Jennifer Bailey

Ashoka Fellow
United States
Fellow Since 2016

Citation

This profile was prepared when Jennifer Bailey was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016.
The New Idea
As an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the oldest historically-Black denomination in the United States, Jennifer Bailey knows the role religion has played in shaping public life, especially in the American South. But as a millennial, Jennifer also sees how religious institutions – and the interfaith movement as a whole – operates from a place that concentrates power in the hands of a few. Within the hierarchical history of religious institutions in the American South, the Faith Matters Network is building a horizontal movement of faith-rooted millennials who are fighting for change – in their communities, and their congregations. Through this growing network of leaders, Jennifer is re- connecting religious institutions across the American South to once more offer solutions to the region’s most pertinent social justice issues.

Faith Matters Network trains, supports, and amplifies the leadership, and stories of faith-rooted changemakers – especially those at the margins of faith communities: people of color, women, LGBTQ communities, the poor, and other marginalized identities. Jennifer’s insight is that the people best positioned to move the South toward a more just and equitable society are those who have been marginalized by traditional religious perspectives. Leaders at the margins are key, not because of a need to be “helped,” but in their acute, indispensable, and unique ability to both (1) offer solutions to social justice issues in the American South from a place of power and experience, (2) provide real, human examples that usher faith communities toward a 21st century social justice agenda, and (3) embed new leadership structures with distributed, collective power structures.

In mending the bridge between “sacred” and “secular,” the traditional assets of each can flow again to the other: Social justice movements can once again benefit from the infrastructural backbone provided by faith communities’ land, leadership, and moral authority; faith institutions have new tools (and newly- energized ambassadors) to confront a structural rigidity which threatens its ability to operate in a changing world. As a key part of bridging the societal gap between sermon & action, Jennifer is pioneering new professional pathways for millennials who wouldn’t otherwise see their faith identities as congruent with their vocation. Jennifer’s movement chaplains deliver an answer to institutional partners who understand that their structures of faith are not the structures of the future. Her new idea is to decentralize moral authority by creating a new leadership structure that draws together the legitimacy of faith and the ethos of a new generation.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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