May 2, 2011
Laura Stricklen has been selected to participate in the Direct Action and Research Training (DART) program.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Laura Stricklen’s passion for social justice must have made quite an impression on administrators at Direct Action and Research Training (DART) Organizers Institute because they chose her from a highly competitive field of 850 applicants to become part of “a new generation of community organizers.” The national non-profit network of congregation-based groups works to promote justice and fairness by drawing people from a range of racial, economic, and religious backgrounds into collaborative public action on behalf of their communities.
Stricklen, a senior religious studies and sociology double major at The College of Wooster and a graduate of the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, was nominated by Mark Graham, associate professor of religious studies. “We are proud of Laura’s selection to the DART program, not simply because of the program's selectivity, but also because of the important community organizing and social justice work the DART program does,” said Graham. “Laura has always impressed me (and all of my colleagues) with her academic and intellectual excellence as well as her integrity and the sense of purpose and vocation she has for her studies. She, like so many Wooster graduates, wants to put her education to work to make a difference in the world.”
It is a classic theory-to-practice scenario for Stricklen, who says she would often get “fired up” during class discussions about social justice issues. “I am really anxious to apply all the knowledge I’ve gained about social issues at Wooster to real-life situations in a way that I hope will lead to lasting change,” she says. “It’s exciting to have a chance to make a difference in the lives of many people through an organization with values that are very much in line with mine.”
DART has established 19 metropolitan, grassroots, community organizations across five states (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, and Florida). Each one is composed of local congregations committed to building a powerful, diverse, broad-based, multi-issued, and democratically run organization. The largest base of support for each affiliate comes from churches, synagogues, and other faith-based institutions in low-to-moderate income areas. DART organizations have won victories on a broad set of issues, including reading instruction and fair school-suspension policies in public schools, commitments to reform and expand indigent health care, and dozens of other issues important to low-income communities.
“I will be working with networks of spiritually grounded religious people who share my commitment to social justice,” says Stricklen, whose mother is an associate for worship in the Office of Theology and Worship with the Presbyterian Church USA in Louisville, Ky. “Our objective will be to address issues that are plaguing the community and develop an appropriate plan of action.”
Stricklen, who was selected after an extensive interview process that included several essays and interviews, will begin her training with a week of instruction in Columbus this summer. She will then be assigned to a particular project for an intensive 15-week field experience. After that, she will receive a three-year assignment with a DART-affiliated organization.
“I feel strongly called to love all of humanity by actively seeking justice and cultivating peace,” says Stricklen, who has worked with such organizations as Amnesty International, En Route, Wayne County Children Services, and Wooster’s Office of Interfaith Campus Ministries. “Congregation-based community organizing is a vocation that will allow me to combine my passionate desire to create a more equitable society, my gifts for working with people, and the sustainable means to meet the needs of our world.”
Ben MacConnell, DART’s recruitment director, says Stricklen was selected because of her commitment to justice and her strong work ethic. “Laura stood out from hundreds of applicants because of her stellar academics, her interest in bringing diverse people of faith together, and her passion for social justice.”
Stricklen becomes the second Wooster student to be chosen for the program in the past three years. Sarah Tarbell, a 2009 graduate, works in Charlottesville, Va., with IMPACT (Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together), a grassroots initiative that brings together a diverse group of congregations to live out the religious traditions' call for justice in the community.
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