About the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship
In a time when our country is struggling with the impacts of racial inequality and devastating and divisive pandemic, our nation needs interfaith leaders who can break barriers and build bridges across difference. IFYC Alumni do this work throughout many sectors of society. Thus, we are proud to support the ongoing leadership development and impact of our Alumni with the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship. This fellowship is an opportunity for leaders to learn from each other and experts in the field of innovation.
We are excited to expand the fellowship this year to include additional awards specifically for alumni whose projects explore the intersection of racial equity and interfaith cooperation. To this end, we have doubled the number of awards that are given out from five to ten with half given to Alumni focused on Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation. IFYC is committed to the transformation of America into the promise of what it can be but has not yet been. We look forward to learning with our alumni leaders focused on racial equity and interfaith cooperation.
- prioritize interfaith cooperation.
- benefit a community facing a pressing social issue.
- impact people of varied religious and/or non-religious traditions.
- five fellowship awards are dedicated to projects with a focus around interfaith cooperation and racial equity.
2021 Cohort of the Interfaith Innovation Fellowship
Melissa Jenkins (Universalist Unitarian)
Carrboro, North Carolina
Project: In order to bring awareness to the significant function of religion and spirituality for refugee families, this project will culminate in a handbook for practitioners and volunteers providing a range of resettlement services in North Carolina. Through focus groups and in-depth interviews conducted with refugee community members and stakeholders (e.g., mental health practitioners), the information collected will inform best practices for addressing the spiritual needs of refugee clients during transitional periods. Additionally, there will be an accompanying online training for medical professionals, mental health professionals, and allied health students who are committed to serving the spiritual needs of resettled families.
Bio: Melissa Jenkins is a third-year doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work. She holds a bachelor of social work degree from Meredith College and earned her master of social work from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her research interests include trauma-informed interventions and sex trafficking prevention for youth with developmental disabilities. Melissa identifies as a Unitarian Universalist and first became involved with IFYC through a chapter of Better Together at Meredith College. She credits her experiences attending the Interfaith Leadership Institute as inspiring her to learn more about the role of spirituality in refugee resettlement.
Pritpal Kaur (Sikh)
Orange County, California
Project: Pritpal Kaur’s project is to create teacher preparation courses for anti-bias training based on religious identity that will be offered at a major university. This will prepare future educators to create safer and more inclusive classrooms for students from minority communities. Interfaith cooperation will be achieved through creating a collaborative training program which addresses the needs of multiple religious communities that are increasingly targets of bias and bullying based on religious identity.
Bio: Pritpal Kaur serves as Education Director at the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh civil rights organization. In this role, she reviews and creates educational content and resources about Sikhs. She also works to advance the Sikh Coalition’s multi-year advocacy in the area of state standards to ensure that Sikhism is taught in public school classrooms across the United States and that teaching materials are accurate. She also serves as a Co-President and a member of the World Council of Religions for Peace. Prior to joining the Sikh Coalition, Pritpal served as Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Kaur Foundation, and was an inaugural Fellow of the Faiths Act Fellowship, a joint initiative of the Interfaith Youth Core and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, in 2009. Born and raised in England, Pritpal completed her BA in History at King’s College, University of London and her PhD in Sikh Studies at the University of Birmingham’s Department of Theology and Religion (UK). She now lives with her husband and daughter in Orange County, California.
Elaine Krebs (Roman Catholic)
Los Angeles, California
Project: Elaine Krebs will create a series of five, animated short films that focus on the intersection of faith and science. Each film will spotlight a scientist of a different tradition and explore how their faith and research were intertwined. The films will be accompanied by a discussion guides for screenings at interfaith gatherings, religious groups, and other communities, locally in Los Angeles, and around the country.
