Dignity Project

A Fellowship Program for High School Students

This fellowship program is designed to train outstanding ​high school sophomores, juniors and seniors—15-18 fellows total annually—from Greater Boston to serve as interreligious and cross-cultural leaders, with the capacity to engage the diversity of our city (and broader society) with thoughtfulness, skill, and care.

This program is sponosred by the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation

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Dignity Project
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Aliza Kopans, High School Senior 2020-2021 Fellow

I think one of the most important things I have gotten out of the Dignity Project has been a space to practice hard conversations. I truly believe that the skills I am learning to galvanize a group and reach a compromise, or reach a place of being able to agree to disagree in the midst of heated debate, I’ll carry with me into college and beyond.

About the Dignity Project

Goals | Content Areas| Learning Modalities | Structure | Stipend

The Miller Center began planning for the Dignity Project before the COVID outbreak because of a growing need to help teen leaders in our city navigate the diversity of American life during a time of widespread political and cultural polarization. But the pain and isolation of the pandemic and the recent social uprising made the mission of this new project even more urgent and relevant.  

The Miller Center launched the project in fall 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, to train 15 to 18 outstanding high school sophomores, juniors and seniorfrom Greater Boston to serve as interreligious and cross-cultural leaders, with the capacity to engage the diversity of our city (and broader society) with thoughtfulness, skill, and care. 

The ethical/spiritual foundation for the project is the ancient and enduring notion that every human being is of inestimable worth, and that a society thrives when people learn to honor each other’s similarities ​and​ differences. In this moment of increased polarization and resurgent intolerance, we need to help young people develop the ability and sensibility to find common ground when possible, and to engage in ​dignified discourse and debate when necessary. This is particularly important for our target audience, as these teens move closer to adulthood, preparing to leave home for college, university, and work life. 

The overarching goal of the initiative is to cultivate a network of thoughtful and skilled young leaders able to build bridges of understanding and cooperation, and to stand up to bigotry and hate. To accomplish this, the Dignity Project aims to give voice and agency to Youth Fellows. It aims to recognize their intelligence and capacity, include them in community projects, and help them to realize their perspective is valued and they can be leaders and bridge builders in this world. The hands-on community building that takes place in the Dignity project moves learning out of the realm of the theoretical as Fellows practice hard skills together like active listening, facilitation, conflict resolution, and program design. In partnering together, Mentors and Fellows are building confidence and trust as they design solutions to address community needs.


Goals
    • Forge personal relationships with peers and mentors from different religious and cultural contexts
    • Explore the values and beliefs—religious and secular—supporting participants’ commitments to creating an equitable and compassionate society
    • Learn how to engage in constructive dialogue and work with a diverse team of individuals
    • Study the lives and work of “upstanders” from American and world history, including the sources of wisdom that inspired, informed, and guided them
    • Develop communication skills for use in formal and informal educational settings
    • Assist Fellows in planning meaningful projects that positively impact their communities and offer an opportunity to experiment with project-based learning and using their voice for change


Content Areas
    • Intercultural, Interracial, and Interreligious Literacy (with a focus on learning how to responsibly hold space that includes tension)
    • Intersectional Identity Formation
    • Creating a Community of Practice
    • Facilitation of Courageous Conversations
    • Diverse Coalition Building
    • Program Design & Implementation
    • Public Voice: Speaking & Writing for Bridge-Building and Social Change
    • Deep Listening, Communication, Conflict Resolution, & Dialogue Skills
    • Relationship-Building and Fruitful Collaboration Across Difference
    • The Power of Vulnerability and Sharing Stories
    • Anti-Bias Work: Seeing Past Stereotypes and Overcoming Assumptions


Learning Modalities
    • Group Discussion
    • Storytelling
    • Group Collaboration
    • Professional Presentations
    • Scenarios & Case Studies
    • Project-Based Learning
    • Reflective Exercises
    • Reflective Structured Dialogue 
    • Facilitation Practice
    • “Doing Life Together and Having Fun” (Games, Travel, Meals Shared)


Program Structure

Each participant will actively engage in all of the activities listed below. There will be brief assignments to be completed in advance of each monthly Zoom meeting.

