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The Spiritual Lives of Public Leaders: Going Back to Our Roots


Rev. Erica Williams, MDiv '21

Through the lens of public leadership, this Think Tank will be a collaborative space for leaders to examine spirituality as a tool of restorative justice and healing work through movements. This think tank will challenge participants to confront and call for a return to the spiritual nature of movements. We will examine how Blackness and Black spirituality can be utilized to be the central narrative to both deconstruct Whiteness as the voice for the people, and to reclaim and retell Black narratives for true justice work.


Rev. Erica N. Williams is a faith leader, organizer, international human rights activist and community leader, who is committed to serving with head and heart.

Rev. Erica is a 2016 graduate of The Howard University School of Divinity where she obtained a Master of Divinity degree. The context of her ministry lies in the intersectionality of faith and organizing. Currently, she is the National Social Justice Organizer for Repairers of the Breach, an interfaith organization founded by Rev. Dr.

William J. Barber, II. Rev. Erica is also serving as an organizer for the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. This Fall Rev. Erica will begin the Master of Religion and Public Life program at Harvard Divinity School.

Rev. Erica is the Founding Pastor of Set It Off Ministries, an international, interfaith, intergenerational ministry that seeks to empower, educate, and emancipate poor and working-class communities around the world. She has done ministry/organizing work in South Africa, Ghana, Brazil, and Palestine. She is involved in numerous professional organizations such as the World Student Christian Federation-USA, National Homeless Union, Freedom Church of the Poor, Popular Education Project, Black Christians for Palestine, The Bread for the World Pan African Young Adult Network, NAACP, National Council of Negro Women, Top Ladies of Distinction, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and the Order of the Eastern Star.

Rev. Erica is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Her favorite quote is by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr "I choose to identify with the underprivileged," King said. "I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. I choose to live for those who find themselves seeing life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. This is the way I'm going. If it means suffering a little bit, I'm going that way. If it means sacrificing, I'm going that way. If it means dying for them, I'm going that way, because I heard a voice saying, 'Do something for others. * Rev. Erica has dedicated her life to working to help liberate those who have been marginalized and oppressed by the unjust systems in society. Her life's mission is summed up in the Gospel passage of Luke 4:18-19.

Phillip Agnew


Phillip Agnew, Co-Director, Black Men Build


Philip Agnew is the oldest of four boys born to a preacher and a teacher in the West Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois.  He is a co-founder of the Dream Defenders and Black Men Build, where he currently serves the organization as the Co-Director.  He is a nationally recognized educator, strategist, writer, trainer, speaker and cultural critic.  


He found his voice as one of today’s most prolific community activists while a student at FAMU. In addition to serving as student body president from 2006-2007, a student member of the Board of Trustees, and the co-chair of the University’s Vote Coalition, he was recognized as a national IMPACT Leader and as one of the top student leaders in the nation by the Diversity Leadership Conference. In 2008, he was honored with the University’s prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Leadership Award. 


Phillip emerged as a national activist when he helped to organize students from FAMU, Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College in the creation of the Student Coalition for Justice, which was formed in response to the Martin Lee Anderson case. In 2012, he co-founded the Dream Defenders and has been dubbed “one of this generation’s leading voices” and recognized by both EBONY magazine and The Root as one of the 100 most influential African Americans in the nation. 


In 2012, he co-founded the Dream Defenders, a statewide organization that rose to national prominence after the acquittal of George Zimmerman.


In 2018, he transitioned from his role as co-director of the Dream Defenders.  In July 2019 he joined the Bernie Sanders campaign as a National Surrogate and was later named a Senior Advisor.


Agnew currently is a Co-Director of Black Men Build, an organization dedicated to transforming Black Men and engaging this country as an organized force.


His work in community activism has been highlighted internationally, including on MSNBC and in the Huffington Post, USA Today, the Guardian and Democracy Now. Phillip is a 2008 graduate of FAMU’s School of Business and Industry and is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

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