 60 congregations throughout New York City on issues related to economic and racial justice. She is a contributing writer for Sojourners magazine and God’s Politics Blog. Alston’s writing has also appeared in The Black CommentatorCONSP!RE magazine, and OnBeing blog, as well in other print and online publications. She has a passion for creating devotional materials to aid the body of Christ in holistic sanctification that leads to spiritual maturity, emotional health, and prophetic justice. Alston received her Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work degrees from Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University School of Social Work. In addition to her organizing work, she is a member of The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary, which is building a movement to end poverty led by the poor.

Rev. Jennifer Bailey is a storyteller, community organizer, and emerging national leader in multifaith movement for justice. As Founder and Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network, Bailey believes that people of faith can be game changers in the fight to build a more just, compassionate, and peaceful world. She comes to this work with nearly a decade of experience combatting intergenerational poverty in her hometown of Chicago, and her adopted home, Nashville, Tennessee. Bailey is currently a Nathan Cummings Foundation Fellow, an elite cohort of innovative leaders combatting issues of economic and social inequality with outside-the-box thinking. An ordained itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, Bailey was recently named one of “Fifteen Faith Leaders to Watch in 2015” by the Center for American Progress.

2015-Beckles-CamilleCamille Beckles is a St. Louis native with a love for media, photography, and technology. Beckles attended Boston University as a Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar where she earned a degree in film and television. After moving to NYC in 2010, she began her career in television as a member of the NBC Page Program, before moving into the digital media space. She currently leads the digital production team at Beamly, a social and content tech startup. Beckles has always been passionate about social justice and discovering ways that media and technology can connect people and break barriers. She is from Ferguson, Missouri, and is an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Taquiena Boston is the Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and serves on the UUA’s executive Leadership Council. She is a member of the Core Team that coordinates the UU Minsters Association/UUA Beyond the Call Entrepreneurial Ministry Project. Boston’s UUA work focuses on leadership development, culture change, and social justice for congregational and community leaders engaged in intentional multicultural ministries, including faith-based justice-making and social movement building. Her staff group launched the Mosaic Makers Leading Vital Multicultural Congregations Conference for UU leaders in 2012. Mosaic Makers is moving toward greater collaboration with The Middle Project’s Leading Edge Multicultural/Multiracial Congregations Leadership Conference. Boston is a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian, an intentional multiracial/multicultural congregation in Washington, DC that has inspired her work with leaders and congregations doing intentional multicultural, justice-based ministries. She has attended every Middle Church Leading Edge Conference from the beginning through the present.

2015-Butler-AmyRev. Dr. Amy Butler serves as the seventh Senior Minister of the historic Riverside Church in New York City. Prior to her work at The Riverside Church, Butler served for eleven years as Senior Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington DC. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Church History from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, her Bachelor of Theology from the International Baptist Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, and her Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Before her call to Calvary, Butler served as Associate Pastor at St. Charles Baptist Church in New Orleans and worked for eight years with homeless women in the city of New Orleans. She was raised in Hawaii and is a mother of three young adults. Butler writes a regular column for the Associated Baptist Press and blogs at www.talkwiththepreacher.org. You can connect with her on Twitter at @PastorAmyTRC and on Instagram at PastorAmyTRC.

Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre serves as a professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology. He focuses on ethics within contemporary U.S. thought, specifically how religion affects race, class, and gender oppression. He specializes in applying a social scientific approach to Latino/a religiosity within this country, Liberation theologies in the Caribbean and Latin America, and postmodern/postcolonial social theory. De La Torre came to the U.S. as a refugee from Cuba when he was six months old. He earned his M.Div. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and earned a Ph.D. from Temple University in social ethics. He has authored numerous books, including Reading the Bible from the MarginsSantería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America; and Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins. He has served as a director to the Society of Christian Ethics and the American Academy of Religion. He is vice-president of the Society of Christian Ethics.

Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr. is the Harry Emerson Fosdick Distinguished Professor at Union Theological Seminary. He is Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church, founder of the Healing of the Nations Foundation, and until 2007 hosted “The Time Is Now” on Air America Radio. Forbes served as Senior Minister to the 2,400 members of The Riverside Church from 1989-2007. In 1996, Newsweek magazine recognized Forbes as one of the 12 “most effective preachers” in the English-speaking world. In 2004, Forbes keynoted most of the “Let Justice Roll” tour sponsored by the National Council of Churches of Christ. In August 2004, Forbes addressed the Democratic National Convention. He is on the board of the Interfaith Alliance, Children’s Defense Fund, Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University, and the United Way. Forbes earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School; a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary.

