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FELLOWS PROGRAM

Support and Train Emerging Faith Leaders

Odyssey Fellows Program

Meet the Fellows

Class of 2022-23

The 2022-23 Odyssey Fellows cohort is a diverse and talented group of emerging leaders, engaging justice issues within faith spheres, and innovating new ways of virtually convening communities via film and healing conversations.

Ashley Mason Brown

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
📍 Austin, TX, USA

Windy Cooler

Lancaster Theological Seminary
📍 Greenbelt, MD, USA

Meredith Harmon

Candler School of Theology, Emory
📍 Columbus, WI, USA

David Hazan

UK Rabbinical School
📍 Kent, GB, UK

Keith Takeshi Hirata

Fuller Theological Seminary
📍 Rosemead, CA, USA

Shereetha Jackson

Agnes Scott College
📍 USA

Yazeed Kamaldien

Hartford International University for Religion and Peace
📍 Cape Town, South Africa

Grace Okerson

Candler School of Theology, Emory
📍 Decatur, GA, USA

Natalia Pierson

Vanderbilt University
📍 Nashville, TN, USA

Isabella “Izzy” Sherwood-Ried

Iliff School of Theology
📍 USA

Kevin Stanton

Chicago Theological Seminary
📍 New Haven, CT, USA

Andrea Steinkamp

Union Theological Seminary
📍 New York, NY, USA

Peter Tanaka

Union Theological Seminary
📍 New York, NY, USA

Hamzah Zahid

Cambridge Muslim College
📍 Great Britain, UK

Alumni

Class of 2020-21

Jonese Austin

Ristina Gooden

Lauren Johnson

Oriana Mayorga

Staci Plonsky

Darrin “D.J.” Sims

Class of 2019-20

Erica Bitting

Vincent Jones

Ashley Mason Brown

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Ashley Mason Brown (she/her/hers) believes that every soul has the humanitarian right to feel safe and is dedicating her life to embracing her call in peacework for the Presbyterian Church, (USA). She is a Senior at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and volunteers extensively with local refugee populations in helping new families acclimate to life in the United States and grow in their autonomy and agency.

Ashley’s experience growing up in Greenville, South Carolina as well as her time with Montreat Conference Center provided her with a strong spiritual foundation and a curiosity for how peace and religion intersect. Her decision to attend Seminary stemmed from a life-altering visit to Cuba in 2019, on a special religious visa where she was granted the opportunity to visit with Presbyterian leaders and their religious work throughout Cuba. She desires to work internationally in peace-keeping missions for the Prebyterian Church upon her graduation from Seminary in 2023, and is seeking ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Ashley has an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina (2013) in International Studies, with emphasis on International Security. She additionally studied International Security in the UK at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, in 2012 as an exchange student. She was named as USA Today’s South Carolina’s Free Spirit (2009), as well as the SCSPA Journalist of the Year (2009) and has maintained her own blog of over 500 articles from the past decade on religious and political concepts. She currently contributes monthly writing to Presbyterian Outlook, and embraces creativity as a reflective healing modality.

Ashley is interested in continuing to learn about how interfaith dialogue can empower relationships between religious leaders of all faiths to help maintain peace and balance in local communities.

Windy Cooler

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Windy Cooler (she/her/hers) is an embraced public minister in the Quaker tradition. As a teenage mother she began her career as an anti-poverty organizer. Today she is a frequent guest of Quaker communities as a workshop leader and speaker. Marrying Quaker discernment processes with ethnographic tools, Windy’s ministry of caregiving in times of crisis is grounded in the wisdom present in each community. She is the 2020 Cadbury Scholar at the Quaker center, Pendle Hill; a 2021 MDiv graduate of Earlham School of Religion; and a current doctoral candidate at Lancaster Theological Seminary where she is deepening her scholarship and call to caregiving and justice. She lives with her husband Erik and son Ob in Greenbelt, Maryland, and has an adult daughter, Maggie, who lives nearby.

