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At CTS, we learn from each other through discussions – and sometimes even disagreements. To that end, we are pleased to share with you reflections on issues of justice from our entire community.

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Invest now in diverse next generation of leaders

Dr. Alice W. Hunt and Dr. Sharon Watson Fluker

Here in Chicago and throughout the United States, men and women scholars of color hunger to make a difference in the lives of our young people, our neighborhoods and our schools.  They have a particular passion for teaching, a vocation so important, yet often underfunded.  Many are risk-takers, eager to solve the difficult social challenges their communities face. Their mentors taught them to help others. Now, as they answer that calling, they need resources to make it happen.

How will they do it? Where does it need to be done?

In theological education, we meet these men and women each day. They are heirs to the legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Mays and Mary McLeod Bethune, who knew higher education was the nucleus of social progress—and who used their knowledge to train the foot soldiers of the American Civil Rights Movement.

Today, navigating the intersection of higher education, community and the church requires almost divine diligence. The road is a lonely one – years of study and reflection, serious financial obligations, and an academic leadership glass ceiling that is only partially shattered, and certainly not yet broken.  According to a recent study from the Council of Graduate Schools, only 57 percent of Ph.D. candidates in the U.S. and Canada complete their doctoral programs within 10 years.

African-Americans and Hispanics comprise nearly 40 percent of the country’s K-12 students. Yet a nearly undetectable number will one day earn Ph.D.s. They need money and they need support.

By 2050, “minorities” will comprise 54 percent of our country’s population. Society needs well-trained educators and clergy who understand how diverse communities experience broad transitions centered on race, income, religious pluralism and generational differences. Chicago churches and neighborhoods are joined at the hip in feeding the hungry, reducing crime and helping the jobless. Passionate commitment and intense disagreement can occur simultaneously, and church leaders need the skills to step up quickly to find common ground in diverse contexts.

Future pastors and scholars need the best possible academic training to lead in a pluralistic world. But despite gains made, about one-third of accredited theological schools—the training ground for this leadership—do not have a scholar of color on their faculties. How will future generations of diverse clergy find their mentors? Equally important: what happens to evolving neighborhoods that thirst for leaders who know how to navigate change?

Recognizing these challenges, The Fund for Theological Education (FTE) and Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) invest in developing diverse leaders tuned in to community needs.

FTE created a new fellowship initiative in 1998 to infuse excellence and diversity into the teaching of religion and theology. Over ten years, more than 400 fellowships were awarded to doctoral students from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. The retention rate was a remarkable 98 percent; 79 percent of graduates now teach in the academy. They apply their education to addressing community needs.

CTS students live out leadership by working with at-risk youth in Woodlawn and Hyde Park; presenting workshops on inclusivity in Chicago Public Schools; building sustainable living communities by nurturing community gardens, people and much more.

The investment in these students works. Now we need more financial support and the social embrace of communities to help the next generation of religious, academic and social justice leaders.

They have said to us, “In spite of hardship, we will devote our lives to teaching,  to healing and to building strong neighborhoods.”  We must say to them, “Thank you. We are here to give you what you need.” Communities all over our country are counting on it.

Dr. Alice W. Hunt is president of Chicago Theological Seminary.

Dr. Sharon Watson Fluker is vice president at The Fund for Theological Education (FTE).

Chicago Theological Seminary will co-host “African-American Religious Leadership and the Age of Obama” at the FTE Doctoral Conference in Chicago on June 11.

To support the leadership and training of religious scholars and ministers, please make a gift to the “General Scholarship” Fund at Chicago Theological Seminary. Invest in our next generation of leaders! Thank you.

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