>> View the program structure PDF

  • Opening Retreat (2 nights, 3 days)*
  • 4 Monthly In-Person Gatherings (3 hours/location TBD in Boston)
  • 4 Monthly Virtual Gatherings (1.5 hours on Zoom)
  • Preparatory multimedia assignments: videos, podcasts, book chapter (1 hour maximum)
  • 1 Religious or Community Site Visit is required on your own in October/November along with a journal entry to your Mentor, Program Director and Formation Team (3-4 hours)
  • Closing Retreat and Celebration (2 nights/2.5 days)**
  • Virtual Final Program Reflection and Evaluation Session (2 hours on Zoom)

FELLOWSHIP STIPENDS

Each participant will receive a $1000 stipend upon completion of the program. To receive the full Fellowship stipend of $1000, Fellows must attend and participate in all the Fellowship events and activities with the exception of one absence. After one non-emergency absence, stipends will be lowered to reflect the Fellow’s record of attendance and participation. This ensures fairness to the entire Fellowship community.

Fellows (2021-2022)

AJ is a senior at Boston College High School and is a dedicated student. He enjoys playing soccer, basketball, and likes watching shows and movies. He’s involved in the Blacks and Latinos club. He strongly values honesty and loyalty.


Christopher is a Junior at Boston College High School, where his favorite subjects are Math and Science. At school, he is a member of the Michael D. White Center for Emerging Leaders, leads Lab Rats, and enjoys being in the Totally Random Interest Club. Christopher is an avid curler, curling out of Broomstones Curling Club. He enjoys Lego, Star Wars, Marvel, and playing board games. He is passionate about working towards inclusion and fairness towards all and looks forward to participating in the Dignity Project.


Daisy is a junior at Boston Latin Academy and an enthusiastic student in the classroom. She identifies as Christian and loves hearing new perspectives. Daisy enjoys mock trials, meeting new people, playing tennis, and teaching. She is involved in law oriented clubs and programs both inside and outside of school.


Eli is a senior at Westwood High School and is very passionate about making a difference in the lives of others. He identifies as Jewish and attends Temple Beth David in Westwood. Eli enjoys playing the guitar, hiking, and volunteering wherever he can. He currently serves on the Westwood Youth & Family Services Advisory Board as well as the Westwood Ambassadors club at school where he strives to better the community he lives in.


Ella is a junior at Milton High School and loves to learn. She identifies as a nondenominational Christian and attends Antioch Community Church Quincy. Ella enjoys playing field hockey, drinking iced coffee, and helping others. She is involved in the WCP (World Children’s Prize) Club at her school and values spreading justice and love to everyone.


Henry is a senior at Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham. He identifies as a Conservative Jew and is a member of Temple Emanuel in Newton. He lives in Chestnut Hill, with his parents and two dogs. Henry has worked as a field organizer for political campaigns in Massachusetts and organizes for climate justice with Sunrise Boston. In his free time he enjoys being outdoors, hiking, biking, and skiing.


Jordyn is a sophomore at Ursuline Academy, where she serves as the team speech coach and was a 2021 state finalist in the Massachusetts Speech and Debate league. She serves the youth in her church and having a brother with down syndrome has taught her the value of inclusion and having compassion for all people.


Kawtar is a senior at Pioneer Charter School of Science and the oldest and only daughter of three children. Being a first-generation high school student, she gets to guide her younger brothers toward the unfamiliar experience, making her appreciative of the immigrant struggle. She identifies as Muslim, enjoys reading poetry, and is passionate about religious equality


Keely is a Senior at Hingham High School who loves seeking opportunities to grow as a person. She identifies as a Unitarian Universalist and is also a practicing Wiccan, attending Old Ship Church First Parish in Hingham. Keely loves writing, music, and exploring nature. She is involved in numerous clubs at her school including being head of the school newspaper. She is also very involved in the Girl Scouts. She values harmony and understanding between peoples regardless of creed or denomination.


Kiley is a junior at Malden High School. Some of her core values include internal positivity, kindness, and respect. She spends her free time reading, playing softball, and doing photography. She is an active member in the Feminist club at school and hopes that the values of the student body will one day reflect the policies.


Lily Cantor is from Newton. She identifies as a Reform Jew and is a rising senior at Gann Academy, a Jewish high school. She plays soccer and lacrosse and also writes for the school newspaper. She is incredibly passionate about social justice and last year founded a group at her school called CABB, which stands for Connections, Awareness, and Breaking Barriers and strives to connect teens from different backgrounds, religions and cultures.


Malk is a sophomore at Revere High School. She identifies as Muslim and attends American Muslim Center in Everett. Malk enjoys helping her community and plays soccer. She values equality. She is involved in the MGH Scholars Program, Power of Know, and Revere Youth in Action.


Meher is a senior at Hopkinton High School and a compassionate student. She identifies as Sikh and attends Westborough Gurdwara (Sikh house of worship). Meher enjoys reading, painting, and participating in choirs. She is co-president of the South Asian Affinity Group at her school in which she wishes for her peers to be understanding of others and their heritage.