Meredith Harmon

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Meredith is wildly uncomfortable writing about herself in the 3rd person. She’s a mom to three, spouse to one and friend to many! After 23 years of on and off study, Meredith finally completed an undergraduate degree at UW-Whitewater and then began seminary. She has collected at least 10 student IDs proving that she is a lifelong learner. She is currently working on an Mdiv. at Emory University in Atlanta, as part of the first ever remote cohort. She’s been a member of St. Mark’s in Beaver Dam for the past 12 years, and until recently, was the Executive Director of the Haiti Project. She is currently a postulant in the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, serving at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Watertown, WI. Meredith is a big fan of art, conversation and the New York Times Puzzles section.

David Hazan

Fellow Class of 2022-23

David Hazan, raised in the Jewish community of Northwest London, is training to be a Rabbi to serve the wider Jewish community and to be an ambassador for his people. Drawing inspiration & strength from his family’s Turkish Sephardic tradition, as well as from others, David is, and has been, conscientiously searching for authenticity and a wholesome connection with his Jewish practice and beliefs that exists in harmony with the outside world. He has studied in various different Rabbinical institutions, including the Judith Lady Montefiore College of the Spanish & Portuguese Jewish community, and worked for different Jewish Institutions and schools both in England and Israel. Committed to finding ways of helping the Jewish community be inspired and connected with its universal mission and unique spirituality; and especially to help support people on their individual spiritual journeys, David looks to further his training in different areas such as meditation, counselling and mental health in the future alongside his Rabbinical career. He holds a Diploma in Philosophy & Religious studies from the Open University and Certificate in Jewish Education from the London school of Jewish Studies. After organising a 3-day Jewish Meditation retreat in the Peak District, his first own communal project, David attended a year and a half programme at the Rabbinical Training Academy which he has just graduated from. Since then, David has been officiating as a Rabbi, Sephardic Hazan & Bar Mitzvah Tutor for different communities throughout London and Hertfordshire. Recently married, He currently lives in Edgware with his wonderful and supportive wife, Tehilla, who is working towards being an equestrian therapist.

Keith Takeshi Hirata

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Keith (he/him/his) is a hospice chaplain, teaching pastor, and ambassador of aloha – similar in actual meaning to shalom/salaam as in peace (the absence of injustice) & flourishing. Born and raised in Uptown Chicago, he is no stranger to the social dynamics of race, class, and gender as well as the intolerance so ubiquitous in America. In middle school, Keith experienced significant prejudice and bullying that initially resulted in a profound sense of loneliness and self-loathing. Through God’s grace, community, and love, Keith eventually found the freedom to recognize the imago Dei he and all humanity bears. Keith is proud to be of Okinawan and “local” Hawaiian ethnic/cultural heritage, and is passionate about justice, compassion, and forging a multiethnic society where everyone is seen for the sacred beauty they inherently embody. After graduating from the University of Illinois, Keith worked as an aide to a Japanese governor and then at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago as media affairs coordinator. He was then called to serve a collegiate ministry, mobilizing university students and faculty to recognize their privilege and sacrificially serve God and others domestically and internationally. Today, Keith is a part-time teaching pastor in downtown Los Angeles and a hospice chaplain striving each day to carry the aroma of God’s presence, compassion, and peace to the dying and their loved ones. He loves to play the ʻukulele for his patients and ride his Harley Road King with his MC (motorcycle club) brothers. To them he is simply known as “Shepherd.” Keith runs toward danger and occasionally jumps into fights to break them up. He credits many trainers and mentors for building the foundation to his passion for diverse communities and justice but especially the First Nations founders of NAIITS (an indigenous theological learning community), his former COGIC church family and pastor, and the civil rights activist and legend, Rev. CT Vivian. He has been blessed to journey life’s ever mysterious path as husband to Amy and father to Kyra and Kaeden.

