Gregory C. Ellison, II, Candler’s assistant professor of pastoral care and counseling, has a mantra—“Once you see, you cannot not see.” 

It’s at the core of his “Fearless Dialogues” project, a grassroots initiative bringing educators, elected officials, parents and even gang leaders together into honest, open conversation, where participants can see and hear each other, often for the first time. 

Born out of his book Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men (Abingdon Press 2013), Ellison says “Fearless Dialogues” promotes a heightened awareness of the “unseen” in society, from the janitor who cleans the office, to the elderly, to the disenfranchised and destitute.

“Once you begin to see a homeless person as someone’s uncle, or aunt, or grandmother, or sister or brother, you just can’t step over that person like a piece of trash, because now you’ve seen them.”

Ellison sees this heightened awareness as crucial for authentic and sustainable change to take place in society. 

“If you don’t view a person as a whole person, as someone who is made in the image of God, there’s no way you can have meaningful dialogue with them,” says Ellison.

It was a similar belief that led Atlanta native Alisha L. Gordon to enroll at Candler.

After her blog post about death row inmate Troy Davis’ execution went viral, Gordon, a former English teacher and now a 2nd-year MDiv student, began seeing her life’s path in a new light. 

While participating in a rally outside Davis’ Georgia prison, she felt a nudge to combine a passion for social justice with her gift for writing and give them common purpose.

“In that moment, I realized that there was something more that I had to do. I have all these world experiences and all this educational background, but I felt like I’d been missing the mark. I needed to find a way to marry the academia and the ‘doing of the work.’” 

Once at Candler, Gordon says she found that union through Ellison’s “Fearless Dialogues” in her role as his chief consultant for social media and web-based messaging.

“’Fearless Dialogues’ has academic research, data collecting, roving … but at its heart are the stories,” she says.

These stories come from people whom Gordon says offer a wide range of perspective on society.

“It’s not just for those who have a title in front of their names—the clergy or the PhDs or the city councilmen. We’re talking about ‘candy ladies,’ and drug dealers—people from the streets.”

Through the work of “Dialogues,” Gordon says she has reached the intersection she sought as she considered seminary. 

“Coming to Candler opened up my eyes to how to see my faith differently. It’s allowed me to find my niche and use my gifts in a way that is most effective.”

Fearless Dialogues had its launch at Candler, and from there the conversation moved to Nashville, St. Louis, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City, Compton, CA and Trenton, NJ. Ellison is scheduled to take the program to the Bahamas and Brazil in 2014. 

And it’s transforming those who are taking part. After the inaugural conversation at Candler, a participant approached Ellison to express his gratitude for what had transpired.

“This young man said, ‘This felt like heaven. It was the first time I was in a group and I did not feel judged. People could actually hear my story and realize that I made choices in my life that I’m not proud of. They sought to hear value in my story.’”

Ellison says he, too, has been fundamentally changed because of his work.

“I entered this project with great passion, but I did not know that it would alter the way I live and move in the world. I have been blessed to share my findings not only around this nation, but around the world.”