06/15/2011 01:29 pm ET | Updated Aug 15, 2011

Can the Faith Community Impact the Academic Success of Children?

Twelve years ago I started a journey of faith, a journey that would help me find my passion and not just a job. It started while I was looking for a place to live after graduating from college. A friend from church offered to let me live rent free in his apartment with one condition: that I had to feed the homeless every Monday evening with the church's Street Ministry. I took him up on his offer. I also used this time to find a job as a Clinical Research Associate. While I enjoyed my job I was increasingly spending my time at work thinking of ways to deal with the systems of oppression that kept people homeless and hungry. We were feeding the same people year after year - there had to be another way.

While sitting at my desk at the pharmaceutical company one day I came to an important realization; I was good at my job but what I really loved was helping people in need.

What I really wanted to do was work on improving the plight of the oppressed. Months later I quit my job, accepted a call to ministry and went off to divinity school.

That was the beginning and I thought I had found my passion. For the past twelve years I have worked with organizations that create empowering opportunities for our society's most vulnerable children and communities.

Just over one year ago I attended a retreat sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education. During the retreat we were encouraged to look at our lives and to find a personal story that captured the essence of what led us to our particular ministries. That exercise led me to reflect on my childhood, growing up in poverty, attending a different school every year, walking to school with cardboard in the bottom my shoes because the soles were worn out, wondering how I was going to eat, lacking school supplies at times, and as a child dealing with the stress a single mother who was a substance abuser.

Because of things I endured and had to overcome as a child, that exercise helped me tap into my real passion. I wanted to find ways to help children growing up in similar circumstances. I wanted to inspire them to believe in themselves and know that they can make it.

As someone who was not raised in the church and became a Christian in my mid-twenties, the church became my source of inspiration, taught me to dream big and to believe that God had gifted me to do great things. My gifts, I knew, were not for use in a selfish way to gratify myself; instead, they were to be used for exactly the reason I had quit my pharmaceutical job - to help others.

As a minister, I wanted to inspire others in the same way that many clergy and lay people had inspired me. Experience has taught me that inspiration is motivation perceived by others; faith, on the other hand, requires that we each allow God to use our voices to encourage others.

At-risk youth and under performing students need to be inspired but equally as important is their need for adults who are willing to do the work of helping them succeed academically. Education continues to be our most reliable tool for creating upward life trajectories and optimal opportunities. Houses of worship are more than places where people come in search of a deeper relationship with God; they are also places where people go to find deeper connections with their communities and the possibility of using their gifts and talents to help those in need.

All these forces together are what compelled me to act on an idea I had over a year ago; to call on friends from across the country to create Faith Leaders for Community Change.
Faith Leaders for Community Change is an organization that aims to build a national network of churches and people of faith committed to doing the work of implementing proven educational strategies for improving children's lives.

In cities where people of faith are currently supporting public or charter schools, they are respecting the separation of church and state and do not seek to impose their belief systems on students, teachers or other education professionals. The end goal is to not to convert but to encourage an ethic of academic excellence in our children, families and communities through the provision of appropriate support, enthusiastic mentorship and resources.

Faith for Change will connect communities of faith with the Coalition for Community Schools implementing the Community Schools Strategy. This approach allows communities of faith to work in collaboration with non- religious organizations invested in the academic success of children in order to strengthen their efforts towards this common goal and quantifying successful outcomes.

Similar work is already taking place in communities of faith across the country. In New York City, Abyssinian Baptist Church has the Abyssinian Development Corporation; in Chicago, Lily Dale Baptist Church is supporting a high school just across the street from the church. In Cleveland, Ohio, a group of pastors led by Rev. Timothy Eppinger recently came together to work with teachers on improving graduation rates at a local high school; in Decatur, Georgia, Dr. Cynthia Hale, Pastor of Ray of Hope, is providing support for BaSix Knowledge Academy, a school for 6th through 12th grade students.

Communities of faith are either running or providing support to successful schools and helping children inside and outside of the classroom. This model isn't new. As we know many of our higher ed institutions like Moorehouse and Spelman colleges were started by religious denominations.

Faith for Change started as a question as to whether people of faith would answer the call to serve their communities. And the answer we found was that they already had. We hope to be a partner in this work that elevates these efforts and creates national and global models of success. I invite all of you along on this journey. Because the work is too important to do it alone.

There are children in communities across the country waiting for someone to believe in them, support them, provide them with resources and champion their causes. And we will not be guilty of abandoning our children when they need us the most.

To find out more about Faith for Change and how you can be involved visit