Shereetha Jackson

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Shereetha J. (she/her) is an advocate, audio maker, and innovator who brings stories from the margins to the forefront. She encourages others to lead with love, peace, and to not only survive, but continuously seek ways to thrive. Shereetha is a Georgia native who hails from Heard County, a rural area with one stoplight that is easily outshined by the community’s sense of camaraderie.

Professionally, she curates worshipful moments through digital communications and in-person programming as the Director of Community Engagement for Church of the Common Ground—an Atlanta-based spiritual community for those impacted by homelessness. Shereetha is currently pursuing her Master’s of Social Innovation at Agnes Scott College where she continues to build her work with Project Upstream–a citizen training program that unites policy and storytelling to empower unhoused residents with the tools to advocate for themselves and other unhoused citizens of Atlanta. Shereetha believes it takes bold initiatives to change the world and that this work must begin with self, by listening for the sound of the genuine. For her, outreach is more than a passion, it’s personal. More specifically, her experience as a cancer survivor, allows her to authentically engage with others who are deeply rooted on the margins. This also directly influences her work as an audio maker. Shereetha hosts and produces two unique podcasts: “God, Goats, and Government”–a weekly conversation with Episcopal priest, Black farmer, and first-time legislator Senator Kim Jackson. She also addresses apology culture with conversations grounded in lyrics and liberation through “I’m Sorry Ms. Jackson Podcast”.

As an Odyssey Fellow, Shereetha aims to develop invaluable relationships through the agency of deliberative dialogue and the desire to shift the narrative around homelessness, starting with the beloved community members of Church of the Common Ground. Lastly, she views life as one big soundtrack and believes that a life well-lived breaks barriers and crosses genres. Shereetha’s primary goal is to recognize God in others by listening wholeheartedly. For this purpose, she is committed to uplifting the voices of the Unheard, while cultivating one of the greatest playlists of all time.

Yazeed Kamaldien

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Yazeed Kamaldien was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and has worked in various countries as a journalist and photographer. He has reported from a number of conflict zones, including the Gaza Strip, Yemen, Syria and Darfur in Sudan. He has also worked on documentary films and was the production manager on Miners Shot Down, which won an international Emmy award in New York in 2015. This film told the story of South African mineworkers who were shot dead by the country’s police officers, while they were striking for better living and working conditions in the lucrative mining sector.

In 2021, Yazeed was awarded a scholarship to do his master’s degree in international peace-building at the Hartford International University for Religion and Peace in Hartford, Connecticut. As part of his course, he also studied the ethical and religious thought of Martin Luther King, Jr, at the Harvard University Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Yazeed is currently also part of the Global Exchange on Religion in Society (Geris), a two-year project funded by the European Union, set up to facilitate a global conversation on diversity, coexistence and social inclusion. His research focus was on Being a Minority in the United States and he was part of a group of journalists and activists who traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, in December 2021 to meet various roleplayers working to advance the rights of underrepresented communities in the United States. Yazeed is interested in understanding how organisations work towards peace-building and intends to work also on race and reconciliation projects. Furthermore, he wants to gain experience in peace-building dialogue processes, including mediation.

Grace Okerson

Fellow Class of 2022-23

A Florida native, Grace Okerson (she/her/hers) is a second year Master of Divinity Student studying at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She is pursuing a concentration in Chaplaincy with the hope of going into hospital and/or hospice chaplaincy. She wants to journey with people through their grief and in their points of crisis, putting her own gifts, talents, and lived experience of grief to use. Equipped with a Master of Arts in Public Ministry from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Grace’s passions surround dismantling white supremacy and prison abolition. Grace graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Science with minors in Diversity and Social Inequality, Women and Gender Studies, and Journalism Studies from the University of Central Florida. From 2017-2019, Grace then served as Global Mission Fellow with the General Board of Global Ministries as the Lunch & Volunteer Coordinator at the NOAH Project, an agency tackling issues around homelessness in downtown Detroit, MI.

