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GBHEM Celebrates 55 Graduates from its Groundbreaking Angella P. Current- Felder Women of Color (WOC) Scholars Program

May 30, 2023

Over thirty years ago there were no women of color faculty or staff serving in an instructional capacity within the 13 United Methodist related theological schools. In fact, women of color were grossly underrepresented in doctoral programs across the world. This was until, a United Methodist Black Clergywomen meeting would change the future for women of color pursuing doctoral degrees in religious higher education. 

In June 1987 at the first convocation of United Methodist Black Clergywomen, sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), the lack of women of color representing their voices in religious higher education was overwhelmingly silent. 

Dr. Angella P. Current-Felder, who at the time was the executive director of the Office of Loans and Scholarships at GBHEM recognized this as an opportunity to make a difference. Her innate ability to be a “change agent” lead to the creation of the Angella P. Current- Felder Women of Color (WOC) Scholars program. 

During the early stages of the program the mission was to create a pool of United Methodist women of color religious scholars to fill the void of lack of women of color scholars and add those voices to the Academy of Religion. Today the WOC Scholars program celebrates 55 Women of Color Scholars who have obtained their doctoral degrees in religious studies and are teaching in seminaries and theological schools in the United States, Africa, Korea, and Vietnam. Many of the graduates of the program, have achieved accomplishments that are nothing short of amazing, including Dr. Yar Donlah Gonway-Gono, who is the sixth president and first woman president of the United Methodist University of Liberia. 

Dr. Current-Felder describes the program as an “amazing feat.” She also credits the mentoring component of the program as a major part of its success. 

The late Rev. Dr. Karen Collier who was the first United Methodist Woman of Color to achieve a Ph. D, played a pivotal role in building the mentorship aspect of the program. Her ability to serve as a convener helped shape the contextual identity of the WOC mentoring team through use of her connections with women of color scholars of religion in other denominations. 

One scholar mentioned to Dr. Current-Felder her mentorship experience offered her “a safe place to cry.” Whether these were tears of joy or frustration, this scholar was given a safe to be heard and validated, in a world that often ignores the voices of women of color. Dr. Current-Felder also understands the importance of having a safe space to be heard. Growing up during the civil rights era, Current-Felder was often the target of racism and discrimination. 

During her college years she participated in protest and demonstrations against racism. In a way, her outspoken nature towards injustices is literally in her DNA. Her mother, Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, was the first African American woman elevated to the position of bishop within the United Methodist Church and her father, Gloster B. Current, was a civil rights activist and director of a branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP). With her striking background, it’s easy to understand why she was inspired to advance women of color within religious higher education. 

With the support of GBHEM, she was able to accomplish this goal. Dr. Current-Felder acknowledges that GBHEM has always been at the forefront of creating worldwide equity in education and inclusivity. Graduates serve at seminaries and universities across the world.

In November 2023, women of color scholars will come together to celebrate the success of the program and its accomplishments of providing financial, intellectual and personal support to United Methodist women of color pursuing doctorates in religious studies at seminaries and universities. Over thirty years later, the voices of women of color scholars can be heard boldly and GBHEM is proud to stand in unity with these powerful voices.

To give to the Angella P. Current- Felder Women of Color Scholars endowment directly, visit:

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