Recipients of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Award at International House
“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
International House alum Dietrich Bonhoeffer ‘31 (1906-1945) was a German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident who studied Philosophy of Religion at Union Theological Seminary during his time in New York. While in New York, through his relationship with Black seminarian Albert Franklin Fisher, Bonhoeffer became an active member of the Abyssinian Baptist church in Harlem. Working within that community gave Bonhoeffer an understanding of the Black experience in America, leading him to further commit himself to the fight for social justice. After graduating from UTS, Bonhoeffer became entrenched in the mission of the Confessing Church, a movement working in opposition of the German Third Reich’s attempts to reform and unify Protestant churches within Germany. While Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazi occupation of Germany since the mid-1930s, it was not until April 1943 that he was arrested after he became involved in an operation to use foreign papers to smuggle Jewish people out of Germany via Switzerland. In April 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken to Flossenbürg concentration camp and executed on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated.
In partnership with Union Theological Seminary, International House was able to award the full cost of housing and dining for the Academic Year to three residents that embody the characteristics Dietrich Bonhoeffer displayed during the course of his life: openness to new experiences, curiosity about issues outside one’s professional field, interest in people from different backgrounds and cultures, a drive to action, and a commitment to improve society and the quality of life of others. With this award, the recipients, A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, Jasmine Goley, and Daniel Edelson, can focus on their studies and commitment to being a part of the I-House community. As a part of their award, these recipients were also tasked with creating a program for the I-House community that corresponds to their work or a cause or issue they feel deserves light.
A’Dorian Murray-Thomas is the founder and CEO of She Wins, Inc., a trauma-informed leadership academy for middle and high school-aged girls in Newark, NJ. “I think we often try to silence kids, especially young women, especially young women of color,” she said when asked what led her to founding She Wins. “Growing up, I had the total opposite of that: my mom was a teacher and social worker from Newark, NJ, and my father was an immigrant who came to this country from Guyana and became a small business owner. I was an only child, so I will say that I got away with a lot of stuff, but my parents didn’t allow me to get away without learning, and they made sure that I knew I had a voice.” She Wins, which empowers girls to “develop leadership, literacy, and self-regulatory skills through mentorship, project-based learning, and service-learning projects,” shares with girls and young women within A’Dorian’s community what she was taught by her parents, and what she believes should be taught to every young Black woman to facilitate greater societal change. “In my household, this idea that being young, being Black, being a woman was not something that made you inferior, but it was your superpower, and your job was to use your superpower to help people.”
Primarily serving girls affected by inner city violence, A’Dorian’s first-hand experience growing up in Newark, NJ, is similar to many of her mentees’ stories. “I wanted to work with young women in Newark who had also lost a loved one to gun violence. My father was murdered when I was 7 years old, while he was on his way to pay my school tuition. I wanted to create a space where other young women who shared similar stories, whether it was losing a loved one to gun violence or another traumatic experience, had a community of women and girls who could help them thrive. The work at She Wins has pushed me and everything I’ve done thus far; I’ve been able to travel not only the country, but the world, speaking to young women, youth leaders and youth organizers, trying to create space for them and others to discover and know their voices.”
A’Dorian is a fierce proponent of practicing what you preach, and, when she was hesitant to run for office in addition to her duties for She Wins, a mentee of hers reminded her, “Well, Miss A’Dorian, you encourage me to do things that scare me, so how about you take your own advice and do the same?” Shortly after in 2019, A’Dorian became the youngest woman ever elected to the Newark Board of Education at 23 years old. “In doing all of that, from the nonprofit space to the schoolboard space to empowering young people, I’ve been really thinking about how I can be further edified spiritually, academically, vocationally, and, in this work, I learned about Union and its tradition of leaders, thinkers, and advocates who have been able to find this bridge between faith and their calling on this earth.”
Through UTS, A’Dorian learned about International House and the Bonhoeffer scholarship, “with Bonhoeffer specifically, you’re talking about a young man, not much older than I am today, who literally gave his life for the work that called him, and he wasn’t even, technically, he wasn’t the person he was dying for. He wasn’t Jewish, he just knew something was fundamentally wrong with what was happening to these folks. To have the opportunity to be considered for a scholarship of a man who not only went to Union, but who also walked through these halls at I-House and gave his life to a purpose greater than his own life, felt really aligned with my own life.”
