2021-2022 Rising Leaders Fellows

Ala' Khan

She/ her/ hers
Filmmaker. Storyteller.
Los Angeles, CA

Ala’ Khan is a storyteller + filmmaker focused on community based storytelling- uplifting the authentic and diverse stories of BIPOC communities. Ala’ is a lifelong community activist, pursuing justice and racial equity. Faith and spirituality are what ground Ala’ and motivate her work and her engagement with the world. Ala’ is an avid traveler and dancer who strives to live beyond borders in all aspects of her life. 

Andrea Dobynes Wagner

She/ Her/ Hers
Scholar. Educator. Organizer. Speaker.
Tuscaloosa, AL

Mrs. Andrea Dobynes-Wagner was born in Petersburg ,VA but spent most of her childhood in historic Marion, AL. She currently serves as Senior Enrollment Management Transfer Coordinator for Stillman College by day and the proud owner of Melanated Mastermindz by night. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, incorporated, Tuscaloosa Chapter of NAACP, Plum Grove Baptist Church and The National Federation of the Blind.  

Brandon Tacadena

He/ Him/ His
Theologian. Educator. Organizer.
Seattle, WA

Brandon Tacadena was born and raised in Hawai'i. He currently serves as the Leadership and Spirituality Manager at the Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington, where he runs the Oceania Leadership Institute. Brandon holds a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. His work explores the intersections of Pasifika identity and indigeneity, theology and decoloniality. 

Cessilye R. Smith

She/ Her/ Hers
Organizer & CEO
Dallas, TX

I’m Cessilye! I'm from Dallas, TX. but currently in a small town outside the city. I lead a maternal justice organization: Abide Women's Health Services, where we center Black Women + BIPOC families in our efforts of providing anti-racist healthcare. My husband and I are rearing up four pretty incredible children from age ten to two. I'm on a journey of shedding my assimilated past and gaining confidence as a Black Kru woman. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Cessilye’s grant project.

Davíd Eli

He/Him/ His
Chaplain. Organizer.
New York, NY

Davíd is a Latinx, queer and genderqueer immigrant hailing from Medellin, Colombia. Davíd is completing his Masters in Divinity, serves as the Program Manager for a new initiative in the Episcopal Diocese of NY and as a seminarian at St. Mary's in West Harlem. Through using the models of community organizing, pastoral care, and liberation theology, Davíd is building an empowered, justice-centered community base of lay Latinx leaders.   

David Woo

He/ Him/ His
Buddhist Pastor. Chaplain. Organizer.
Los Angeles, CA

Rev. Woo is an LA native and currently works in the dept. of spiritual development at Homeboy Industries Inc., as a counselor at NaNoom in Koreatown, and is in the process of creating an Asian American Sangha, @BurningPride Meditation. He received ministerial endorsement through Tahl Mah Sah Temple and is studying for a Doctorate in Buddhist Ministry at the University of the West. 

Dor Haberer

He/ Him/ His
Therapist. Facilitator.
Nevada City, CA

Hello! My name is Dor. I was born in Jerusalem and have Moroccan Roots. I currently live on Nisenan Land and run a course on Rewilding Judaism with my brother where we create a learning environment to deconstruct some of the patriarchal and colonial aspects of Judaism and connect to its earth-based roots. I also run groups for men to connect to self-care practices and create gatherings for men to learn the toxic conditioning of masculinity and connect to the most expansive, liberated versions of themselves. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Dor’s grant project.

Guesnerth Josue Perea

He/ Him/ El
Pastor. Director. Collaborator.
Brooklyn, NY

Hola! I am Guesnerth Josue. I am the Director of the afrolatino forum, Associate Pastor at Metro Hope Church, Novice at the Community of the Incarnation and a hip-hop/comic book geek. I hold an MA in Theology from Alliance Theological Seminary, and BA in Latin American History from the City College of New York. I have written and discussed AfroLatinidad extensively throughout my career. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Guesnerth’s grant project. 

Jamila Jackson

She/ Her/ Hers
Artist. Facilitator. Scholar.
Northampton, MA

Hi! I’m Jamila! I am originally from the Bay Area, California but have lived in Massachusetts for the past 7 years. I run an equine-assisted leadership organization that focuses on Black Women's leadership. I am an artist, facilitator and scholar who uses embodiment, storytelling and contemplative practices to build community and cultivate leadership. 

