Short Takes

Short Takes: Erika Totten

Rick Reinhard

Bio: Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Washington, D.C., and the black liberation movement at large. She is a former high school English literature teacher, a wife, a stay-at-home mom, and an advocate for the radical healing and self-care of black people through “emotional emancipation circles.”

1) How did you get started with “emotional emancipation” work?
Emotional emancipation circles were created in partnership with The Association of Black Psychologists and the Community Healing Network. I was blessed to be one of the first people trained in D.C. I had been doing this work before I knew what it was called. My organization is called “Unchained.” It is liberation work—psychologically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

I want to tell people to be intentional about self-care. Recently, we had a black trans teen, who was an activist, commit suicide. A lot of times you need to see a counselor or therapist, which is often shunned in the black community. Because of racism, we are taught that we need to be “strong.” But it’s costing us our lives. As much as we are dismantling systems, we have to dismantle anything within ourselves that is keeping us from experiencing liberation right now.

2) What does liberation look like to you?
It’s a multitude of things, and it changes every day. But mainly it is having the space to be. To just exist. To not have to perform. It is the ability to exist and live life unapologetically. You don’t have to accept me, but my life shouldn’t be in danger because of my skin. And for my children, liberation means walking down the street and not being harassed. Liberation means living.

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Short Takes: Anastasia Uglova

1.  How would you describe Akilah Institute’s goals for its students and alumnae? Rwanda today is a far cry from the genocide-torn country that most think of when they hear about it. Rwandans have a vision of a knowledge-based economy, and Rwanda is fast becoming the region’s leader in information technology and new business development. And yet, only 1 percent of Rwandans attend university, and just 30 percent of these are women. We want to make sure that young women have a part to play in building the country’s future.

Akilah’s unique model of market-relevant education empowers young women to launch professional careers and assume leadership roles when they graduate. During their three years at Akilah, students develop English fluency, leadership, public speaking, and critical-thinking skills.

2. Why does Akilah feel young women specifically have needs that must be met through education? Akilah’s nurturing environment creates a culture of community where students can heal from some of the trauma of their past, and no one struggles alone. Of the overwhelming majority of young women in Rwanda and Burundi, an estimated 95 percent will never enter the workforce. Ultimately, we hope that empowering these young women to take control of their future pays dividends generations down the line. Educated women tend to marry later in life, have healthier and fewer children, and are able to disrupt the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.

3. What makes Akilah unique in the education it offers women? We admit only the most promising young women. But our admissions process is unique in that we don’t just look at academics. We are much more interested in fit, potential, and passion. What’s special about Akilah is that it is extremely career-focused, assessing students’ career interests and rigorously preparing them to find meaningful employment and launch their own businesses.

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Four Questions for Beth Katz

Photo by Dana Damewood

Bio: Beth Latz is founder and executive director of Project Interfaith.
Website: projectinterfaith.org 

1. Why did you decide to launch Project Interfaith?
There are a couple experiences in my life that led me to found PI. One would be that my grandparents immigrated to this country after experiencing harsh persecution as a result of their Jewish identity. Another would be growing up as a religious and ethnic minority and encountering a lot of people making assumptions about what that means. I didn’t always feel welcome or free to be who I am. But growing up and hearing about my grandparents’ experiences in other countries, I realized how lucky we are to have certain rights in this country. So I wanted to make sure people understand these rights and freedoms.

2. What is Project Interfaith’s mission and approach to interfaith work?
Our mission is to grow understanding, respect, and relationships among people of all beliefs and cultures—not to force agreement. And we don’t try to make everything run through PI, but rather we create different educational resources and digital tools that people can then take and use in their own communities and contexts. Some people think we’re trying to replace face-to-face gatherings with online experiences, but we’re not. Rather, we use digital media as a tool to enhance what happens when people come together.

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Six Questions for Kelly and Peter Shenk Koontz

Kelly and Peter Shenk Koontz near Kabul. Photo by Grace Royer.

Bio: Kelly and Peter Shenk Koontz spent the last three years serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, through a Mennonite Central Committee partner.
Website: MCC.org

1. What work were you doing in Afghanistan?
We worked with a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner in Kabul as Peacebuilding Project Managers. Our job was to integrate peacebuilding within different sectors of the partner organization, including adult education, community development, and many others. Day-to-day, this primarily meant developing curriculum and planning and conducting trainings for a variety of contexts—including rural community development teams and university students in Kabul.

2. How would you summarize the biggest challenges in Afghanistan today?
In our opinion, the biggest challenge continues to be the ongoing violent conflict between the established government of Afghanistan and armed opposition groups, particularly the Taliban. The conflict in Afghanistan varies greatly by region, so some areas of the country experience relative stability while others experience violence on a regular basis. It is clear that there is no military solution to the conflict, and a negotiated agreement is the best way forward. However, many human rights groups fear that bringing the Taliban into the government will destroy important human rights gains—especially for women and minorities.

 

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Five Questions for Katerina Friesen

Katerina Friesen

Bio: Katerina Friesen is studying theology and peace studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.

1.  How would you describe your current vocational role?
I see my role as both revaluing what has been cast down and degraded and building resilient communities. So far this has taken shape through land-based ministries of farming and community gardening, inviting people to work together and celebrate the sacramental in soil, food, and one another.

2. You spent several years with the Abundant Table Farm Project in Santa Paula, Calif. Can you describe the project and your role there?
The Abundant Table Farm Project is a working farm and young adult internship program that has evolved into a Christian community. I joined the project in 2009 and lived in community with four other women. My daily work of farming gave me a bodily understanding of farm workers’ labor and the need for justice and wholeness in our incredibly disconnected food system.

3. What is unique to the theology of farming—particularly for women farmers?
Women are growing in the field of agriculture in the U.S., especially at the margins of the industrial food system, and they’re doing farming in a very different way. Many talk about their labor as a form of love. Their theology of love is not some abstract idea; it’s an embodied force that feeds them in their struggle for justice, since their work brings them into tension with the dominant food system as well as with patriarchy. I think Jesus’ incarnation challenges us to know love as personal action for the restoration of life, as doing and not just being.

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