I got involved with the Youth Theological Initiative during the fall of 2013, my first year at Candler. I worked as a program assistant for Dr. Beth Corrie, and was responsible for sending out recruitment materials and information. I wasn't quite sure of the depth of YTI until prospective scholars began sending in questions, stopping by the office and reaching out to learn more about the program. It was then I recognized that I wanted to be a part of it. Many of my good friends were Candler alumni who served as mentors, exploratory leaders and other important leadership roles for YTI, and they spoke highly of the program and how, in many ways, it helped shaped their ministry. YTI alumni and staff are like a fraternity; once you have it, it is in your heart forever. 

I interviewed with Dr. Corrie and Rev. Kim Jackson 09T for a mentor position with YTI. I was extremely nervous because the program is regarded as one of the best in the country, and prior to Emory and Candler, I didn't have much experience in multicultural spaces. Many of the spaces I did well in were heavily influenced by my HBCU (Historically Black College and University) experience and Youth and Young Adult ministry in predominately black churches. However, my experience as an educator, minister and scholar activist fit the mold of YTI in meaningful and unique ways, and opened up doors for me to teach, grow, and learn in multicultural space and through interfaith dialogue. YTI exposed me to a treasure of young people locally and globally with amazing gifts, beautiful narratives, and embodied hope for the church and the world. I learned so much in my first summer with YTI that I came back for two more. It was one of the major highlights of my seminary career. 

My greatest challenge as a YTI staffer has been attempting to take all we learn during the summer academy and hold it in tension with all of the injustices in the world. YTI equips you to tackle the world. However, the world is so big and the injustices continue to grow daily, so that it gets frustrating to see the world for what it could be in the midst of what it actually is. Nevertheless, we never lose hope and fight on, taking long journeys from our head to our heart, as Dr. Greg Ellison would say. Even in the biggest challenges, we never lose hope! This juxtaposition between what is and what could be keeps us all going. 

My greatest joy and celebration each summer is learning and growing with our staff and scholars. Each summer is different, but our love for the work we do is unyielding. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing scholars and professors on this side of heaven. Our YTI scholars are phenomenal, and I never shall forget the sincere moments of prayer with Dr. Luther Smith, Fearless Dialogues with Dr. Ellison, and late night conversations with scholars about God, politics, social justice issues and relationships.

This summer was filled with amazing experiences. Once around 1:00 a.m., eight scholars—black, white, Asian—and four male mentors had a very deep, heartbreaking conversation about where God is in our lives amidst police brutality, family crisis, Black Lives Matter and humanity's lack of care and love for one another. After a two-hour conversation, we prayed for the scholars, ordered wings in the middle of the night, and had an amazing time breaking bread after breaking down barriers of privilege, race relations and questions of theodicy.

Candler prepared me for this moment by allowing me to be in intentional community with all people from various social locations. Through many leadership roles at Candler, including the Black Student Caucus and Curriculum and Policy committee, I was able to share my passion for activism, education reform, and ministry in radical ways. The scholars get the very best of Candler students and all of our gifts, personalities, and genuine care for the work we do.

The scholars we work with are jewels, and I am so grateful that we have the opportunity to journey with these young public intellectuals and theologians. They inspire me and push me to think more, love more, and care more. Without a shadow of a doubt, YTI made my Candler experience. As a 2016 graduate, I will never forget YTI, and will cherish it forever.