Grace currently works with McCormick Theological Seminary’s Solidarity Building Initiative as the Specialty Projects Manager and Administrative Assistant. Through a praxis of curious-learning, innovative-action, and active-reflection, Grace has imagined into existence life-giving solutions and collaborative partnerships towards justice-making and solidarity-building with those who have been marginalized by hyper incarceration. Grace is a certified candidate for ordained ministry in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and plans to continue her ministry as a deacon. When she is not working or in school, you can find Grace exploring the city and traveling the globe. Grace enjoys long walks, baking new recipes, reading, writing, and taking naps on the beach.

Natalia Pierson

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Natalia Pierson (she/her/hers) is a social worker and therapist. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Divinity at Vanderbilt Divinity School with a concentration in Chaplaincy as well as Religion, Gender, and Sexuality. She earned a Bachelor and Master of Social Work from Texas State University-San Marcos. Over her 16 years as a social worker, she has worked with many different populations; single adults, families, teens, children, people experiencing mental health crises, substance misuse issues, homelessness, unemployment, child-welfare involvement, and incarceration. After leaving the evangelical church, Natalia found radical welcome, embrace, and acceptance at the Eucharist table of Church of the Apostles in Seattle, WA. She started to see the equalizing power of sitting together at a table for a meal, whether at church, in a pub, or in a day center for families experiencing homelessness. She is in the candidacy process with the ELCA Lutheran Church. She is called to be a part of the Church’s resurrection into a decolonized, inclusive, and antiracist community. She wants to be with people as we heal from wounds inflicted by spiritual trauma and reconstruct their relationship with the Divine. As an Odyssey Fellow, she looks forward to co-creating with others as we strive to make spaces for radical love, leaving the world better than we found it. She enjoys running and sharing time with others around a table with homemade bread.

Isabella "Izzy" Sherwood-Reid

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Isabella Sherwood-Reid is currently working on her Master’s in Divinity at the Iliff School of Theology and serves as the Pastor of New Ministries and Communications at Cameron United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Whitman College, where she wrote her thesis on sexual ethics in the church and engaging in sexual abuse crises in Christianity. In between, she has been working in digital ministry, exploring new means of connection and community-building through online avenues. Isabella is excited to see what the future of the church holds as we learn together what it means to be Christian and follow the teachings of Jesus, especially in the ways that we can live into his message of equality and social justice. When not studying, Isabella Sherwood-Reid enjoys baking— the more complicated the better— and walking her dog around local parks.

Kevin Staton

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Kevin Staton (he/him/his) is a public school educator of over two decades who has welcomed the transition from public educator to public theologian. Kevin has an undergraduate degree from Howard University in Business Administration, and a Masters Degree in Education from the University of New Haven. He has almost completed his first year as an MDiv student at Chicago Theological Seminary, where his area of emphasis is the Study of Black Faith & Life. Kevin subscribes to what theologian Howard Thurman refers to as “The Religion of Jesus,” which focuses on dismantling the existing structures of oppression as part of our moral obligation as Christians. Professionally, Kevin is involved in various local/state organizations that advocate for initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion in education, and is currently working on initiatives that involve local churches being more active in local school board politics.

As a licensed Baptist minister, Kevin has worked in the Baptist Church on scholarship programs that promote student academic equity/success. He has also conducted free workshops for students and parents that deal directly with issues around college preparation, high school course selection, and the disproportionate labeling of students of color as special needs. Kevin bases his ministry work on the scripture I Thessalonians 4:11-12, which tells us to “ make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Andrea Steinkamp

