My commitment to empowering communities and transforming social systems surfaced early in my life. When I was 21, I studied Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. intensively, and was deeply moved and inspired by these incredible leaders who channeled their spiritual and ethical values into direct social action. That’s why, when I decided to become a community organizer, I joined the largest faith-based organizing network in the country, PICO. I wanted to work alongside people who were passionately driven by their spiritual and ethical ideals to pursue and create peace and justice.
In 2010, I was managing a PICO National health reform campaign in Washington, DC. And something happened that changed my trajectory. I joined a small group of friends that were reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way on Tuesday evenings in Dupont Circle. For me, it was revolutionary.
The Artist’s Way is a call to find and express your creativity. Cameron suggests that exploring your creative instincts is a spiritual path to uncovering new solutions, new directions, and coming more closely in line with your life purpose. I followed the books exercises and began digging more into own creativity. I drew and painted, wrote more, sang and played instruments, took and edited photographs, rearranged my home, and just generally approached the world through a creative lens. What I experienced was a profound shift in perspective—encountering life from a place of creative discovery gave me a rich sense of power. It made me feel more like an agent of my own destiny, like I was creating a new and exciting story for myself. In essence, I found that seizing my own creativity was deeply empowering. And it wasn’t just an internal experience of empowerment, it was manifesting very real and exciting external changes in my life.
This realization sparked a huge inquiry in myself: how could I incorporate this orientation towards creative discovery in my career?
In my work as a community organizer, I supported local communities to lead innovative social change, from reforming the criminal justice system, to challenging immigration policies, to fundamentally changing the healthcare system. The bedrock of community organizing is empowerment--it is all about helping people discover their unique leadership abilities and harnessing that power to create real concrete changes in their cities.
An itch of curiosity began. I wondered if weaving creative practices into community organizing would enrich leadership development and deepen the experience of empowerment for local communities. And I wondered if it would help to accelerate the changes we wanted to achieve. What it would it be like for the communities I worked with to uncover the power in their stories and their vision for a different world using art—images, movement and dance, song, and theatre? Might it make our vision for justice clearer, more lucid, more compelling, both to ourselves and to the policymakers we wanted to influence? As a faith-based organization, might it help us to practice our faith in a radical way, to experience ourselves as modern prophets, heroes united, bringing forth God’s justice and equality?
I decided to earn a Master’s of Divinity because I wanted to test my thesis. I wanted to see if cultivating creativity in social movements would strengthen leadership development. I wanted to see if using the arts would empower communities to not just paint the picture of their vision for justice but to call it forcefully into reality. And I wanted to grow in my own capacity as a leader, in the same tradition of MLK, Jr and Gandhi.