The Millennial Womanism Project (TMWP) Presents “Millennial Womanists To Watch”
A monthly profile highlighting emerging voices doing incredible work in ministry, the academy and in social justice work.
Name: Nicolette Marie Peñaranda
City: Chicago, IL
TMWP: What does it mean to be a millennial woman of African descent in ministry and non-profit social justice advocacy?
Nicolette Marie Peñaranda: Lord, how do I begin? Hm, it means to be in complete rage at all times with small breaks of joy. It means to be in spaces that claim to be “safe” for your whole person while still facing marginalization, exclusion, and underestimation. To be clear, I love the work that I do and it does not negate that decolonizing sacred spaces and decolonizing advocacy work is still a self-sacrificing call for women of African descent. In ministry, we are still struggling to find a space where our age, race, and gender do not all clash. Personally, congregations of all sorts have allowed me to supply preach for them and have invited me back on numerous occasions, but most would never consider me for a paid pastoral position. In my faith tradition, women of African descent wait an average of three to five years for their first call in Word and Sacrament. Comparatively, social justice advocacy work in a nonprofit is like being in a classroom with white people who understand the theory but lack all the practical experience. I watch peers and volunteers declare “Black Lives Matter” and “Children should not be in cages” but choose not to offer adequate resources for the contexts in where they are serving. The work many of us women of African descent may be passionate about does not compensate our efforts well. We are asked by other organizations to do unpaid consulting or use our networks to connect folks with our resources but are likely not given the opportunity to interview for positions we are overqualified for. Somehow through all the neglect and injustice, we manage to maintain our faith and hope. I still do not understand how we do it and I live this on a regular basis.
TMWP: Tell us about your work. What inspired you to do this work?
Nicolette Marie Peñaranda: I am the Chicago City Director of DOOR Network. We are a faith-based organization located in five different cities that merges service learning and urban justice. Each city hosts three different programs; Discover, Discern, and Dwell. Discover invites youth groups, congregations, college groups, and the like to volunteer with organizations and participate in dialogues around justice issues. We offer a platform for local leaders to speak about their relationship to the city and the work that they do. Discern is how we practice mutuality with our city and hire local youth between ages 16-24 to join our summer staff. My work involves finding grants and donations to pay them adequately while creating professional leadership development workshops to accompany their summer employment. This summer, my discerners created LinkedIn pages, designed resumes, participated in mock interviews, learned about restorative justice and advocacy, and met regularly with mentors. In our major cities, not all of our youth get to develop social capital and polish these skills. Dwell is our year-long program that allows for young adults to be placed at nonprofit sites across the city and live in an intentional Christian community. Young adults spend their year dwelling together and experiencing advocacy work first hand through their site placements and our practical curriculum. My work this year decolonizes this particular program so that more Black and Brown young adults have access to stable housing, paid internship work, and the ability to spend a year doing service. We are centering our study materials around multicultural authors, and concentrating on the diverse aspects of our city’s dynamics.
Concerning inspiration, I have always been passionate about the formation of young people. However, as a youth, I only saw this as a labor of love. So when I learned that one could have a career in changing the perception of urban ministry and restoring dignity to the narratives of marginalized folk through youth and young adult work, my heart lit up. The Christ of my understanding was a doer. He spent his adult life walking through towns and cities with a whole crew doing ministry. His ministry was tangible too, not just evangelizing. People are hungry? Let’s feed them. People are sick and suffering? We can heal them. Christ, as a person of the margins, spent time almost exclusively with other people in the margins and through that redeemed their value to society. I cannot imagine being a Christian and not being with all people and accompanying them in their daily lives. The ability to teach others that same message is equally exciting.
TMWP: How does your work expand traditional womanist epistemologies? How does womanism inform the work you do?
Nicolette Marie Peñaranda: I am nothing without womanism. I speak of a Christ who saw people for who they were and that being a redeeming piece for them in relation to society. Well, womanism to me is precisely that. Black liberation saw my racial struggles but not my needs as a woman. Feminism saw my struggle around gender presentation, representation yet generalized my struggles with a cultural context that does not apply to me. Womanism embodies me in a way that I do not have to choose a struggle. Rather, I can be honored in my wholeness. I say all of that to say this wholeness that I receive through womanism is embodied in my work based on how I serve with folk and how I build my programs. If over half of my summer speakers are not women, specifically Black and women of color, then I am not doing something right. If my summer staff is exclusively Black youth, then I need to strengthen my recruiting for next summer because Chicago has just as much Latinx youth, therefore, my staff is not wholly Chicago. The social justice issues we discuss cannot concentrate on one perspective. Are LGBTQ+ people being represented in our curriculum? Where are we choosing to volunteer and how can we diversify our nonprofit usage to reflect Chicago? Womanism pushes me to be as keenly observant to representation and to create authentic space for other marginalized people as I would hope for myself. Now that I am in a position of financial power, I feel called to make sure the right people, especially other queer millennial women of African descent receive adequate compensation for their knowledge and gifts.
TMWP: What can we expect from you within the next year?
Nicolette Marie Peñaranda: I wish I knew what was in store for me. You can expect me to continue doing this work with DOOR Network and developing a city program that truly honors Chicago and the wonderful people that make Chicago special. I am hoping for our first Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service on the westside. We are trying to connect with some local school and businesses to beautify a local community center. Stay tuned for that. I am hoping in 2019 that a church will call me to be their pastor and I will officially become Reverend. Pray that this works out or that what God has assigned for my ministry comes into fruition.
TMWP: How can people support your work?
Nicolette Marie Peñaranda: You can support me and the wonderful people that make DOOR happen by donating at (https://www.doornetwork.org/lets-eat/ ). If you want to support millennial or gen-z women of color specifically, you can add “POC Dweller” or “Discern” onto your donation. This year we have two women who will be struggling to meet their fundraising goal and every year we need to be able to hire summer staff. A donation on behalf of either of these things will allow me to pay young people what they are worth and to have funds to give them opportunities for self-development and growth.
TMWP: Where can they go for more information and updates?
Nicolette Marie Peñaranda: You can follow me on twitter @afrolutheran, Instagram @afr0lutheran. I am most active on Twitter. Feel free to check out my previous blog from Argentina www.afroluterana.blogspot.com. I also keep my sermons on youtube niekelz2692 or search Nicolette Faison.
Millennial Womanism is an emerging concept developed by Liz S Alexander and Melanie C Jones that seeks to draw upon a unique womanist epistemological and methodological framework utilizing a millennial lens.