Bio: Elaine Krebs is a scientist, educator, and animator currently living in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a master's degree in Marine and Environmental Biology and now works as Lead Educator of the California Science Center, teaching science to local K-8 students. She also serves as the Confirmation Coordinator for USC’s Our Savior Parish, teaching catechesis to college students. Elaine first connected with IFYC at an ILI with the USC Interfaith Council, and continues her work by teaching literacy classes to her students and participating in IFYC's Alumni Programs. As another means of education, Elaine taught herself to animate and has created two award-winning short films. In her free time, Elaine enjoys swing dancing, traveling the world, and being outdoors.
Helen Kramer (Jewish)
Project: As an Interfaith Innovation Fellow, Helen will work with Breaking Bread – a new initiative founded by two Black HBCU graduates focused on increasing information and empathy across different viewpoints on Black Lives Matter. In partnership, they will apply Resetting the Table's road-tested methodology and programmatic toolkit originally developed to aid in dialogue around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and apply it in facilitating charged conversations to US racial divides. Breaking Bread will extend its impacts to a wider audience by creating a YouTube video series of the effort.
Bio: A bridge-builder who loves connecting the big picture to the operational details, Helen works as the Strategy and Impact Officer for Resetting the Table, an organization dedicated to building courageous communication across political silos. Helen volunteers as a coach and facilitator for Our Liberation Is Bound Together, a 10-hour workshop designed to promote racial equity in the Greater Boston Jewish Community. A Humanity in Action Senior Fellow and member of Phi Beta Kappa, Helen holds a B.A. mathematics and a concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies from Oberlin College. Helen lives in Boston with her beloved husband and Shi Tzu.
LaTanya Lane (Agnostic)
Project: LaTanya Lane will create a podcast that shares stories about the diversity people encounter in their non-profit work. In these conversations, people will have opportunities to reflect on ways diversity is successfully engaged as well as times when it serves as a barrier. Weaving these stories with additional research, a single season podcast with 6-8 episodes will take a deep dive into the topic. LaTanya will then host an event with people situated on the frontlines of their non-profit organization to reimagine the way diversity is navigated in their workspace.
Bio: LaTanya Lane is a facilitator, writer, and performer. She leads trainings and workshops in a variety of professional and community settings, many with a focus on navigating challenges, personal and professional growth, and authentic communication. LaTanya is a two-time alum of the Voices of our Nations Arts Writers Workshop and winner of the 2018 Diverse Worlds Grant from the Speculative Literature Foundation. LaTanya is a company member with 2nd Story, a Chicago-based storytelling collective. When not working, LaTanya spends her time with her family and friends enjoying adventure and the arts in the Chicago area.
Afif Rahman (Muslim, Sunni)
Project: Afif will convene KnowCap - a special interest group, of young professionals to explore topics focused on advancing racial and socioeconomic equity by leveraging the power of the private sector and capital markets. The group will meet once a month covering topics at the intersection of business, economics, finance, social impact, and racial equity. KnowCap will launch Spiritual Capital, a multimedia conversation series illuminating the promising achievements and opportunities for interfaith efforts and faith-based institutions to advance racial equity through private sector innovation.
Bio: Based in Austin, TX, Afif Rahman is the Chief Operating Officer of NuWatt Energy, a leading solar energy company in the United States. Previously, he worked as a management consultant advising leading foundations, corporations, and government agencies and as a pollster at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Afif co-founded Poligon, a Muslim American Congressional advocacy non-profit, and he is a firm advocate of complementing civic efforts with capital mobilization, asset ownership, and enterprise growth in underserved communities to bridge opportunity gaps and catalyze social equity. A native Bostonian, Afif holds a B.S. in Neuroscience and Mathematics from Northeastern University.
Danny Richmond (Jewish) and Elyse Brazel (Agnostic)
Cologny, Switzerland and Calgary, Canada
Project: The stories we privilege from history and the stories left untold both shape our present reality. Canada’s problematic historical narrative is dominated by the stories of white male French and English settlers who sailed across the ocean to conquer a vast empty wilderness that is now Canada. We would like to develop a dynamic community-generated online timeline and platform where different religious communities on Turtle Island can share their histories, faith heroes, and lived experiences. An engaging interactive timeline that explores Religious and Interreligious History across the country through personal stories, images, videos, art, poetry. This space allows for moments of celebration and sadness, complicating and illuminating our collective histories.