Anurag Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Be More, a millennial-led social enterprise that aims to make real the promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all humans regardless of their external appearance or presentation. Be More is to human capital as Fair Trade is to coffee, LEED is to buildings, and B Corp is to business. Be More aims to assess, train, and certify public and private corporate entities to understand and transform ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how institutional actors perceive, remember, reason, and make decisions regarding human talent, potential, and abilities. Gupta has a J.D. from NYU School of Law, a Master’s in Development Studies from Cambridge, and a Bachelor’s in Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies from NYU. Born and bred between old Delhi and New York, Gupta has worked with social enterprises and nonprofits in Korea, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Burma, and across the U.S. He teaches yoga and mindfulness meditation in his spare time.

Rev. Dr. Robert M. Hardies was called at the age of 29 to be senior minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, D.C. He is now completing 14 years of ministry in this vibrant, multicultural congregation in the heart of our nation’s capital. In 2009, Hardies helped lead the struggle to make D.C. the seventh jurisdiction in the nation to embrace marriage equality. D.C.’s mayor signed that historic legislation in the sanctuary of All Souls Church. In 2014, the Washington City Paper, D.C.’s alternative weekly, voted All Souls Church the “Best House of Worship” in Washington, and Hardies its “Best Religious Leader.” Hardies has served as adjunct faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry, Meadville Lombard Theological School and Wesley Theological Seminary where, in 2011, he completed his doctoral degree. Hardies lives in Washington with his partner, the poet Chris Nealon, and their three-year-old son Nico.

2015-Heltzel-PeterRev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Ph.D., an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is the Director of the Micah Institute and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at New York Theological Seminary. He also serves as Assistant Pastor of Evangelism at Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City. Heltzel holds a B.A. from Wheaton College, a M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. from Boston University. He also completed course work at the University of Mississippi in Southern fiction and creative writing. These courses, combined with his childhood years in Mississippi, inform his work with a deep commitment to the power of words and music, to social justice and to a global movement of radical change and collective activism. Heltzel has contributed to seven books as author or editor. He has published numerous articles in journals, such as Books & Culture, Science & Theology News, Sojourners, Political Theology, and Princeton Theological Review. Heltzel serves on the Metro Commission on the Ministry and the Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation Team of the Northeastern Region, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson is president of Auburn Theological Seminary. Henderson is an international leader in theological education and has pioneered programs for religious leaders of many faith traditions to exercise moral leadership in the public square. With her leadership, Auburn equips leaders of faith and moral courage with research, tools, and trainings to help them raise their voices, powerfully, peacefully, and prophetically to create the change to end violence and injustice. In December 2014, Auburn along with a group of clergy and activists joined members of the New York City Council in a “die-in” protest to call attention to the police brutality in New York City and across the country. During this “die-in” inside City Hall, clergy sang spirituals and protest songs, and declared that black lives matter. Henderson has been featured in outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, and is the author of God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith are Changing the World (Continuum, 2006). She is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

2015-Hendricks-OberyDr. Obery Hendricks is one of the nation’s most provocative and innovative commentators on the intersection of religion, politics and social policy in America. A widely sought lecturer and media spokesperson, Hendricks has been featured on C-SPAN, PBS, National Public Radio, al-Jazeera Television, NHK Japan Television, Air-America, Radio One, Fox News, the Discovery Channel and the Bloomberg Network. Hendricks is a featured writer for Godspolitics.com, an editorial advisor to the award-winning Tikkun magazine, a contributing editor to The Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion, and a principal commentator in The Oxford Annotated Bible. “Essential reading for Americans” is what The Washington Post called Dr. Hendricks’ most recent book, The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted. A former Wall Street investment executive and past president of Payne Theological Seminary, Hendricks is currently Professor of Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary and Visiting Scholar in both the Department of Religion and the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University.