Jocabed Solano

She/ Her/ Ella
Organizer. Director. Land Protector.
Ancon, Panama

Jocabed, from the Gunadule indigenous nation in Panama, is a theologian, activist, and the Director of Memoria Indígena. Jocabed holds a Masters in Interdisciplinary Theology for Holistic Mission and is pursuing her PHD in Theological Studies from NAIITS. She has been a youth delegate for the Summit of the Americas in Panama and a Panamanian observer and delegate for Panama  for the UN Climate Change Conferences. Watch this video to learn about Jocabed’s grant project. 

Karyn Bigelow

She/ Her/ Hers
Co-Executive Director
Washington, DC

Hi! I am Karyn, a Co-Executive Director at @CreationJustice Ministries, a new beekeeper and lover of trees. I have served as the policy advisor, project manager, policy analyst and research analyst at Bread for the World, focusing on the intersections of climate change, food security and racial equity. Karyn also runs @Beekeeping.While.Black to increase representation of Black beekeepers and to address unique challenges that many Black beekeepers face in the U.S. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Karyn’s grant project. 

Laura Elkeslassy

She/ Her/ Hers
Artist. Organizer.
Brooklyn, N

Laura was born in France, with Moroccan and Israeli roots. Laura blends Judeo-Arab, Middle Eastern and Andalusian repertoires in her music. Her current work focuses on reclaiming the Moroccan Jewish liturgical tradition and the North African musical heritage from a feminist standpoint. 

Maliek Blade

He/ Him/ His
Healer. CEO.
Los Angeles, CA

Maliek is the CEO of the Whole Brother Mission, a nonprofit that provides men of color with assisted access to licensed professional counseling nationwide. Additionally, he is completing a doctoral degree in counseling, and his focus is facilitating conversations that challenge the public to analyze their views on family, friendship, and identity. His initial book release, Whole Brother: Debunking the Myths that Break the Black Family centers these themes while normalizing mental health awareness amongst men and people of color. Watch this video to learn about Maliek’s grant project. 

Marcos Gonzales

He/ Him/ El
Director. Facilitator.
Chicago, IL

Marcos Gonzales believes in the power of education as a path towards our collective liberation. His pursuit of a faith that does justice has taken him from Micronesia as a Jesuit Volunteer to Los Angeles working at Homeboy Industries as a case manager and is now based in Chicago where he coordinates and facilitates spaces for folx seeking to create trauma-informed, anti-racist, and inclusive spaces across the US.  

Mashaun D. Simon

He/ Him/ They
Pastor. Writer. Advocate.
Atlanta, GA

I am the Rev. Mashaun D. Simon. Native to Atlanta, GA, and committed to equity, inclusion, and cultural competency. Former pastor of House of Mercy Everlasting, Inc. Current Doctor of Ministry candidate at Columbia Theological Seminary where I am focusing on pastoral Theology and grief. Committed to helping others reach their ultimate capacity. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Mashaun’s grant project. 

Mohamed Tall

He/Him/ His
Poet. Artist. Organizer.
Columbia, MD

Hi! My name is Mohamed Tall and I am a poet, writer and artist. I have served as the 2017 Baltimore City Youth Poet Laureate, a cultural and artistic ambassador for the city’s youth and am committed to creating safe spaces for youth voices. 

Natarsha Sanders

She/ Her(s)
Sacred Human. Teacher. Justice seeker.
Kerrville, TX

Natarsha Sanders is a preacher, teacher and writer who centers her work on the intersections between wholeness, education, and racial justice. Presently, she serves as the Chief Engagement Officer of Centering the Sacred. Natarsha holds a BA from Hollins University, an MA from North Carolina Central University, and is pursuing a Doctor of Educational Ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary. Watch this video to learn about Natarsha’s grant project. 

Ristina Gooden

She/ Her/ Hers
Preacher. Writer. Scholar.
Nashville, TN

Hello! I am Ristina!  I am a third year MDIV student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and am always in search of good food and even better conversation. My work centers on my belief that what is central to God’s love for God’s people is that we all flourish. I exercise this belief through my writing, preaching, and speaking on topics about faith, race, gender and sexuality, and pop culture through a womanist lens.  

