Mentorship is a central tenant of success within Religious Leadership broadly, and Religious Academia in particular. Having someone vouch for your work and ideas, who can help convey the right story within your dossier and who will also align you with the right people and opportunities is essential.

At Misogynoir to Mishpat (M2M), our strategy for filling the gap within Religious Academia, in particular, includes: amplifying the religious epistemologies of African descended women, strengthening mentorship opportunities and creating solid institutional support. The three pillars of academic success are primarily about: teaching, grant capture and publication. Our Research Day, Feb. 22nd, 2023, will focus on these under the banner, “Power on the Margins: Open the Gates.” This will be a collaborative event where we will discuss our findings regarding mentorship needs as shared during our last Research Day. We will also explore the religious epistemologies of African descended women for an upcoming journal’s special issue that will be dedicated to our work!

Whether your leadership has been shunned within your place of worship, or if you have been consistently sidelined within the Academy, you are likely to understand the problem of being marginalized. Women in leadership in churches, synagogues, and mosques are often under attack by the very communities they seek to serve. Those acts of indifference or of open hostility, assumptions that you are somehow not good enough, these are forms of gatekeeping.

Here’s good news: the margins are a place of tremendous power!

Stacey Abrams tells the story of being a child who had an academic honor as the number one student in her class within a Georgia school. She was among the Valedictorians, all over the state, who were to meet the governor. She and her parents came by bus in their best clothes. The man who was to welcome them took one look at this Black family and moved from being the person of welcome to the gatekeeper.

If you are a Theologian, Ethicist, Biblical Scholar, Religious Historian – or any other aspect of Religious Academia – you may also know the feeling of isolation. You have seen someone transition from being a person of welcome to becoming the person(s) keeping you out. Whether it’s the insidious university security officer who stops you to interrogate your presence, or a “would-be ally” who sits quietly while you are maligned for raising “social justice” issues within theological discourse, you know the feeling.

Two years ago, I was in a “Decolonizing the Curriculum” committee meeting. I asked if we would consider actually decolonizing our staff and hiring people of color to teach? This was at a prominent university in England. In response, the Modules Director said to me, “We would never hire you [Black people] because if we did, where would we go?” That same individual attempted to block my access to the meeting itself.

The irony is that, while advocating they were going to “decolonize” material resources, they had a representative of their staff who blatantly declared they would never hire Black people. If you’re like me, this makes you sick to the pit of your stomach. It makes abundantly clear that the universities do not want to be liable, but they also do not seek actual change.

Everything M2M shares from profiles, to videos and seminars, to blogs and resources, is intended to help us reclaim our power on the margins and open the gates! When she was entitled to sit with the Georgia’s Governor, Stacey Abrams’ parents persisted until she was given the honor that was due her. Abrams’ parents had the courage to persist and endure insults until the doors opened for her. For this reason, she was able to reclaim her power.

Stacey Abrams, a Black woman who was a candidate to become the first Black woman governor in the US, wants to open the gates for others. She didn’t wait until becoming governor to make this declaration. Instead, even while on the margins, Abrams boldly enlisted hundreds of thousands of Georgians to vote. In her book, Leading from the Outside, Abrams claims her power even while on the margins. Likewise, we will not wait until we are in a central position of power to make our declaration. M2M will do the same thing with you that she is doing for people in Georgia – reclaiming power and opening the gates.

The series of blog articles on mentorship, in addition to our Research Day of Collaboration (Mentorship and Publication), Feb. 22nd, are of paramount importance. We are currently circulating a call for papers and will need the abstracts by Feb. 12th. The requested papers will be 10-15 minutes in length. To center your concerns, we must hear from you. Please work with us to use our power on the margins to open the gates!

We ask that you read the articles on mentoring, attend the meeting on Feb. 22nd, and participate. The journey is hard, but we must unbow our heads. We must stop apologizing for being pregnant with possibility long before the world around us is ready! We come together and kneel, in solemn determination, as dozens or even hundreds … but we will rise as tens of thousands!

Rise with us!

CL Nash © 2023

[1] This is a paraphrase of the statement of support to the young woman who became pregnant in the story.

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