Bishop Danny Bland is the Senior Pastor at Revival Church and the author of this piece.
My journey to FaithActs began decades ago when I was a child attending underperforming schools in New Haven. I floated through high school and never considered going to college until, my senior year, my mom told me she wanted me to be the first to go to college, that I was way too smart not to be in school.
I attended Albertus Magnus College, but I really went to school to appease my mom. I was underprepared and intimidated. I was unaware of on-campus resources. I started skipping class because I felt like I was destined to fail. My scholarship was in danger, I was put on academic probation. Then, I met Sister Gilmary.
A nun on our Catholic campus, Sister Gilmary, started asking me questions about what I was doing and what I wanted. She started stopping by my classes to make sure I was there on time. She connected me with the resource office to get caught up. She helped me discover my agency and my will to succeed in college. By the second semester of my sophomore year, I was on the Dean’s List. Sister Gilmary ignited in me a passion and taught me to advocate for myself. I see so many parallels with FaithActs for Education.
I work with FaithActs because I’ve realized why I was in danger of losing my scholarship in the first place. I was part of a system that wasn’t working. There are so many people with stories like mine. It doesn’t have to be that way. I see working for FaithActs as a way to pay it forward, to help others the way Sister Gilmary helped me and catalyze systemic change so that heroic individual efforts aren’t necessary.
I admire the way FaithActs works, especially because I have done educational advocacy before. Other groups show up; they might tell you what the issues are and ask you to read a script. They don’t develop you as a person and as a leader. They don’t ask, “What are your thoughts on this? What do you want to say? How can we work with you?” FaithActs consistently asks these questions and does all these things. And it has since the beginning.
FaithActs takes the time to work with individuals to build their capacity to advocate for themselves and for their families. There is no one else in Connecticut who is doing this in the same way. People who interact with FaithActs learn how to advocate for their children and what questions to ask in school. I see members of my congregation and my community increase what they’re able to demand. And, I see their confidence increase. FaithActs not only teaches people to advocate for their children, but it also bears witness to the pride parents develop alongside their advocacy skills. And we see children looking at their parents, who are fighting for their rights, with that same pride.
FaithActs teaches pastors like me how to lead communities in different ways. No seminary teaches you how to hold politicians accountable. FaithActs does. The first meeting I ever had with an elected official was with FaithActs. The press conferences – during which I’ve spoken my truth and represented my community and my congregation – have also been through FaithActs. FaithActs trains us to seize these opportunities, and it works to make sure politicians respond. The skills FaithActs imparts transcend education in general. Pastors learn the importance of voting and civic engagement in a way that transforms our communities and us.
Just like Sister Gilmary believed in me and helped me help myself, FaithActs does the same for communities. FaithActs understands us because it is us. Our community needed a Black-led, community-first organization that represents our interests and gets results for our kids in our schools. FaithActs is that organization. And I am so proud to be a part of it.