2023 Alumni Award Recipients Honored for Leadership, Creativity, and Service

October 26, 2023
2023 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients from left: Brandon Stewart 10T, Conitras Houston Dickens 08T, Dean Jan Love, Alisha Gordon 15T, Sara Toering 06T 06L.

Brandon Stewart 10T, Conitras Houston Dickens 08T, Dean Jan Love, Alisha Gordon 15T, Sara Toering 06T 06L

On October 19, Candler presented four alumni with the school’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards—two for outstanding young alumni and two for faithful and creative leadership—an honor recognizing alumni for their work in service to Candler, the church, the academy and/or the community.

The Distinguished Alumni Award for Outstanding Young Alumni recognizes Candler graduates age 40 and under who show notable leadership in their personal and professional environments. Recipients demonstrate exceptional dedication, loyalty, and support in their service to the Candler community and beyond.

The Distinguished Alumni Award for Faithful and Creative Leadership recognizes Candler graduates who live out the school’s mission, serving as faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries throughout the world. Recipients have demonstrated tremendous achievements and show an ability to continue serving with excellence and creativity in their work and ministry.

Learn more about the 2023 honorees:

Sara J. Toering 06T 06L received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Faithful and Creative Leadership in recognition of her notable accomplishments working with people and organizations to make transformational changes. Toering is a lawyer and the owner of SJT Partners, a Georgia-based law and consulting firm that serves organizations and leaders around the country who are seeking to impact federal, state, and local policy focused on land, housing affordability, and equitable and reparative neighborhood development. Her vocation and expertise are focused on addressing inequities resulting from generations of federal, state, and local policy that systematically denied wealth and opportunity to communities of color. With nearly two decades of professional experience, Toering is also a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress, America’s nonprofit leader for turning “Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places,” as well as a senior facilitator with Both/And Partners, offering trainings and coaching around diversity, equity, and inclusion; community engagement; and the healing of racism.

The Rev. Conitras M. Houston Dickens 08T received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Outstanding Young Alumni in recognition of her notable leadership in her church and community. Houston Dickens is the first female and third senior pastor of DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle, Illinois. At Candler, she earned her MDiv with special concentration in homiletics, and was one of only six students to be admitted into the MDiv thesis program. Houston Dickens served as youth and assistant pastor at St. John AME Church in Fairburn, Georgia, for five years, and became the first female and youngest pastor at each of the subsequent churches she served, including the Georgia congregations of Saint Luke AME Church (Athens), Greater Ward Chapel AME Church (Columbus), and Trinity AME Church (Atlanta). She is also the founder and director of Gabriel’s House, Incorporated, a nonprofit youth center instilling values of self-worth through performing arts, life skills training, and academic enrichment whose vision is to function as a preserving agent for community youth.

Captain Chaplain Brandon Stewart 10T received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Outstanding Young Alumni in recognition of his notable accomplishments and international achievements serving the church, his communities, and the world. Stewart serves as the installation chaplain for the 425th Air Base Squadron in Izmir, Turkey, responsible for support to all military units operating in Izmir, including NATO Allied Land Command Headquarters. He provides for the free exercise of religion and advises leadership on religious accommodation, ethical leadership, and moral issues. Previously, Stewart served as the lead Protestant service chaplain for the 8th Air Base in Kunsan, Korea. He was ordained in 2007 and endorsed for military chaplaincy by the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. and was commissioned as a first lieutenant, chaplain in 2012. A licensed attorney in the State of Tennessee, Stewart also served as chief of staff of Payne Seminary—the first African American seminary—where he developed social justice programs focused on mass incarceration, public policy, and reentry. He currently serves as executive officer of the Veterans Affairs and Military Law Section of the National Bar Association and the social justice chair for the Young Lawyers Division Board, and recently won the 2023 40 under 40 National Bar Association Advocacy Award.

The Rev. Alisha L. Gordon 15T received the Distinguished Alumni Award for Faithful and Creative Leadership in recognition of her notable accomplishments as an activist ensuring that marginalized communities are heard, an advocate for single mothers, and a faith leader in a variety of spaces. Gordon is founder of The Current Project, an advocacy and mission-driven 501(c)(3) organization focused on supporting the well-being of Black single mothers. A native of Decatur, Georgia, her approach to this work is informed by her interdisciplinary experiences in sacred and secular nonprofit spaces, and has reached across the country as she ministers at the intersection of faith, culture, and politics to bridge the stories and needs of Black single mothers. Garnering support from corporate entities and foundations, Gordon has received national attention and was named a recipient of Emory University’s Top 40 Under 40 Award in 2019 and the On the Horizon Award from the North Manhattan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Most recently, she received the prestigious Locke Innovative Leader Award for creating space for economic stability and social liberation. Focusing on economic education and emotional wellness, she has utilized this intersection of strategic programming and policy to lengthen the runway for single mothers to thrive. In addition to her work with The Current Project, Gordon is a highly sought after speaker, writer, and facilitator.

Photo by David Fitzer, @FitzMediaServices