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Andrea Steinkamp (she/her/hers) is originally from Michigan but has resided with her husband and two sons on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for the past 11 years. She is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary, concentrating in cross-testament biblical studies and is also a Member in Discernment pursuing ordination in the United Church of Christ. For the 2022-2023 school year, Andrea has been elected by her peers at Union to serve as the student representative to the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees. Andrea has a Bachelor of Science degree in both Finance and Accounting from Miami University in Oxford, OH and spent twelve years utilizing these skills as a consultant, business owner and for-profit financial executive; her move to New York City in 2011, with a six-year-old and nearly two-year-old in tow, compelled her to take a break from her career and deploy her expertise in alternative settings. During that time, she brought her technical skills and leadership competency to volunteer roles for her children’s public-school PTA, serving as both Treasurer and Co-President over five years. She also became increasingly involved in lay leadership with her local church congregation and was ordained a Deacon in 2015 and an Elder in 2016, before being elected Chair of the local consistory (governing board) in 2017. In 2020, Andrea was elected Chair of the Full Consistory of the Collegiate Church of New York. Her call is to the work of a pastor, one who creates spaces of respite and community where people can be fed both physically and spiritually, nourished to encourage and sustain their ethical action in the world. She has spent the past year as an intern at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church developing programming and providing spiritual care for its young adult population, a majority of whom identify as LGBTQIA+. When she’s not at school or at church she’s working out, walking in the park, baking or cooking for anyone who needs to be fed, or cheering her two teenage sons on at their various events and activities.

Peter Tanaka

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Peter Michael Tanaka (he/him/his) is the son of Amy Orlando (married to Mike) and Richard Tanaka (married to Ann Lyons). He is the older brother of Keiko, Tori, and Spencer (married to Stephanie). He was born in Peoria, Illinois, and he and his family moved to Brighton, Michigan, Boise, Idaho, and Toronto, Canada, before they settled in the west suburbs of Chicago when Peter was eleven years old. He attended Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois and studied biology. Upon graduation in 2010, he moved to Detroit, Michigan, to work in a neuroscience research lab at the medical school of Wayne State University. With guidance from his boss and mentor, Dr. Rodrigo Andrade, Peter chose to not pursue a career as a doctor or researcher, and to instead use that period of his life for long term travel with the purpose of self-discovery. After leaving to travel through Europe in 2013, and then spending three years teaching English to elementary students in Chino, Nagano, Japan, Peter returned home in 2017. Shortly thereafter, he committed to pursuing theological studies. He has just completed his first year as a Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary. He is a multiple religious belonger, seeking ordination in the Episcopal church, as he begins to also cultivate his foundation in Buddhism. Singing is a central expression of faith. His experiences in community organizing in Detroit in the wake of the killing of George Floyd have profoundly impacted his understanding of justice. As an Odyssey Fellow, Peter will complete his field education assignment at Rikers Correctional Center while working with the Brooklyn Zen Center, Christ Church Cobble Hill, and advocacy groups for individuals impacted by the justice system to help facilitate a multireligious, communal dialogue that leads to a more nuanced understanding of, and deeper sense of engagement with mass incarceration in the United States.

Hamzah Zahid

Fellow Class of 2022-23

Hamzah is a student of traditional Islamic scholarship, an economist, social researcher, teacher, and writer.

Born and raised in London, Hamzah grew up in a deprived area. He took a keen interest in faith at an early age, though his professional aspirations took him to study Economics at SOAS University of London. He graduated at the top of his cohort, receiving the Finalist Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement. During his time at university, he founded and operated a scholarship fund for students from impoverished backgrounds. He also conducted research at the Institute of Economic Affairs on the economic potential of Zakat, the Islamic alms-tax.

After graduation, Hamzah was accepted onto the Civil Service Fast Stream, where he worked on several high-profile policy areas in the British Government as an Economist. He also sat on several committees and boards representing faith groups and Muslims in workplace and policy networks. Concurrently, Hamzah also began training in traditional Islamic scholarship on a part-time basis.

After 3 years of working full-time, Hamzah was awarded the Jameel Scholarship from the Islam-UK Centre, Cardiff University, through which he studied MA Islam in Contemporary Britain. His dissertation explored spiritual seclusion among British Muslims and is the first-ever autoethnographic study of Islamic spiritual seclusion.