Muhammad is a senior at Commonwealth School and a Muslim with no one distinct community. He enjoys watching movies and hushing people who speak while the film plays, and he also enjoys spending time with his siblings and many other things. He doesn’t enjoy running long distances, but he does it anyway. As a youth ambassador in the Faith4TheVaccine initiative and volunteer in adjacent communities, he is interested in what changes he can make in a community.


Natane is going into her senior year at Brookline High School and hopes to go to college in Europe after graduation. She doesn’t Identify with any religion though her family was Muslim when she was younger, then Christian, and now most people in her family have different personal beliefs. She is a part of the food justice club at school, which is also connected to the environmental action club. Natane enjoys making new friends and being outside, and she cares deeply about nature and our planet.


Nydjeem is a rising senior at English High School who excels in academics. In addition to his stellar academic performance, he is an exceptional athlete and plays various sports on the varsity level. Outside of school, he loves to serve his community through volunteerism and spend quality time with loved ones. Currently, he works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston for the Real Estate Services Group where he helps to manage the fitness center. While working for the Federal Reserve, he has cultivated a passion to promote Diversity and Inclusion and wants to continue his efforts in the space of Diversity and Inclusion and help the Dignity Project to achieve its diversity and inclusion goals.


Olivia is a junior at Milton High School. She is a strong student and has a passion for science and math. She is on the swimming and crew team at her high school. She participates in Earth Club and Amnesty International Club and as a part of these groups she advocates for important world issues in her school and town. Her favorite hobby outside of school is art, especially drawing and painting.


Prabhdeep is a senior at Billerica Memorial High School. She identifies as Sikh and attends the Westborough Gurudwara Sahib (NESSC). Prabhdeep sings, plays rugby, dances (bhangra), and volunteers. She also shows a passion for learning about new cultures and issues going on around the world. She is in the choir and the Students of Color Association (SOCA) at school.


Radhika is a sophomore at Lexington High School and identifies as a Hindu. She enjoys reading, doing karate, and spending time with her friends and family. She is a part of the Lexington chapter of Diversify Our Narrative and believes that it is extremely important to advocate for the rights of all individuals.


Siddakk is a senior at Acton-Boxborough High School and he is a proud Sikh who goes to the NESSC Gurudwara in Westborough. Siddakk is a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoys playing basketball and working in media and film productions, in which he won the IIFFB award for best student movie. He is involved in his community in many ways, like being a TA at Khalsa School. He also helps teach Tae Kwon Do and is always interested in learning new perspectives and promoting diversity.


Sofia is a junior at Brockton High School. She is a hardworking student and athlete and values spending time with her friends. She identifies as both Christian and Spiritual. Sofia is a member of her school’s swim team, field hockey team, and softball team. She is also a member of her school’s envirothon team and is captivated by science-based topics.

Staff (2021-2022)

 

Rabbi Or RoseMiller Center Director, Rabbi Or Rose,is the Founding Director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College and a founding faculty member of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. He has taught for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships and The Wexner Graduate Fellowship, as well as in a variety of other academic, religious, and civic contexts throughout North America and in Israel. He is the co-editor of Deep Understanding for Divisive Times: Essays Marking a Decade of the Journal of Interreligious Studies (Interreligious Studies Press), Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: Essential Teachings (Orbis), and Words To Live By: Sacred Sources for Interreligious Engagement (Orbis). In addition, he is the creator of Hebrew College’s scriptural commentary blog Seventy Faces of Torah, the curator of the web-based
project PsalmSeason, and co-publisher of the Journal of Interreligious Studies.


Dignity Project Program Director, Shelton Oakley Hersey, has sought out, participated and facilitated spaces working toward reconciliation over the past decade. Her Bachelor degrees are from Rhodes College (Memphis, TN) in Religious Studies and Sociology. From Los Angeles and Fuller Theological Seminary, where she obtained a Masters in Intercultural/Urban Studies and Youth At Risk, to South Africa, she has worked cross-culturally as community development specialist, social entrepreneur, and pastor. Shelton is a certified Christian Spiritual Director who drinks deeply from a myriad of diverse Christian streams and traditions. She also serves as a consultant to non-profits. Previously, Shelton served as the Program Director for Boston’s Interfaith Youth Initiative. As the Dignity Project

Program Director (a program of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership), she brings together emerging youth leaders of Greater Boston across differences, understanding the significant role in unlearning and relearning that which divides and unites us. With her husband Scott and daughter Amma, she enjoys living life in Jamaica Plain and loves being outdoors, sharing a slow meal with community, expressing herself through visual art and reading a really great book.