2015-Jackson-AlvinRev. Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson attended Chapman College in Orange, CA and graduated with honors from Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He received his Masters of Divinity degree, also with honors, from the Duke University, School of Divinity in 1973. In 1991 he completed the course work and was awarded the Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He has served as pastor of Loudon Avenue Christian Church, Roanoke, Virginia, associate pastor, Second Christian Church, Indianapolis. For almost 20 years, Jackson was Senior Pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church of Memphis, a congregation that experienced phenomenal growth under his leadership. For seven years, he served as Senior Pastor of National City Christian Church and President of the National City Christian Church Foundation of Washington, D.C. In September 2006 he became Senior Pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church of New York City.

2015-Johnston-DarrenDarren Johnston is a New York City-based director and dramaturge, focused on new work and the theater’s ability to spark social change. Johnston was the Festival Artistic Director for DETROIT, NY, a collaborative performance between New York City and Detroit artists, featuring seven short plays, historical footage, short films, performance art, and live music. With Tectonic Theater Project, he has helped develop work about Paul Robeson, the Cuban revolution, LGBT hate crimes, and life on the Autism spectrum. At the Public Theater, Johnston served as the Executive Assistant to Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and assisted Suzan-Lori Parks and her producers on Watch Me Work, her ongoing performance piece in the Public Theater lobby. As a political organizer, Darren was the Grassroots Fundraising Manager for Organizing for Action-New York, the Campaign Manager for Jenifer Rajkumar for City Council, and a Field Organizer with Obama for America, in addition to his work with the official youth wings of the New York State and Manhattan County Democratic Party.

Rev. John Janka is a consultant to congregations and non-profits, and is an experienced trainer and coach with a focus on systems intervention, educational design, training models, staff supervision, coaching, and evaluation. He has trained, coached, and led teams in diverse settings and across racial/ethnic, generational, gender, and socio-economic lines. Janka’s experience includes strategic planning and visioning, managing change and resistance, dealing with difference, cultural diversity, human relations training, and conflict management. He is currently on the Doctor of Ministry faculty at Wesley Theological Seminary. Janka is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, the Director of Program for The Middle Project, and the Interim Minister of Membership, Care, and Pastoral Care at The Riverside Church.

2015-Lapsley-MichaelFather Michael Lapsley is an Anglican priest who serves as the director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories based in Cape Town, South Africa. While attending university in Durban in the mid-1970s, he was expelled from the country by the apartheid government due to his political organizing efforts. Over the next 25 years, Lapsley lived in exile and became a member of the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC), which was then conducting an underground guerrilla struggle against apartheid. He repatriated to South Africa in 1992. The Institute for Healing of Memories was founded in 1998. It grew out of the Chaplaincy Project of the Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture, where Lapsley was one of the founder members. Through his own experience of living in exile, losing both hands and an eye in a letter bomb attack in 1990, and listening to the stories of the survivors whom he counseled at the Trauma Centre, Lapsley developed a model to assist faith communities in the process of healing the psychological, emotional, and spiritual wounds of violence.

2015-Lavanhar-MarlinRev. Marlin Lavanhar is the Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK. It is the largest Unitarian Universalist Church in America and one of the denominations most racially and culturally diverse congregations. In 2000, Lavanhar was called to All Souls. During his tenure the church has grown from 1,000 to more than 1,800 adult members and serves 800 children and youth. In 2008, All Souls welcomed, Bishop Carlton Pearson, the founder of the Azusa Conference and his predominantly African American congregation to join what had been an essentially all “white” church. Today All Souls offers multiple worship services weekly with a variety of styles of music, theology and liturgy. He and the congregation have been recognized and given many awards locally and some nationally for their work for social, racial, economic and LGBT justice at home and abroad. The church has a vision and commitment to create a thriving intercultural, interfaith and intergenerational community.

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is Senior Minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City and Executive Director of The Middle Project. Lewis earned her M.Div.at Princeton Theological Seminary and her Ph.D. in Psychology and Religion at Drew University. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Lewis is a nationally recognized author, speaker, and preacher on the topics of racial, economic, and gender/LGBTI justice. Lewis has been adjunct faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, The Graduate Theological Union, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and Wesley Theological Seminary. She has been featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition, CNN, Essence magazine, the Associated Press, and The New York Times. Middle Church and Lewis were recently featured on The Today Show. Author of The Power of Stories: A Guide for Leaders in Multi-Racial and Multi-Cultural Congregations and a children’s book that celebrates diversity, You Are So Wonderful! She has published numerous articles and sermons, and blogs for The Huffington Post. She is married to her best friend, Rev. John Janka, with whom she works for racial reconciliation every day.