Following this, Hamzah enrolled at the Cambridge Muslim College, where he is currently studying BA Contextual Islamic Studies. Alongside his studies, Hamzah is working as a Social Researcher at the Institute of Community Studies, conducting primary research with grassroots community initiatives to explore community-based resilience to deprivation. He is currently also a teacher at the Cambridge Central Mosque. Hamzah has attended a number of faith-based leadership and training programmes, including the Young Muslim Leadership Programme run by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, the Emerging Peacemakers Forum by the Rose Castle Foundation, Countering Extremism through Wasatiyya run by the Markfield Institute, and print media training.

He has also engaged widely with and written for a variety grassroots Muslim organisations, including the British Board of Imams and Scholars, the Muslim Council of Britain, the National Zakat Foundation, and the Muslim Vibe. Hamzah has often been found spelunking between various cafes, indulging in tea and cake. He also boxes, and occasionally dabbles in Brazilian Ju Jitsu.

Jonese Austin

FELLOW CLASS OF 2020-21
Candler School of Theology | Ebenezer Baptist Church

Deirdre “Jonese” Austin (she/her/hers) is a writer and justice seeker. She aspires to employ a radical love ethic in working towards healing and wholeness through good theology, research, direct action, and public policy; she hopes to enter a career at the intersections of ministry, academia, nonprofit work, and politics. Jonese understands her calling as one dedicated to exploring the ways in which healing can be facilitated in and through the Black Baptist Church, and her research interests lie at the intersections of religion, race, justice, and healing. Currently, Jonese is a second year Master of Divinity student at Candler School of Theology pursuing certificates in Black Church Studies and Baptist Studies. She is also a licensed Baptist minister, licensed at the historic Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in DC, who will be interning at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church this fall. In 2019, Jonese graduated from the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service, with honors, where she majored in Culture and Politics focusing on Religion and Social Justice, minored in African American Studies, and earned a certificate in Religion, Ethics, and World Affairs. Her favorite scripture is Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God,” and she lives by the philosophy and Emily Dickinson quote, “If I can stop one heart from breaking I shall not live in vain.” As an Odyssey Fellow, Jonese is most looking forward to having brave and healing conversations on topics related to mass incarceration, especially amidst the Christian-Jewish interfaith fellowship of young professionals of Ebenezer and the Temple.

Ristina Gooden

FELLOW CLASS OF 2020-21
Vanderbilt Divinity School | Faith Matters Network

Ristina Gooden (she/her/hers) is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. She is currently a divinity student at Vanderbilt Divinity School where she is concentrating on Black Religion and Cultural Studies as well as Religion, Gender, and Sexuality. For the 2020-2021 school year, Ristina will serve as student government President for the divinity school. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality Management from The Ohio State University. Previously, Ristina had a nearly 10-year career as an event planner at both The Ohio State University and Spelman College. In that career, Ristina has managed over 4,500 events. Ristina has a passion for womanism, equity, cultural competency, and community building which is why doing her field education at Faith Matters Network, womanist-led organization focused on personal and social transformation, was the perfect fit. With their vision of a world of people living in just communities rooted in wisdom, spiritual practices, healing, and courage, Ristina has found a home with kindred spirits. She has begun her ordination process within the Baptist denomination and looks forward to becoming a pastor as well as a birth doula. In her spare time, which is rare, Ristina loves baking and cheering on her Ohio State University Buckeyes during football season.

Ristina Gooden

FELLOW CLASS OF 2020-21
Iliff School of Theology | Soul 2 Soul Sisters

Lauren Johnson (she/her/hers) is a Southern California native and earned her Bachelor’s Degree at Howard University in Washington, DC. She is currently pursuing her Master’s of Divinity at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO with a concentration in Pastoral Care. The Lord placed a burden on Lauren’s heart for Black women who desire healing from wounds of emotional, relational, and spiritual trauma by helping them return to their first loves—God and self. She is passionate about Womanism, healing, liberation, and all matters of the heart. This fall, Lauren will intern with Soul 2 Soul Sisters, a faith-based, Black womxn-led, racial justice organization focused on Black healing and Black liberation. Divine providence led her to the organization as their sacred devotion to their work on providing advocacy, resources, healing, and a voice for Black women aligns perfectly with Lauren’s calling. Lauren will soon begin the process of licensing and ordination in the American Baptist denomination and plans to start a public ministry that will change the lives of Black women. Lauren is a graphic + web designer and owner of Providence & Design, LLC. She enjoys spending time with friends, hiking in the beautiful Colorado mountains, anything floral, and basking in the sun.

