Mobilizing for justice and youth advocacy

by Andrea Simmonds (MDiv ’18) and C. Mark Batten, Office of Communications

Last summer Dr. Derek Hicks, assistant professor of religion and culture, offered a week-long course, “Mobilizing for Justice,” that immersed students in social justice issues with children and youth. The course took students to a week-long conference hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund. The conference is part of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.

The Children’s Defense Fund is a non-profit child advocacy organization that has worked for over 40 years to ensure a level playing field for all children, including lifting children out of poverty, protecting them from abuse and neglect, and ensuring access to health care, quality education, and a moral foundation.

The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry brings clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, and young adult leaders together to gain new inspiration, information, and ideas to address the urgent needs of children at the intersection of race and poverty. Together with the Children’s Defense Fund, the week-long conference aims to transform communities to better nurture and protect all children.

This was the second year that Hicks has participated and he now serves as one of the lead faculty persons for the project. For Hicks, this course is a way to connect what students study with social justice issues around the country.


Dr. Derek Hicks (far right) with School of Divinity Students and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber (center) during the conference.

“Given the climate for what has happened for years with young black males and the stigmatization of black youth, both male and female, it was in part critical for me to be a part of it. I want to find ways for what I do in the academy to make sense on the ground. I want that to impact the lives of young people.”

Students traveled to the foothills of the Tennessee mountains where they attended discussions at the Alex Hayley Farm, the permanent home for the Leave No Child Behind movement and the Children’s Defense Fund.

Angela Chavis, third-year Master of Divinity student, said, “The conference broadened my social consciousness and it offered a lens to view the intersection between advocating for moral justice and the ministry of Jesus Christ. I believe other courses similar to one offered by Dr. Hick’s are highly beneficial to all seminarians, laypersons, or anyone else interested in social change and justice.”

The course will be offered again this summer. Similar courses are also offered by other seminaries and graduate programs across the country in partnership with the Institute.

“Through these courses students are able to engage with different social justice leaders from around the country and then unpack those materials in a classroom setting,” Hicks said, “Last summer we discussed issues from Ferguson and food deserts to mass incarceration.”

Hicks’s primary research and teaching is in African-American religion, religion in North America, race, the body, religion and foodways, theory and method in the study of religion, Black and Womanist theologies, and cultural studies.  He has worked with several different social justice initiatives and was recognized in 2006 by the Bank of America Excellence Initiative Leadership Program with the Emerging Community Leadership Award.

Having the opportunity to teach courses with this type of focus at the School of Divinity is a confirmation of his call to teach says Hicks. “I encourage students to not shy away from difficult or challenging social issues.  I give them tools that allow them to ask better questions and embolden them not to be fearful of the answers they might receive that will challenge them back.”

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