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A Professor’s Authentic Voice

Since early in her life, Dr. Richelle White, professor of youth ministry and director of field practicum, has been drawn to working with young people. “I taught at every grade level. I did counseling and workshops. I also worked as a youth pastor for a number of years,” she recalled. Coming to Kuyper College 14 years ago felt like a natural development in her career and calling. “What intrigued me the most about Kuyper was that there was a youth ministry professorship available,” she said. Since then, in addition to her work inside the classroom, Dr. White has authored several books and curriculum resources that focus on the often overlooked and underserved experiences and needs of Black young people.

One of these resources is “Repertory with Roots: Black Youth, Black History, Black Culture, Black Music, and the Bible.” “It grew out of my doctoral dissertation, which was about using hip-hop music as a tool for discipleship education, but I shifted to using all forms of Black music,” said Dr. White. Each session in this curriculum incorporates Black history, culture, music and the Bible. It promotes engaging youth in a manner that fosters their identity formation as unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.

Dr. White also continues to pour into the next generation in many different ways. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she ran a weekly after school program at the Gerald R. Ford Educational Center in Grand Rapids designed to combat the marginalization of Black girls in the educational system. “I taught these young women to develop their self-esteem and leadership skills, be formed in their identity, and develop in their character,” she recalled. The program consisted of activities such as readings, dramatic skits and projects, all designed to reinforce a deeper message. “I didn’t come out and say that I was teaching them principles from the Bible, but I learned to teach in a way that communicated to them who and Whose they are,” she said.

Last year, Dr. White had the opportunity to detail this important work in the book “From Lament to Advocacy: Black Religious Education and Public Ministry.” Each chapter of this publication details a different form of ministry done by Black religious educators across the country. In addition to Dr. White’s work, it covers topics such as retreat programs for Black boys and work with the organization Black Lives Matter. The book grew from the 2015 meeting of the Religious Education Association, where Black religious educators, scholars and activists from around the country lamented recent racially instigated killings of Black men and women.

Dr. White believes such dialogue is essential for Black scholars and educators to flourish amid the predominately white field of academia. One way she works toward this is by participating in a digital salon hosted by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. These groups are designed to provide opportunities for faculty members to gather virtually and discuss learning and teaching resources for a post-pandemic world. Her particular cohort is the Mid-Career African American Faculty Group, and it has created a space for life-giving understanding and community. “We talk about forming a sense of belonging and finding our authentic voice,” she said. “It’s such a rich experience because we come from so many different places and fields of study.”

Throughout her career, Dr. White has desired to help young people reach their full potential. She always strives to model excellence and expects great things from her students because she believes they are capable of them. “No matter where they are, I want to see their potential and for them to be the best they can be,” she noted, “not just in their careers, but in the whole of their Christian lives.”

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