When the United Methodist Black Clergywomen’s Caucus met for the first time in 1987, there were almost no women of color to represent their voices in religious higher education.
Dr. Angella P. Current-Felder, then the executive director of the Office of Loans and Scholarships at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), remembers a common excuse for why seminaries and universities did not have any women of color teaching religious education.
“When asked about it, schools often told us some version of ‘We don’t know of any,’ or ‘We can’t find any,” said Current-Felder.
With support from GBHEM, the caucus moved to forever invalidate that excuse and create a robust academic pathway for women of color interested in religious scholarship. Through their efforts, the Women of Color Scholars Program was born and has supported 49 graduates to date.
Today, in recognition of her tireless efforts in support of the program, it will officially be renamed the Angella P. Current-Felder Women of Color Scholars program. The African American Methodist Heritage Center nominated Current-Felder for this honor in recognition of her history of promoting scholars of color and the GBHEM Board of Directors voted to formalize the name change in 2020.
In her 25 years with GBHEM’s Office of Loans and Scholarships, Current-Felder worked not only to shepherd the program’s funding, but also to recruit and encourage new scholars and support the ever-growing network of graduates.
“Angella really became the point person at GBHEM for the program. In addition to providing resources, she was very intentional in identifying women who could enter the program and she often reached out to promising students and encouraged them to apply,” said Dr. Rosetta Ross, professor of philosophy and religious studies at Spelman College. Ross was one of the program’s first class of graduates and served as chair of its Mentoring and Scholarship Committee.
Ross emphasized how important it was that Current-Felder not only helped recruit new scholars but also helped maintain a strong mentoring network through its graduates. Each new scholar receives funding for their studies as well as regular access to and involvement with past graduates who are now working in academia.
“The mentoring is an essential part of the program,” said Current-Felder. “It’s not just the pursuit of the degree, but having connections with other people who will understand – people who can have conversations with you when you’re struggling against the hurdles of racism and sexism that are still so common in academia.”
She added that the design of this unique program must be attributed to its first group of mentors, of which only one was a member of the UMC, Rev. Dr. Karen Collier, who served as mentorship chair. The other founding members were Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon, Rev. Dr. Jacquelyn Grant, Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock and Dr. Jung Ha Kim.
“Their experience in the academy played a vital role in program’s foundation and direction,” said Current-Felder.
More than three decades after the program’s creation, its graduates serve at seminaries and universities across the country, with seven currently serving as faculty or senior administrators at United Methodist-related Schools of Theology. Their ranks include numerous published authors who have helped broaden and enrich the academy with the perspectives of Black, Latina, Asian and Native American women.
“Their voices and publications bring vital viewpoints to the academy. They provide much-needed influence and insight in preparing students for ministry in a multicultural world,” said Current-Felder. “Without them, many students would have little understanding of the perspectives of people of color in our church.”
The program is preparing to announce eight new scholarship recipients this summer, and much of its continued success is due to the long-term efforts of Current-Felder.
“I worked with Angella for many years before she retired in 2010 and her commitment to this program has always been unwavering, even today she works with us to remain connected with graduates and help us expand the level of financial support it offers to scholars. I am so thrilled that the board has acted to honor her with this renaming,” said Allyson Potts, the current executive director of GBHEM’s Office of Loans and Scholarships.
Current-Felder said that her goal is to help increase fundraising enough to see the program endowed in perpetuity.
“This is a wonderful honor and I’m grateful to the African American Heritage Center for bringing it forward,” she said. “I want to use this moment to appeal to all the program’s graduates and supporters to contribute to it and help us keep this scholarship fully endowed for many years to come.”
To give to the Angella P. Current- Felder Women of Color Scholars endowment directly, visit: www.gbhem.org/donate4students.