Bio: Danny Richmond and Elyse Brazel are passionate about creating a more just and inclusive world. They met in 2009 as Faiths Act Fellows with the Interfaith Youth Core and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. They have both been active interreligious engagement nationally across Canada as well as internationally. Elyse is alumna of the The Russell Berrie Fellowship in Interreligious Studies, the KAICIID International Fellowship, and is currently the Media Coordinator for the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue. Danny is currently serving as a Community Specialist at the World Economic Forum and has been recognized for his leadership by the Governor General of Canada and spoken at TEDx as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Maya Williams (Non-denominational Christian) and Mia Willis (Zen Buddhist)
Portland, Maine and Atlanta, Georgia
Project: Maya Williams and Mia S. Willis will host Dying/Laughing a monthly multi-media series including a podcasts, video, and animation focused on representation and suicide in mainstream media and entertainment. They will contextualize each month’s topic using relevant religious and historical information, harm reduction and intervention data, and/or anecdotal evidence before parsing a pre-selected film or television series' depiction of suicide for accuracy. Their lived experiences interwoven with media critique and research creates a narrative about representation and suicide. Each fifteen-minute video begins with a content warning, contact information for necessary lifelines, and a guide to the media which best illustrates the month’s topic.
Bio: Mia S. Willis (they/them) and Maya Williams (they/she) are Black queer writers and cultural workers based in Georgia and Maine respectively. Mia has work in homology lit, FreezeRay, Narrative Northeast, Peculiar, and more. Mia is a Foothill Editors’ Prize winner and Pushcart nominee. Mia has been named a Lambda Literary Fellow, the Young Artist Fellow at Chashama’s ChaNorth residency, and a collaborator in Forward Together’s Transgender Day of Resilience Art Project. Maya has work in glitterMOB, Black Table Arts, Occulum, A Gathering Together, and more. They have performed with organizations such as The Kennedy Center, The Peace Studio, and others.
Anastasia Young (Christian)
Project: In Western medicine, healing the physical body is often the main focus in both training healthcare providers and patient care. The inclusion of a patient’s beliefs and spiritual needs are frequently overlooked and unvalued. Through the creation of online modules, Anastasia’s project aims to equip healthcare providers with resources and tools needed to incorporate the patient’s beliefs into their care. The modules will use storytelling, videos, and self-reflection to inspire providers to transform their approach to patient care.
Bio: Anastasia Young is a second-year Doctorate of Nursing Practice-Nurse Practitioner student at the University of Minnesota specializing in adult and gerontology primary care. Her commitment to merging interfaith work and healthcare began in college when she double majored in nursing and religion after witnessing Muslim and Hindu women create a clinic for their community. The women spoke about how their faith traditions called them to work together and how their different beliefs strengthened the care they provided. Young continued to bridge her twin vocations as an Interfaith Scholar at Concordia College as well as a Peace Scholar in Norway. In 2018, Young co-created the Interfaith Healthcare Cohort for IFYC alumni to further develop healthcare-specific interfaith skills.
Melanie Young (Christian)
Project: Researchers claim that students are likely to only have 37%-50% of the math learning gains relative to a typical school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Melanie’s project, the Philadelphia Interfaith Math Initiative, will work with different faith communities across Philadelphia to improve K-6 math education. This initiative will recruit volunteers from various Philadelphia congregations that will provide one-on-one math instruction to students. The volunteers, all representing a diverse body of faith backgrounds, will use any video-call enabled device to act as a live math coach. They will review simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts with students and track student progress.
