Faith Over Fear Fearless Leader Feature is a new blog series created by Fatima Mohamed, a leader with Faith in New York’s Faith Over Fear campaign and Writer with the Media, Messaging & Outreach Team. Stay tuned to our website every other week for a new profile of the leaders in the ground in NYC who are behind the organizing and social justice efforts that make Faith in New York!
Pre-interview: The thing that strikes me most about Elizabeth is her open nature. She answers all of my questions honestly, thoroughly, and thoughtfully. This is only enhanced by her calm and patient demeanor. I noticed throughout our encounter, she would pause before giving her answer and every time she spoke, I could hear a bit of the Bronx, New York accent that seems to be fading from the city.
We met the day before Easter, so I found myself asking her about the holiday’s significance. She explained that it was the day memorializing the resurrection of Jesus. From there our conversation delved deeper into other topics of Christianity, which I am not too knowledgeable about, having been raised in a Muslim family. As we spoke, she described how she came to work with Faith in New York and supporting the Faith Over Fear campaign.
“I came to Faith in New York because I needed to do an internship for my Bachelor of Science in Social Work program at Nyack College, and a classmate suggested the organization. I automatically assumed that it was a Christian organization, so when I attended the first meeting, I was very surprised. It was actually a gathering of multi-faith believers discussing common issues and strategizing together for change. I felt a bit strange that I had made the assumption it would be all Christian. But looking around that table, I couldn’t help but think that this is what I would like to believe heaven looks like, a representation of diversity and unity.”
Wow, I thought. That last statement really resonated with me. I pray that heaven does look like that!
Our conversation continued on to the biggest issues facing the Bronx. “Poverty,” she says wistfully. “I thought the amount of people who are low-income in the Bronx had declined, but I was wrong.“
In addition to studying for her social work degree, Elizabeth also is the dean in an elementary school in Upper Manhattan, so she witnesses the effects of poverty that the families go through, like not having enough time or money to feed their kids breakfast. She understands the experience in a personal way as well.
“When I was a kid, at one point things seemed to be getting better in our neighborhood [of Mott Haven]. People were buying homes in the Bronx and moving out of the projects. I even had some childhood friends whose parents purchased a house,” Elizabeth explains. “But the home they moved into was right across the street from the projects. It seemed like a good move at first, but the rest of the neighborhood did not change. I think families believed that it was better to be out of the public housing, even if it meant only moving across the street – that is how extreme the conditions were in that housing. Now, here we are twenty some odd years later, and the neighborhood has not changed for the better. Safety is still very much an issue and the homes in that area, in my opinion, have not changed the neighborhood in a positive way at all. In fact, people are even more at risk of being harassed and losing their home space.”
This only reinforces the fact that a change of appearance or scenery doesn’t remedy the root issues. As the saying goes, the more things seem to change, the more they may actually stay the same. Though time has passed and new buildings and houses have gone up, and continue to be built, the people and the issues they face remain. This is why faith- rooted organizing must continue, and be led by leaders like Elizabeth who continue to live through the experiences that her community has impressed upon her. As people of faith, we are called to speak truth to power and we cannot allow the same decision makers to make the same decisions that do not truly create that feeling and vision of heaven that Elizabeth described before – spaces where people from all walks of life can join together. We believe that we should work to make that possible here on earth as well, and we have to truly see and love our neighbors they way Christianity or really any faith tradition, teaches us to do so.
It seems that Elizabeth has had no problem turning the community challenges into opportunities for growth and healing. Through her internship at Faith in New York, Elizabeth learned about how organizing can support the transformation of a community and started a social justice ministry team at her church. Although her formal internship at FINY has ended, she continues to be an active leader (volunteer) with FINY and the Faith Over Fear campaign. In addition, she serves as a board member at her home congregation, Throggs Neck Community Church. It is clear to me that she is intent on living out her faith by making the Bronx, the city, and the world a better place, one that reflects the full humanity of every person, and their many identities.
Before we part, I ask her to describe the Bronx in one word. She pauses for about thirty seconds before responding.
I couldn’t agree more. And she is a living testament of that quality. Being devoted to the selfless work of organizing a community is no easy task, but I have faith that there is no one better than Elizabeth to lead it.
To me, the strength of the individuals and organizations in the Bronx is amplified by the differences they have overcome in order to rebuild together. Whether you are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, or without a religion or faith affiliation, change made together can be so much greater than individually. We should continue to ask our decision makers to recognize the importance of investing in our beloved communities and people, so that we all become stronger.
So, if you are inspired to take action and Build a more Beloved City, join Elizabeth and people of faith from across New York City at our upcoming Faith Over Fear Citywide Mayoral Candidates Forum on June 15th at 6:30 pm at First Corinthians Baptist Church. All faiths and all people are welcome!
If you’d like to get even more involved, by building your own social justice ministry team at your congregation, or taking a role in our Faith Over Fear campaign, please contact the FINY team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 718-426-6564.