Mentors (2021-2022)

Dignity Project Mentor, Andrew Kimble, revels in conversation about philosophical and theological topics ranging from the metaphysical to the ethical. He currently serves as associate minister of church and culture at the Historic Charles St. AME Church and works at the Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH) as assistant director of alumni and donor relations. Andrew earned a BA in philosophy at Morehouse College and an MDiv from BUSTH. In his free time, he enjoys hanging with friends and family, meeting new people, exercising, listening to jazz, and visiting the used book section in local bookstores. Originally from Los Angeles, he tries to bring a little “sunshine” wherever duty calls.


Dignity Project Mentor, Anthony Cruz, has spent most of his life traversing between island-living and the U.S. mainland milieu. He acutely developed a double consciousness from being born in Puerto Rico. This complex reality provided the opportunity to grow in an environment where Afro based religions, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, other faiths, and non-theist traditions seek to coexist and support a democratic and progressive ethos for all. As an endorsed Humanist Celebrant and Associate Chaplain by The Humanist Society, he works at the intersection of ethics, constructive theologies, and decolonial orientations to culture to understand the human condition. Currently, he serves as the Co-Chair of the Latinx Humanist Alliance. Anthony collaborates with young adults addressing vaccine hesitancy, as well as spearheading socio-political consciousness projects through action research and narrative methodologies. He earned an MTS from Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School. He is an avid reader and tries not to get too engrossed in too many technical texts. When not thinking about theology, culture, and society, or existential questions, Anthony enjoys a strong brew of café Bustelo coffee with a dash of honey, and he is also curious about self-care practices that are not overly commercialized.


Dignity Project Mentor, Rafi Ellenson, is a literary translator, poet, and second year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA. Prior to beginning his rabbinical studies, Rafi worked for several years in the NGO-sector in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem focusing on refugee-advocacy, Palestinian solidarity, and experiential education. Over his time in Israel-Palestine, he was selected for the Dorot Fellowship in Israel where he studied leadership development, Hebrew literature, Arabic-language, and more. A graduate of Goddard College, Rafi is based in Somerville, MA where he works to synthesize his passions for social activism, religious learning, and literacies into a whole that is even greater than the sum of its parts.


Sakshi Khurana, is a Research Fellow and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. She worked as an elementary school counselor in India before moving to the United States, and completed her master’s in education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2020. Sakshi is passionate about preventive mental health care and social-emotional learning for children, having specialized in clinical psychology with a master’s in applied psychology from India. She practices Nichiren Buddhism with SGI-USA and has been a member of SGI since 2012. Buddhism has helped her find purpose and transform all her negative experiences in life into fuel for doing something contributive. Sakshi is a vocalist in Hindustani classical music and enjoys reading and cooking.

info on apply to be a mentor

Please contact Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program Director, to find out about this opportunity, to receive an application and to provide nominations for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Inaugural Cohort Projects

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Throughout the year, members of the inaugural fellowship cohort of 16 fellows—from Baha’i, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions, and secular communities—met weekly to learn the theory and practice of interreligious and cross-cultural leadership, including strategies and tactics to cultivate resilience and joy amid an unprecedented wave of illness, loss, anger, and uncertainty.They also learned how to have “courageous conversations” about potentially divisive issues like the presidential election.

At the end of the program, the students collaborated on five projects to positively impact their communities and beyond. The groups used podcasting, visual art, writing and Zoom to create spaces for courageous conversations.

DP podcast

Podcasting and Zooming: Three young women invited their peers to a creatively and tightly facilitated Zoom gathering on social justice topics close to their hearts and lives: Islamophobia, voting rights and restrictions, and mental health stigmas. They designed the space to promote both learning and interactive dialogue and led the session with passion, confidence, and influence.

The podcast team conducted interviews with people of different political and religious beliefs and blended their interviews into a dynamic podcast that presents three different stories and perspectives. LISTEN NOW!

“I think one of the most important things I have gotten out of the Dignity Project has been a space to practice hard conversations,” said Aliza Copens, a fellow on the courageous conversations team. “It is something that you don’t really understand the full value of until you are in a space where that kind of approach to discourse is really cultivated.”

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Written and Visual Arts

The two visual arts teams worked creatively to collaborate on two pieces: one demonstrates a local message of unity amidst differences in the city of Boston, while the other communicates the vast political and social differences between Americans in today’s landscape (even when they share similar religious beliefs).

