2019 Episcopal Urban Caucus Assembly

The Church & The Gentrifying City: Reimagining Urban Ministry

March 20 - 23, 2019

Indianapolis, IN


Lester Spence, PhD

Associate Professor of

Political Science and Africana Studies,

Johns Hopkins University



Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics (2016)

The Rev. Geoffrey B. Curtiss, The Episcopal Diocese of Newark (Newark, NJ)

Dawn Phillips

Executive Director and a founding member of Right to the City Alliance (RTC) 

a national alliance of racial, economic and environmental justice organizations providing unified response to gentrification and the displacement of low-income people, people of color, marginalized LGBTQ communities, and youths of color from their historic urban neighborhoods.

Michael Maloney, Episcopal Network for Economic Justice (Cincinnati, OH)


The Rev. Deacon Carolyn Foster, Alabama Poor People’s Campaign; The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama (Montgomery, AL)

Canon Clara Gregory, The Diocese of New Jersey (Trenton, NJ)

Vahisha Hasan, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition of Action & Hope); Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies (Memphis, TN)

Aisha Huertas, The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia (Richmond, VA)

Floridia Jackson, School of Servant Leadership (Memphis, TN)

Dorian Spears, Momentum Nonprofit Alliance (Memphis, TN)

The Reverend 

Sarah Monroe

The Honorable

Byron Rushing

The Reverend 

Mariama White-Hammond

The Reverend 

Lamont Wells

The Reverend 

Richard Tolliver

Justin Merrick

Speaker Biographies

The Honorable Byron Rushing


Public Historian.

Community Organizer.


Byron Rushing served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1983 to 2018, where his priorities were human and civil rights, and the development of democracy; local human, economic and housing development; and housing and health care for all. 


During 1972 to 1985, he was President of the Museum of Afro-American History when the Museum purchased and began the restoration of the African Meeting House, the oldest extant black church building in the United States. In 1979, Byron oversaw the lobbying effort in Congress to establish the Boston African American National Historical Site, a component of the National Park Service. 


During the 1960's, in the civil rights movement, he worked for CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and for the Northern Student Movement. He directed a group of organizers, Roxbury Associates, who helped to found the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation, one of the first CDCs in the nation.


An active Episcopalian, Byron has been an elected lay deputy to its General Convention, the chaplain to its House of Deputies in 1994--the first layperson to hold this position. He serves as Vice-President of the House of Deputies—-the highest elected position held by a layperson in The Episcopal Church. He is a popular speaker and preacher on the ministry of all the baptized and on politics and faith. Byron is a member of St. John's, St. James Parish in Roxbury; and frequently attends St. Stephen’s in the South End

The Reverend  Mariama White-Hammond

Rev. Mariama White-Hammond was born in Boston, MA in 1979. The child of two preacher-doctors, Rev. Mariama grew up with an understanding that God calls us all to serve our fellow man. Her activism began in high school and continued at Stanford University where she was involved in campus politics and in the arts.


In September 2001 Rev. Mariama became the Executive Director of Project HIP-HOP (Highways Into the Past – History, Organizing and Power), an organization that she had been involved with in high school. At PHH, she taught young people to draw on the history of their ancestors and to use the arts as a tool to raise awareness about social issues. During her time there, PHH youth created artistic pieces on issues ranging from juvenile incarceration to funding for public transportation. They performed throughout Greater Boston in camps, homeless shelters, senior citizens homes and public transit stations as well as for leaders like the Mayor Walsh and Governor Patrick.


For her work in the non-profit sector Rev. Mariama has received numerous awards including the Barr Fellowship, the Celtics Heroes Among Us, The Roxbury Founders Day Award and the Boston NAACP Image award. In June 2014, she stepped down as Executive Director to focus on her work within the church.


In 2014, Rev. Mariama enrolled at Boston University School of Theology while continuing to serve at her local church, Bethel AME, as the Minister for Ecological Justice. In the spring of 2017, she graduated with her Masters of Divinity and was ordained an elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In the spring of 2018 Rev. Mariama received an appointment to pastor a new church. She is currently working with a multi-racial, multi-class team of leaders to build a church focused on reaching those who have been alienated by traditional church.


Rev. Mariama believes that the world is at a watershed moment in which we are all called to embody a more sustainable way of living and being with each other and the planet. challenges the Christian church to embrace a more radical understanding of the life and mission of Jesus Christ. She believes that a faith worth proclaiming, must be responsive to issues like street violence, mass incarceration, climate change, AIDS, food security, and human rights. She is actively engaged on social justice issues ranging from immigration policy to fair wage issues. Rev.

Mariama is very committed to engaging the faith community, and particularly Black church on climate change and ecological justice issues. She speaks throughout the country to faith and secular groups and was the MC for both the Boston Women’s March and Boston People’s Climate Mobilization. Rev. Mariama serves on both local and national boards and committees like the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund, Union Capital Boston and Clean Water Action. She is also a fellow with the Green Justice Coalition, a collaborative of people-of-color-led environmental groups working for intersectional climate justice.