Oriana Mayorga

FELLOW CLASS OF 2020-21
Union Theological Seminary (NY) | CONNECT

Oriana Mayorga (she/her/ella) is the granddaughter of Caridad Esperanza Pereyra, Margarita Mayorga and Henry Mayorga Sr. She is the daughter of Henry Mayorga Jr. and Dr. Norma Fuentes-Mayorga. Oriana is born and raised New Yorker, community organizer, harm reductionist, artist and recipient of the Justice and Peace Scholarship at Union Theological Seminary. The lived experiences of her Latinx family inspire her daily to fight for justice. Oriana is dedicated to dismantling structural oppression, promoting racial justice and ending violence against womyn, as well as building healthier, accountable communities. Currently, Oriana serves on the leadership council of her Bronx-based church New Day, where she is focused on building the mutual aid ministry. In 2018, while working as the community ministries intern for the St. James United Methodist Church in Kingston, NY, Oriana had the opportunity to preach her first sermon at the Clinton Avenue UMC church. Upon returning from her year away in upstate New York, she briefly worked in a south Bronx syringe exchange. She is a longtime advocate of ending the war on drugs, fighting for accessible psychedelic medicine for all and is the Vice Chair of the board of directors for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Oriana received her bachelor of science from Fordham University in 2014 and a graduate certificate in Harm Reduction Psychotherapy from the New School of Research in 2016. In 2022, she will graduate with her Masters of Divinity with a concentration in social ethics from Union Theological Seminary. As an Odyssey Fellow, Oriana is most excited to facilitate healing circles with survivors of intimate violence during her internship at CONNECT to promote the healing and growth of some of NYC’s faith leaders.

Staci Plonsky

FELLOW CLASS OF 2020-21
Iliff School of Theology | Suntree United Methodist Church

Staci Plonsky (she/her/hers) has felt a call to ministry and social justice work since she was a preteen. She has served in ministry in many capacities, including as a camp counselor, a youth director, and a children’s director. Staci has also attended to hundreds of families as a certified birth and postpartum doula, as well as training new doulas. A graduate of Florida Southern College, Staci is currently earning her Master of Divinity degree from Iliff School of Theology, is a certified candidate for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, and serves as intern at Suntree United Methodist Church. Staci is most excited to learn how churches can partner with their communities to promote mercy and justice. Staci resides with her husband and three children in Cocoa, Florida with horses, chickens, dog and cats. Staci loves camping and visiting Florida theme parks with her family.

Darrin "D.J." Sims

FELLOW CLASS OF 2020-21
Candle School of Theology | Providence Missionary Baptist Church

“Theo-Organizer” Darrin Lamont Sims Jr. (he/him/his) was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Growing up in such a racially divisive city had a large impact on the way Darrin saw social justice, even from a young age. At Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, he double majored in Political Science and History. Upon graduation, Darrin served as a teacher for Teach for America in Nashville and St. Louis. It was during the Ferguson Uprising that Darrin decided to focus on community organizing and abolition. Soon after, Darrin followed the Lord’s guidance to move to Atlanta, Georgia and enter Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Since then, Darrin has devoted his work and research to social justice through a theological lens. Darrin currently teaches, preaches and organizes around faith-based approaches to reducing recidivism, voter suppression and police and prison abolition in southwest Atlanta, Georgia, building on his recent involvement in the Theology and Racialized Policing Cohort Program of Sojourners Network, and his continued role as Community Manager for The People’s Supper. Darrin is most excited about the holistic reentry work this fellowship will allow him to continue at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Atlanta. He is supported by his beautiful wife Chauncey and their two children Emmett and Zora.

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