Prof. Irshad Manji is founder of the award-winning Moral Courage Project. Based at New York University, this multi-media project teaches people to take thoughtful risks for life-changing rewards. Manji’s newest venture is Moral Courage TV, a YouTube channel that tells the stories of individuals around the world who are standing up when others want them to sit down. As a Muslim reformer, Manji puts moral courage into practice. Her latest book, Allah, Liberty & Love, is a how-to guide on reconciling faith and freedom on a planet raging with dogmas. Her previous book is the global bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith. Manji spearheaded the Emmy-nominated PBS documentary, Faith Without Fear. Ultimately, Manji’s mission is help people grow into wholeness, especially those who are stifled by cultural, religious, or societal norms. She aligns with questioning individuals, giving them a platform to share their stories so that they can inspire others.

Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews is the director of clergy organizing for PICO National Network, a faith-based network of more than 1,200 congregations engaged in community organizing in more than 200 cities in the United States. He is the lead organizer of PICO’s Prophetic Voices Initiative, which is organizing a prophetic faith voice leading the struggle for racial and economic inclusion in the U.S. He joined the PICO senior leadership team in January 2008. An ordained American Baptist minister, he served churches throughout California, most recently as the senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church of San José from 2000-2008. A native of California, Mathews celebrates 26 years of pastoral ministry this year. Mathews is a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry degree at the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California. His dissertation project is an introductory pastoral theology for pastors engaged in faith-based community organizing.

2015-Monet-AjaAja Monet is an internationally established poet, performer, singer, songwriter, educator, and human rights advocate. Her craft is an in-depth reflection of emotional wisdom, skill, and activism. In both Monet’s poetry and songs, she poses questions about the power of the imagination and metaphor in how we engage with local and global issues. As a Teaching Artist for Urban Word NYC as well as Urban Arts Partnership in NYC, she uses poetry as a therapeutic tool with at-risk inner city kids, showing how words can empower and encourage holistic healing in youth education. In 2014, she was awarded the YWCA of the City of New York’s “One to Watch Award”—an award established in honor of Monet’s work to honor women under the age of 30 who exemplify the mission of the organization: to empower women and eliminate racism. Monet volunteers with Justice League NYC, a coalition working on juvenile justice to end police violence both in New York City and nationally.

2015-SanctuariesThe Sanctuaries (thesanctuaries.org) is a racially and religiously diverse arts community in Washington, DC that promotes spiritual growth and social change through the creative arts. It was founded by ordained Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Erik Martínez Resly. Osaretin Obaseki leads the Performance Team, which includes fellow musicians Segun Adelegan, Celia Burke, and Ellen Hoffman, among others.

2015-Sarsour-LindaLinda Sarsour is a working woman, racial justice and civil rights activist, every Islamophobe’s worst nightmare, and mother of three. Ambitious, outspoken and independent, Sarsour shatters stereotypes of Muslim women while also treasuring her religious and ethnic heritage. She is the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York and Senior Strategist for Take on Hate, a recently launched campaign which aims to change perceptions of Arab and Muslim Americans including refugees. In 2013, she co-founded the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, the first of its kind in NYC. In wake of the police murder of Mike Brown, she co-founded Muslims for Ferguson to build solidarity amongst American Muslim communities and encourage work against police brutality. She has received numerous awards and honors including “Champion of Change” by the White House and received the inaugural American Muslim of the Year honor from the Council on Americans Islamic Relations. She has written for and has been featured in local, national, and international media discussing impact of domestic policies that target Arab and Muslim American communities, criminal justice issues, and Middle East affairs.

2015-Vaughn-JohnRev. John H. Vaughn is the executive vice president at Auburn Seminary, a leadership development institute whose mission is to inspire and equip bold and resilient leaders with the tools and resources they need — research, education, media, training and movement-building — to build congregations and communities, bridge divides, pursue justice and heal the world. Vaughn has become a prominent voice for racial reconciliation by publishing opinion pieces in national outlets and participating in multifaith #BlackLivesMatter “die-in” protests. He has been featured in outlets such as The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and Arise TV. From 1996 to 2000, Rev. Vaughn served as the minister for education and social justice at The Riverside Church, and he has more than 10 years of experience in philanthropic work. An ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches, Vaughn received his undergraduate degree from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts and his Master of Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California.

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