What inspired you to become a religious leader?
In large part, it began in my childhood. My family raised us to be very involved in our church and to be very religiously minded. My parents were both lay leaders in their church, my grandparents lay leaders in their church, and my great grandfather on my mother’s side was a Southern Baptist minister. He was of the less conservative kind of Baptism—he was very active in civil rights and was of a very progressive mindset. He fought to keep the Baptist church a religiously open and free environment, and was sad to see the church go in a different direction. So that really laid a religious foundation in me and taught me to live by certain values.
When I was a teenager I became incredibly ill. I had a terrible stomach ulcer. I developed a disorder that causes intermittent paralysis in my body. And the church that we were a part of was very supportive of me as I was struggling with this, and very supportive of my family. They provided a lot of love and support to us. And it was something that I wanted to do with my life when I got older. I realized that being in a loving community was one of the more important things that I should do with my life.
But unfortunately, I had theological disagreements with the church. I was raised in a Presbyterian family, after we moved from Southern Baptism. So I left the church, and was un-churched for many years. One day, after I had gotten engaged to my now wife, Nadia Armstrong-Green, we were talking about raising kids together and planning for the future. And I realized then how important having religion in our life would be. And I wanted to find a place that we would be happy raising a family in, with a loving, supportive community who would encourage our children to be the best people they could be.
When I was looking for this place, I ended up talking to my mother, who was still active in the Presbyterian church and was part of an interfaith coalition. She was telling me about the great work that they were doing and about the Unitarian church that was incredibly active in that group. While other churches would have ten members come to coalition meetings, the Unitarians would have anywhere from 50 to 70 members show up. And she said, “I really think you would like these people, these Unitarians. They are very open to all sorts of beliefs and faiths. They are very active. You should try going to their church.”
So I went to the Unitarian Universalist church. I attended service a few times—unfortunately I had to work most Sundays, so I couldn’t go there too often. But I just fell in love and knew that this was the community I was looking for. And I knew that if I could devote my life to Unitarian Universalism, I could be involved in justice work and building loving communities. And that is exactly how I wanted to live my life. So from then on I was hooked, and began looking into how to become a UU minister.
Why did you decide to study at Starr King?
It was a very easy decision. As I said, I started looking into UU ministry and discovered there were two UU seminaries. So it was really between Meadville Lombard and Starr King. And I loved the freedom Starr King gave you in the individualized plans of study. I loved Starr King’s commitments to multireligiosity and to educating to counter oppression. It seemed like everything I would want my seminary to be.
I talked to Jeremiah Kalendae, the Admissions and Recruitment Director, and he made me feel very welcomed. And then I planned a trip to Starr King, and that was a fantastic experience. The class I sat in on really made me feel welcome and really wanted me to participate even though I was only there for a few hours. And I was very nervous, because I do not have an undergraduate degree. But at Starr King that wasn’t a problem. And they made me feel like, even though I did not have that degree, I could be a part of the conversation and that the school could benefit from me, and I could benefit from the school. So I applied, got accepted and enrolled right away.
Why did you decide to serve as Starr King Student Body President?
In large part because everyone kept saying that they predicted that I would become student body president.
I came to the school and I loved it right away. And I tried to find any way I could to help and be involved in the school. Of course there were some troubles the year before, and so there was really a need to have active student events in order to get everyone to take ownership in the school again. I was very excited to take ownership, to be able to do what I could. I have tried to arrange a preaching workshop group, which I did get started. I have been trying to find a way to get an active social justice committee started amongst the students. And as student body president, I feel that I will have an even greater ability to get some of these projects started.
And it helped that everyone was approaching me asking me to run. When everyone is asks you to run for president and no one runs against you, you kind of have to listen.
What has been your most memorable or meaningful experience at Starr King?
Definitely, without a doubt, it was the turnout that all of the students, staff and faculty had during the Black Lives Matter protests at the end of my first semester. There was huge unity there. You saw the inspiring love that everyone has for their community and for the world around them. And our students went out, people got arrested standing up for what they believed in, and the school stood behind them. It was just the most touching moment. It really brought the school together. And it showed me why I came to Starr King—to be surrounded by such amazing and prophetic souls.
What do you hope to do with your Starr King education going forward?
I definitely intend to continue my Starr King education as long as possible. But my plan is to become a UU Parish Minister in the long run, and go out into the world and serve the community as much as I can.
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