The Reverend Sarah Monroe

Sarah founded Chaplains on the Harbor in 2013. She was ordained to the priesthood on April 23, 2014 and serves as priest and missioner with COH. She works in both Aberdeen and Westport, focusing on pastoral care and street outreach, leadership development, worship, and community building.

Sarah graduated from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA with a Master’s of Divinity in 2013. She worked with immigrant communities in Episcopal churches in King County, WA and with Ecclesia Ministries, doing street ministry on the Boston Commons. Her undergraduate background is in economics and trauma psychology.

In her teens, she grew up on a small farm and ran a small business in the Wynoochee Valley and is closely connected with the harbor and its culture. She loves hiking in the woods and beaches of the peninsula, archery, and gardening.

The Reverend Lamont Wells

The Reverend Lamont Anthony Wells is the President of African Descent Lutheran Association/African Descent Ministry in the ELCA and Director for Evangelical Mission/ Asst. Bishop at Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Justin Merrick

Producer, Director, Co-Writer

Reverend James Lawson


Born with the gift to connect with the soul of an audience, Justin Merrick transcends genre and medium to inspire spiritual rejuvenation.  Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Director and Producer,  Justin was recently named Executive Director of Memphis’ Center for Transforming Communities. Grammy nominated for his work at Stax in cultivating the next generation of Soul-Communicators, Justin's body of work integrates hip-hop, soul music, the millennial sound and dance to create fresh perspective and paradigm shift towards healing and connecting generations of cultures across the world.  As an Ambassador for Memphis Music, Justin has traveled the globe lifting the story of how music carries the pulse of social transformation. Justin’s portfolio includes works premiered at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, the White House, Royal Albert Hall and NBC’s Today Show.  He has been featured as an artist and up and coming talent in Ebony, Black Enterprise, Forbes Magazines and is the winner of several national competitions including the Leontyne Price Voice Competition, Debbie Allen’s Triple Threat FameUS and Honda All Star music competition.  In his spare time, Justin runs his own production company, JMUSE Inc. and volunteers as a consultant for social justice, racial reconciliation and creation care ministry for the Episcopal Church at large.   Justin has a Bachelors from Hampton University and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and and Masters in Opera with an emphasis in Composition and Conducting from Indiana University (Bloomington).

The Rev. Dr. Richard L. Tolliver

The Rev. Dr. Richard L. Tolliver is an ordained Episcopal priest. He has five earned degrees, including a Ph.D. from Howard University and is a graduate of The Advanced Management Development Program (AMDP) in Real Estate at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He has served parishes in Harlem, Boston, Washington, D.C. and retired as rector of St. Edmund’s Church, Chicago, on June 30, 2017 after a twenty-eight year tenure. In March 1990, he founded the St. Edmund’s Redevelopment Corporation (SERC), a not-for-profit community development corporation devoted to revitalizing the housing stock of Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood. He’s SERC’s President and Chief Operating Officer. To date, SERC has constructed or renovated over 734 units of housing located in 31 buildings at a cost of over $106 million. Chicago mayors have appointed him to advisory groups charged with formulating the last five, five year Housing Plans for the City of Chicago. In March 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him a member of his mayoral Transition Team after his election as Mayor of Chicago. He served on the Transition Team’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The Mayor has also appointed him a member of The Commission on Chicago Landmarks; The Low Income Housing Trust Fund and the Chicago Development Fund (CDF), a non-profit affiliate of the City of Chicago that invests in Chicago communities using New Markets Tax Credit financing. Tolliver is also a board member of the Beverly Bank and Trust Company, owned by Wintrust Corporation, which has assets of over $31 billion dollars.

Lester Spence, PhD

Lester Spence is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies, and is one of two co-directors of the Center for Africana Studies. An award winning scholar, author, and teacher, Dr. Spence has published two books (Stare in the Darkness: Hip-hop and the Limits of Black Politics winner of the 2012 W. E. B. Du Bois Distinguished Book Award, and Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics, winner of both the Baltimore City Paper and Baltimore Magazine 2016 Best Nonfiction Book Awards and was named to The Atlantic’s 2016 “Best Books We Missed” list), one co-edited journal, over a dozen academic articles and several dozen essays and think pieces in a range of publications including The American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, The New York Times, Jacobin, Salon, and The Boston Review. He is currently at work on two book length projects examining the contemporary AIDS crisis in black communities, and the growing role of police in major American cities. 