Bio: Melanie Young's passion is to make high-quality education accessible to all children. Melanie is currently the founder of Infinite Mind Tutors, a Black-owned tutoring agency with the mission to use the collective power of Black minds to transform America's educational landscape. Before launching Infinite Mind Tutors, Melanie was a teacher and tutor working in Philadelphia's public schools for 9+ years. During this Melanie taught at Central High School, coached 2 NBA Math Hoops National Championship participants for two consecutive years, was awarded the Sixers Youth Foundation Game Changer Award in 2018, Superintendent’s Award in 2016, Woodrow Wilson Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowship in 2015, and the University of Pennsylvania Woman of Color Award in 2014. Melanie Young is also a two-time graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
Examples of Past Fellows
Aamir Hussain (Muslim)
Project: Established a Spirituality and Medicine Interest Group for the Medical School at University of Chicago.
Bio: With the support of the fellowship, Aamir established himself as a leader on campus during his first semester of medical school. He organized collaborations between various university departments including hospital chaplains, nurses, undergraduates, and divinity school students. These partnerships have persisted, and in his second year of medical school, Aamir was awarded the “University of Chicago Bridge Builder Award” for fostering these diverse connections on campus. Aamir found that other grants from school programs had extensive strings attached; however, the “fellowship allows you to check in with IFYC as needed and bounce ideas around, but ultimately, the project is yours.
Jem Jebbia (Zen Buddhist)
Los Angeles & Bay Area, CA
Project: Curated a pop-up exhibit highlighting interfaith work between individuals and communities that have influenced the social and cultural landscape of LA.
Bio: Jem’s project, Golden State Sacred, launched in August 2018 at the oldest Synagogue in Los Angeles and the exhibit will move around the state to sacred sites, colleges and universities, and public places. Beyond the inaugural year, Jem is excited to make the exhibit a central piece of her doctoral dissertation, thinking about alternative pedagogies to teach religion and interfaith engagement. According to Jem, “You will not find a more knowledgeable and dedicated group on interfaith cooperation, and that shared passion will carry you through both pitfalls and successful moments.”
Ben Marcus (Unaffiliated)
Project: Created lessons about religion for public secondary school audiences, so that students will learn how the active exchange between different religious communities shapes our shared world.
Bio: Ben collaborated with two colleagues to organize a conference with teachers, administrators, and subject matter experts to explore ways to improve professional support for educators interested in teaching about religion. This led to the creation of the Religious Studies Companion Document, officially added to the National Council for the Social Studies’ C3 Framework. Through his fellowship, Ben received the resources and mentorship necessary to jumpstart his career as an advocate for inter-religious engagement. He also credits his project as something that helped him to land his current job at the Religious Freedom Center in Washington DC. Ben explains “IFYC's support will inspire you to act courageously instead of sitting on the sidelines.”
Nadiah Mohajir (Muslim)
Project: Hosted a training for educators, community and religious leaders to increase the number of competent trained professionals to serve survivors of sexual assault in the Muslim and other faith communities.
Bio: Founder and director of HEART Women and Girls, brought together numerous faith communities to talk about sexual violence for her fellowship project. Since completing her fellowship in 2016, Nadiah has expanded her team to replicate this work across the country. She has also received national recognition and secured sustainable, multi-year funding. Nadiah enthusiastically encourages others to apply because “it is not only a fun and engaging way to implement a project that you are passionate about with financial resources and leadership development, but it is also a way to be connected to other fellows across the country you normally would not meet.“
Aditi Singh (Christian)
Project: Planned a leadership retreat for South Asian youth to design a toolkit on how to facilitate conversations about racial justice through the lens of religion, philosophy and interfaith cooperation.
Bio: Aditi is public interest attorney and long-time volunteer with Chicago Desi Youth Rising (CDYR). For her project, she worked with the youth members of CDYR through workshops and an annual retreat to develop a toolkit for facilitating conversations about racial justice with an interfaith lens. She appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how to include her interfaith skills in her day to day work both as a volunteer and in her career as an attorney. She explains “I am grateful to IFYC staff, fellow members of my cohort and alumni of the fellowship with helping me to see what’s possible and feeling I can try to see something through versus assuming it won’t work out and not trying to begin with.”