By Joyce Rothermel
(Photo Caption: Emily Neff. Photo Credit: Emily Neff)
Last fall, the membership of the Merton Center elected three new board members: Fatema Juma, Emily Neff and Robert Wilson. You learned a little bit about them on the ballot. Last year Fatema served as The NewPeople Coordinator over the summer and a wonderful article about her appeared in the paper at that time.
This month, I am delighted to introduce you more fully to Emily Neff. Emily attended Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. During her sophomore year, she discovered an interdisciplinary minor called Values, Ethics, and Social Action. She was required to take a range of courses including religious studies, economics, and service learning theory. As part of her interdisciplinary minor Emily participated in service learning experiences in the Meadville community and served as a mentor at an alternative education school. For two years she engaged with students in weekly conversations about the cycle of injustice they faced at school. She found it to be profound to listen to a fifteen-year-old share his story and connect it to the systemic problem of the school-to-prison pipeline.
Post-college Emily taught first grade in rural Mississippi and then attended Teachers College at Columbia University to study education policy. Her students loved to listen to Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches and their favorite book was The Story of Ruby Bridges. Her students reminded her that you are never too young to pursue peace and justice. Emily noted, “I believe peace and social justice begins with our children.”
Emily’s mom, Linda, heard about the Merton Center through St. James Church in Wilkinsburg. She suggested Emily check it out during the summer in between her years of teaching in Mississippi. Emily wanted to explore issues of social justice outside of education and thought the Merton Center would be a good place to start. As an intern, she worked with Stop Sexual Assault in the Military (SSAM, a project of the Merton Center) to develop resources for its committee. The following summer she again volunteered with SSAM. “Soon after, both my mom and brother joined the Merton Center as well.”
When asked, “How do you live out your commitment to the values of peace and social justice?”, Emily responded, “First and foremost by listening. I believe in order to commit to and participate in peace and social justice work I must thoughtfully listen to the stories of others whose lives are impacted by issues of injustice.”
Education is Emily’s career and passion. In her current role as Public Policy Associate with the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, she advocates for access to high-quality early care and education experiences for children ages birth through five. Research shows the benefits of these programs, including reduced special education placements, increased graduation rates, and decreased crime and incarceration. She is committed to the values of peace and social justice through her career in education. Investing in young children and families provides a strong foundation and allows children to reach their full potential. Clearly children are a source of hope for Emily!
I asked Emily if she has a role model and she does. His name is John B. King Jr., the former Secretary of Education for the Obama administration. Prior to that role, he served as Education Commissioner for the state of New York and is now the President and CEO of The Education Trust. He has led school desegregation efforts at a systemic level through his policies. During Emily’s time in New York City, her school district was awarded a grant he created as Education Commissioner. The grant allowed the district and its community members to research, plan, and implement diversity conscious student enrollment as a way to pursue school desegregation. She values his contributions to education and his leadership in pursuing social justice through policy.
The greatest challenge Emily faces in living out the values of peace and social justice is remaining informed and engaged in issues that threaten peace and social justice. She explains, “I challenge myself to be open to listen and learn from others’ perspectives and to continue to check my privilege in my everyday life.”
In serving on the Board, Emily says, “I think we clearly have our work cut out for us with this administration…. I want to spend the first few months listening and learning from board members, staff, and members. I hope to create space for people to feel empowered to continue their peace and social justice efforts. I would like to support the mission and legacy of the Merton Center while also bringing in more young supporters.”
In addition to service on the Merton Center board, Emily is also on the Advisory Council for the Women and Girls Foundation. There she has volunteered with the GirlGov program, which provides the opportunity for girls in 9th to12th grades to learn about government, community organizing, women’s history, and leadership.
The Merton Center is privileged to welcome Merton Center member, Emily Neff, to its board of directors for a three-year term.
(Next month, we will feature Robert Wilson, the third new TMC board member in The NewPeople.)
Joyce Rothermel is a board member of the Thomas Merton Center.