His latest book, Knocking the Hustle, is available for free download or purchase here



Dawn Phillips

Dawn Phillips is the Executive Director of Right to the City Alliance (RTC) and has been a grassroots organizer engaged in a range of social, economic, racial and environmental justice organizations and fights in the Bay Area and nationally for over 20 years. Prior to joining Right to the City Dawn was the Program Director at Causa Justa :: Just Cause (CJJC) a grassroots membership organization focused on community development, housing, and immigrant justice issues in the California Bay Area; and a founding member of the Right to the City Alliance. Dawn has helped develop and lead local, regional, statewide and national campaigns, participated in and led numerous coalitions and movement formations and has authored several nationally recognized reports and articles on topics ranging from equitable development, land and housing justice, grassroots organizing, movement building and strategy. Dawn was lead author on CJJC's report "Development Without Displacement: Resisting Gentrification in the Bay Area" which discussed the impacts of gentrification and displacement on working class communities of color and included policy recommendations for addressing these issues. Dawn is an immigrant from Singapore and a male-identified transgender person based in Oakland, California.

Michael Maloney

Michael Maloney is a community organizer, educator, and social policy planner based in Cincinnati.  He holds advanced degrees in education from Xavier University and City Planning from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  As a consultant he provides staff support to the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice and the Episcopal Networks Collaborative.  He has taught urban studies for 25 years at the University of Cincinnati.  His publications include The Social Areas of Cincinnati:  An Analysis of Social Needs, Vols 1-5 and he is co-editor of Appalachia:  Social Contest Past and Present, and the urban section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.  A member of the Episcopal Urban Caucus since 1982, he has founded or consulted with urban ministry programs throughout the eastern United States.  Other clients include Save the Children, Ohio Arts Council, Ohio Department of Health, and the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio (Anti Racism Commission, Appalachian Ministries).  He has served as director of the Urban Appalachian Council, Episcopal Appalachian Ministries, and the Appalachian Area Office of Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio

Geoff Curtiss

The Rev. Geoffrey B. Curtiss is the Spiritual Counselor at Hudson County Correction Center at the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

Vahisha Hasan

Vahisha Hasan is a faith-rooted organizer working at the intersections of faith, social justice, and mental health. She is the Executive Director of Movement in Faith, a project of Transform Network.  She is a powerful public speaker, transformative facilitator, social justice trainer, minister, and writer with a deeply prophetic voice and imagination for how faith communities can be an active part of collective liberation.

She is an Assistant Professor of Human Services at Memphis Center for Urban and Theological Studies (MCUTS) and serves as Director of the Mental Health Advocacy Institute which seeks to destigmatize mental health in faith communities. She is also writing the curriculum for the addition of a bachelor’s degree program in Applied Psychology. Vahisha serves on the Executive Team of Memphis Coalition of Action and Hope (MICAH) as C0-chair of Training and Exec Liaison for the Education Equity Task Force. She also serves as an associate minister at Christ Missionary Baptist Church, under Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart, Senior Pastor.

Vahisha holds a dual Master’s of Divinity and Master’s of Mental Health Counseling with an Education Specialist Certification from Gardner-Webb University and a bachelor’s degree in Communications with a concentration in Interpersonal Organization from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

She has published two editions of Resipiscence: A Lenten Devotional for Dismantling White Supremacy, 2018 and 2019. Most recently, Vahisha collaborated to launch miles of melanin, a travel fund for melanated artists and activists, inspired by the benefactors of the Harlem Renaissance authors and artists.

Dorian Spears

Dorian Spears has a 18-year history as a nonprofit administration and government professional with a diverse range of program development, strategic planning, and implementation skills.  Dorian has a passion for serving community and with a culturally responsive lens she employs current knowledge and acumen while making a meaningful impact on organizational mission, vision, and values.  

Her recent professional roles include serving as a project manager for Mayor Strickland’s transition team, the community development corporation (CDC) sector, and Camp HOPE (an initiative of the Family Safety Center); an Economic Development Specialist with the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County; and a Project Manager in Neighborhood Economic Vitality for the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team under Mayor Wharton’s administration. Each of these opportunities aided in crafting her focus in serving the community: the creation and designing of systems and infrastructure that enable people, businesses, and non – profits to efficiently take advantage of services and opportunities available to them.

As Chief Partnerships Officer at Momentum Nonprofit Partners, Dorian builds bridges across the sectors of government, business, higher education, and neighborhood leadership in Memphis and its surrounding areas to work together to uplift what works while addressing community challenges.

Her current volunteer engagement and community support includes Watch Love Work, a video project commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, Memphis Slim House Collaboratory, Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, and Collage Dance Collective.



“I firmly believe that the solutions and brilliance to solve community challenges begin with residents who live in marginalized communities affected by poverty, institutional racism, and disinvestment. Those who may not have many resources possess the genius and skills to transform our city. When they can articulate their dreams of Memphis and become a part of realizing them is when we can say we’ve done something right.”

Floridia Jackson

Floridia Jackson is the Executive Director School of Servant Leadership in Memphis, Tennessee.

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