The writing team produced a Writer’s Digest booklet highlighting one creative writing piece for each of the first 12 month of the pandemic. The pieces were written by the fellows and other guest contributors.

>> Read “TimeCapsule”

>> Read “Courageous Conversations”

“With something as hard as having a conversation about politics, creating art has made it easier,” said Olivia Bancel, a Fellow on one of the visual arts teams. “I’ve always found that art can say more than any conversation and can turn such a hard and controversial topic like politics into something simpler and more beautiful.”

“Expressing oneself in an interreligious space demonstrates the universality of our experiences, so to speak, it speaks everyone’s language,” added Fellow Martin Mugerwa.”Art is non-judgmental and is not limited to interpretations.”

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Apply to be a Fellow | Apply to be a Mentor

We are currently recruiting for the next cohort of Fellows and mentors. Find information and how to apply below.


How to Apply for a Fellowship

The 2021-2022 application is now open. Please fill out the following online fellowship application form and instruct your letter of recommendation to be emailed to soakleyhersey@hebrewcollege.edu. Dignity Project Staff will contact the applicant via email within a month of receiving the application and letter of recommendation. Thanks for your interest! If you would like to hear more about the program from the Program Director or a past Fellow or Mentor, we’d love to have a phone or Zoom conversation with you.

>> PROGRAM OVERVIEW

>> APPLY NOW

Eligibility

The Dignity Project Fellowship is open to outstanding high school emerging leaders from the Greater Boston area with a passion for interreligious and cross-cultural and cross-racial engagement. Applicants can apply on their own or can be nominated by a community leader. Each student must fill out a brief application form and provide a letter of recommendation. The Miller Center Staff will make final selections of all Fellows in the spring/early summer. Cohorts range in size from 14-20 Fellows.

Our Intention

In constructing this intentionally diverse group, we will recruit a passionate cohort of young people from different spiritual and ethical backgrounds, including those who identify as “religious” and “secular.” We will also pay careful attention to other axes of difference, including race, class, and gender. By the same design, Mentors are selected from local graduate theological programs and emerging faith leaders to model, companion, teach, lead, and empower. In developing this initiative, we are working collaboratively with leaders and educators from various houses of worship, schools, and civic organizations throughout the city.

Participant Expectations

Each participant will actively engage in all of the activities listed above. There will be brief pre-work (reading, podcast, video) to be completed in advance of some in-person meetings. In addition, each participant will also be expected to co-create and live by Community Commitments that will shape our way of being together as we practice a shared set of values. Finally, Fellows will contribute to the planning & implementation of small team projects that positively and meaningfully engage the Fellows’ communities.

fellowship Stipends

Each participant will receive a $1000 stipend upon completion of the program. To receive the full Fellowship stipend of $1000, Fellows must attend and participate in all the Fellowship events and activities with the exception of one absence. After one non-emergency absence, stipends will be lowered to reflect the Fellow’s record of attendance and participation. This ensures fairness to the entire Fellowship community.


Apply to be a Mentor

The Mentor role is a unique opportunity to get hands-on practice in a relationally diverse community with leadership, mentorship, and program design. As guides, teachers, facilitators, and spiritual leaders, Mentors embody for the Fellows what it means to be firmly rooted in self, in tradition, in values, and in justice. Mentors provide Fellows with their unique perspectives, gifts, skills, and creative leadership. Together Mentors and Fellows participate in a reciprocal dance in which everyone is empowered to fully step into their voice, their leadership and their unique potential. 

Our Staff and Mentors come from diverse faith, racial, and cultural backgrounds and lived experiences. Depending on the range of those who apply, we have Mentors who identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Catholic, Buddhist, Interfaith, Hindu, Humanist, and Unitarian Universalist. Just as we welcome all youth Fellows, we employ and welcome Mentors of all races, cultures, genders, perspectives and traditions!

Please contact Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program Director, to find out about this opportunity, to receive an application and to provide nominations for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Program Staff

  • Ms. Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program Director
  • Ms. Kim Bress, Dignity Project Assistant Director
  • Mr. Tom Reid, Associate Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
  • Rabbi Or Rose, Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
  • Ms. Marilyn Stern, Community Engagement Administrator, Miller Center, Hebrew College

Questions

Contact Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College.

The Dignity Project is a much-needed and very thoughtfully developed space for accompanying the next generation of leaders. Integrating spiritual diversity is a critical component of embracing the fullness of humanity and ushering the compassion and wisdom required for a better future.

Preeta Banerjee, 2020-2021 Mentor