This month Candler is launching a multi-year initiative to celebrate the school’s Black faculty, alumni and students. Known as “Candler Black Excellence,” this project will explore their rich accomplishments and contributions in videos, podcasts, interviews, and articles and will begin by honoring faculty.
“Candler has one of the strongest cohorts of Black faculty in theological education,” says Dean Jan Love. “Their work as teachers, scholars, and mentors has been integral to the steady increase of our Black student enrollment over the past 15 years. ‘Candler Black Excellence’ creates an opportunity for us to be more intentional about celebrating their accomplishments, including the ways these leaders strengthen our community, our ability to fulfill our mission, and our faithful witness to God’s intention for the world.”
The series opens with a video honoring Bandy Professor of Preaching Teresa L. Fry Brown—the first Black woman to attain the rank of full professor at Candler—and highlights her mentorship of Candler students across nearly three decades.
Candler alumnus and AME minister Elliott Robinson 16T (pictured right) serves as the project’s director. Robinson founded the nonprofit Creative Tension, which uses multimedia platforms, trainings, lectures, and curricula to address bias and racism.
“When I think about Candler Black Excellence, my heart smiles,” he says. “I think about the professors who have answered their call to not only exemplify the highest standards of academic excellence, but to count it not robbery to selflessly pour that knowledge and wisdom into their students. They embody the African proverb of lifting as they climb.”
The timing of the project is significant both in Candler-specific and in much larger socio-political contexts.
First, the launch coincides with the 30th anniversary of Candler’s Black Church Studies program in 2020-2021. Its creation signaled Candler’s institutional commitment to understanding the Black Church and Black religious experience as an integral part of the religious landscape that has a distinctive contribution to scholarship. In its three decades, the BCS program has promoted the academic study of the Black Church, and at the same time it has prepared women and men for service in the Black Church and community and cultivated Black scholars and teachers as leaders in higher education.
Also noteworthy is the recent appointment of Marla F. Frederick as Asa Griggs Candler Professor, one of Emory University’s most prestigious chairs, which demonstrates the school’s ongoing investment in drawing leading scholars of Black religion to Candler. Frederick’s major research focus on Black institutions underscores directions that the Black Church Studies program began.
On a larger scale, Candler Black Excellence begins amid the ongoing national movement against white supremacy and anti-Black violence. “The gifts, graces, and contributions of our Black colleagues, so evident in their research and publications, community engagement, political involvement, and church leadership, is well-known among us, and we want to share this good news as widely as possible,” Dean Love says. “A special focus on Black excellence at Candler will feature the rich diverse resources Candler offers to all students and inspire us all to work more diligently for racial justice.”
Each of the project’s three phases—faculty, alumni, and students—will include a subtitle based on adinkra, visual symbols representing concepts or truths that originated centuries ago from the Akan people in what is now Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Originally worn by royalty, the symbols have both historical and philosophical significance and have gained broader currency.
The full title of the faculty phase of the project is “Candler Black Excellence: Wisdom Together with Humility and Strength.” The adinkra referenced in the subtitle is Dwennimmen, (“ram’s horns,” pictured right), which depicts two opposing sets of rams’ horns, representing humility, wisdom, learning, and strength in mind, body, and soul.
As project director, Robinson will bring to life what he calls “a multimedia vision” with the purpose of educating, engaging and exalting the work of Candler’s Black faculty. “I envision a project that helps us see the professor beyond the person who stands at the front of the classroom. I want those who view this project to experience the people who shape Candler’s students. Feel their passion, understand their mission, absorb their energy. We want them to appreciate the life-shaping impact our Black faculty have on the Candler community.”
Candler’s Black faculty members will be spotlighted in a variety of ways, from written articles and Q&A interviews to videos and podcasts, with content focusing on their notable contributions to Candler, the academy, the church and the world.
Following the video honoring Fry Brown, other early spotlights will include an introduction of Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible Joel B. Kemp, who joined the Candler faculty this year, and D.W. and Ruth Brooks Professor of World Christianity Jehu Hanciles, who has a new book on migration and global Christianity coming out this spring.
For Robinson, the project is also personal. “The depths of my faith and the trajectory of my ministry are inextricably linked to the mentoring, encouragement, challenging, care, and love I received from Candler’s Black faculty as a student. The beautiful thing is that I know I’m one of thousands who have shared that transformational experience—so I’m honored to be part of a project that shares that impact with the world.”