People of Color Rising: A Q&A with Onleilove Alston

In honor of Black History Month, Patheos invited a half a dozen black thought-leaders and activists — today's black history makers — to share their responses to six questions about their work, their inspiration, and the racial justice movement.

Read more in this series here.

Here, Onleilove "Chika" Alston, Executive Director for PICO-Faith in NY, responds. In her position as E.D. for PICO-Faith, Alston works with more than seventy congregations representing 80,000 families dedicated to building the beloved city. She also leads A Women's Theology of Liberation for the PICO Network. Born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn, Alston comes to the work of justice out of her personal testimony of overcoming poverty, homelessness, and foster care through the power of the Gospel.

In 2014 she founded Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering the Black Biblical Destiny, an organization that uses social media, lectures, and workshops to uncover the Black mothers and fathers of biblical history. A speaker, writer, and introvert with an extroverted calling, she lives with a group of Christian women in Harlem and worships at Beth-El House of Yahweh in the South Bronx where she keeps the Sabbath, biblical feasts, and serves with her congregation to be a light house to the South Bronx. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Sojourners.

What is your work in the world?

My work in the world is organizing to Build the Beloved City where all, not some, of God's children live in dignity. I'm also working to uncover the Black contributions to the Bible and religious history. These two pieces of work are certainly big and bodacious but I believe if your work or calling can be accomplished alone it's probably not from God because the spirit always gives us a vision that needs community.

I am blessed to co-labor in my work with the powerful staff of Faith in New York, an affiliate of the PICO National Network, the largest faith-based organizing network in the world. Faith in New York is a federation of more than seventy multi-faith and multi-race congregations dedicated to faith-based grassroots community organizing around creating police change concerning immigration, economic dignity, and mass incarceration. We also do deep theological reflection and political education. A large part of our base are women and undocumented immigrants who are very close to the pain. I feel deeply honored to serve this family of faith.

For the PICO Network I also lead A Women's Theology of Liberation, which brings together women to examine how we can bring a gender lens to our organizing work deeply rooted in our theologies of liberation. One of the current Faith in New York campaigns is around affordable housing in East New York, Brooklyn, the community I was born and raised in, and this inspires me to have integrity in my organizing work. It's one thing to advocate alongside people; it's another to help lead a campaign where your family members and friends will be impacted by the result of your work.

I am also the Founder of Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering the Black Biblical Destiny, an organization that utilizes social media, lectures, and interactive workshops to uncover the Black contributions to the Abrahamic faiths and the Black presence in the Bible. This work is humbling as young African-Americans reach out to me on social media hungry to know where they are in the Bible and hungry to connect with a savior who lived their experience as a man of color born under Roman domination to a teenage mother. At the end of any Prophetic Whirlwind event I call participants to action concerning mass incarceration because for me it's not enough to study Black history and feel proud while Black people are suffering each day. The information provided by Prophetic Whirlwind is to inspire Black folks and their allies to take practical prophetic actions for Black lives.

Finally, my work includes healing from my own personal story of poverty, homelessness, and foster care because I want to be healed and whole. My self-care work and relationship with Yah (God) is just as important as my organizing, speaking, and writing work.

Who and what are inspiring your work currently?

I am deeply inspired by the poor, young Black revolutionaries taking to the streets in Ferguson, Baltimore and East New York, Brooklyn. These young people are what I like to call the Joshua generation, which to me is the generation that is going to take us one step closer to liberation. The awakening of young, poor Black folks also reminds me of Ezekiel's dry bones prophecy where you see a defeated nation coming back together and rising to their feet. These young people inspire me, challenge and remind me of my early years after my powerful conversion experience to Christianity when I was a young, Black woman living in the projects reading the Bible and wondering if God cared about the injustice I faced every day. These young people are currently challenging us to get free with integrity.