Sandhya Oaks

Spiritual Director. Ministry Leader.
Fort Collins, CO

Hello I am Sandhya Oaks! I am a South Asian Indian Transracial Adoptee and serve in full-time ministry and as a Spiritual Director. I love curating spaces and experiences that involve story work, resilience, healing and freedom. I am a fierce and lovely gal who has a heart for Adoptees, Justice, and creating spaces of healing and freedom for Brothers and Sisters of color. 

Sarah Gautier

She/ Her/ Hers
Pastor. Coach. Advocate.
Boston, MA

Hi! I’m Sarah: Second-Gen Latina bregando con la tensión de la fe y justicia. Walking with people as they live alive in wholeness with purpose. Pastor of Living Stones Church. CrossFit Coach at EastieFit. Advocate for centering the voices and stories of Latiné Gen Zers. Lawyer by training. Author of Color Me Yellow - Finding Your Voice in the Tension Between God’s Promises and their Fulfillment.  

Selma Hassane

She/ Her/ Hers
Development and Communications Coordinator
San Diego, CA

My name is Selma. I was born and raised in Algeria for the first few years of my life and currently live in San Diego, on occupied Kumeyaay land. Since graduating with a B.A. in International Studies and Sociology, my journey has led me to serve as the Development and Communications Coordinator with the San Diego Organizing Project, where I work at the intersection of faith-organizing, spirituality, grassroots fundraising and communications. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Selma’s grant project. 

Thiên Ân (Mary) Dương

She/ Her/ Hers
Pastor. Organizer.
Monrovia, CA

I am Thiên Ân! I am an ordained minister with the American Baptist Churches and a faith-rooted organizer. Born and raised in Sài Gòn, Việt Nam, I have long witnessed the power of faith communities in resisting oppressive systems, fighting for liberation, and embodying hope. My work is to sustain and empower communities for transformation in the face of violence with the gifts of spiritual traditions. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Thiên Ân’s grant project. 

Tirzah Villegas

She/ Her/ Hers
Artist. Scholar.
Durham, North Carolina

Tirzah was born in Colorado and has been in and out of North Carolina for the last few decades. Her first love is oil painting, which she studied as an undergrad. She is currently a third-year seminary student. Regardless of what the professional future holds for her, Tirzah wants to center: spiritual and physical healing, creative processes, social justice, and community building. 

Trina Sound

She/ Her/ Hers
Healer. Organizer
Portland, OR

Trina resides on the Indigenous lands of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Portland, OR. She shares ancestral lineage from the village of Penia in Weno, Chuuk and the outer island of Lukunor in the Mortlocks of FSM. As a returning student, she’s currently on a journey to restore the collectivist values of her Chuukese heritage while navigating higher education. Her goal is to become a therapist for the Pasifika community. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Trina’s grant project. 

Vanessa Martinez Soltero

She/ Her/ Hers
Organizer. Healer.
Orange County, CA

I'm Vanessa! As a brown woman living in the United States my spiritual journey is about the healing gifts of my ancestors; particularly my matrilineal ancestry. Part of my work with @puentes_collective is to draw from our ancestral spiritual practices to decolonize and indigenize our communities in order to restore power and balance in BIPOC leadership, specifically in the faith and activist spaces. Watch this video (part 1 and part 2) to learn about Vanessa’s grant project.  

Xan West

She/ Her/ Hers
Healer. Organizer.
Oakland, CA

Xan is a preacher of liberation theologies, a holder of communal ritual & community accountability, a teacher of direct action, and a grassroots organizer.  She is the Founder of Hush Harbor, the Healing Justice Coordinator for Parenting 4 Liberation and is a member of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence Policy Advisory Council.  Xan has over 20 years of experience in social justice movement work, mostly related to police accountability, queer rights and community healing. She is a Black queer femme and most importantly a mama to her toddler, Glory.  

Yvonne Su

She/ Her/ Hers
Educator. Writer. Organizer.
Tustin, CA

Yvonne Su is a teacher, writer and book advisor in Orange County, California. In the daytime, she works with children in public schools. She also sells books by BIPOC authors at LibroMobile. She is part of The People’s Coalition, a mutual aid organization. Yvonne is a strong believer in libraries, public education and people, especially women’s, creativity and resilience in solving our greatest problems. Watch this video to learn about Yvonne’s grant project.