Jasmine Goley is a first-year graduate student studying Music Education at Hunter College. A classical violinist, she has had a fascination with music and sound ever since she was young. “I felt like [music] was a profound medium for self-expression. Throughout my life, I’ve found that music can be truly empowering and bring communities together.”
Growing up in a mostly Latino immigrant community as a person of half Mexican and half Irish descent, Jasmine quickly realized an issue with the schooling system in the US during her youth. “I noticed such stark inequalities in the education system early on in life, so I became motivated to become a teacher. I hope that as more people realize the profound impact schooling makes on communities, we can all make a meaningful contribution and help change the educational landscape.”
When she was still just a high school student, Jasmine met an orchestra teacher who was openly queer, a first generation American, and modeled equity in the classroom. “This was a teacher who deeply inspired me because she pushed all of her students to be more involved in the community and encouraged me to be a part of advocacy for LGBT rights.” These formative experiences not only influenced Jasmine to become a teacher, but to also prioritize human rights and social harmony.
During her bachelor’s degree, she went on to serve as an undergraduate student representative for her department and advocate for her fellow peers. She focused on disability rights, resources for international students, and LGBT issues. Her university recognized her diligent effort with scholarships that enabled her to continue studying and fostering a supportive student environment. Jasmine has also worked in her hometown to improve access to mental health services in the local immigrant community. Some of her most meaningful work involved translating for Spanish-speaking community members while they were receiving mental health treatment and legal counseling for immigration. In the present day, she holds the voices of her hometown’s immigrant community close to her heart as she infuses social justice into her work as a musician and teacher.
Part of Jasmine’s studies at Hunter include fieldwork at a high school in the Bronx. “I observe music classes and I tutor the kids in whatever subjects they need help with. It’s been moving for me to see the sense of community they have with each other, especially because it’s rare to see an environment where adolescents are so supportive of one another. The supportive temperament of the students is especially notable considering the environment they’re in – everyday they walk through heavy security with police checking their bags… Having seen the school to prison pipeline in my own experiences at school during my youth motivates me to continue fostering a more positive educational environment for students. Overall, I have learned so much from these students and this experience working with them has made me even more excited to become an educator.”
Although Jasmine is busy pursuing a master’s degree, she makes time to teach violin privately to motivated young musicians. She also has goals to further her teaching career outside of her instrument. “I am a classically trained violinist, but I hope to continue to expand my knowledge of music. A long-term goal of mine is to be able to incorporate different cultures and traditions of music into the curriculum for my future students… I am especially grateful that I-House gives me so much exposure to various instruments and musical traditions from cultures around the world. I hope to implement this into my teaching because it’s important for all students to see their own culture as worthy of being studied and practiced.”
Daniel Edelson grew up in a kibbutz in Israel to American parents, living in an “American bubble.” He spent time as a reporter for the Israel Defense Forces, but after a few years, Daniel “really wanted to get out and experience the world.” He enrolled in an International NGO that worked to send Israelis to Nepal, assisting with various projects in rural areas. After his year of service, Daniel left Nepal for China by way of Tibet to continue his journey of learning from and sharing experiences with people of all different walks of life. He recalls, “I fell in love with China because it is such a beautiful landscape with so many beautiful cultures that I hadn’t known anything about. Every day was an adventure, seeing how people think so differently than you; it was like a different world. I went to Hong Kong to renew my visa and fell in love with that region, too, and decided I wanted to call it home one day.”
After heading back to Israel to continue working as a journalist, Daniel oversaw the health section at his newspaper, but found he could not continue long-term, saying, “I would get a call in the middle of the night and have to go to the hospital to speak to a mother that just lost her son; it was very intense. I decided to follow my dream and I enrolled at Hong Kong University.” While in Hong Kong, he continued working for his Israeli newspaper as their Far East Correspondent. As part of this job, he had the opportunity to travel to North Korea and live one year in South Korea and another in Japan. One of his journalistic missions sent him back to Nepal to cover the story of the 2014 earthquake. He later wrote his debut novel about this experience, ‘The Tea House on the Death Pass’. The book received a grant from The Israel Film Fund to be adapted into a screenplay, as well as a grant from the Tel Aviv Municipality to be adapted for the stage. In 2021, ViacomCBS optioned the book for a TV series.
Living in Hong Kong was a big change, and Daniel quickly learned the best way to get to know unfamiliar cultures – their food. “In Asia, they take their food seriously. It is a way for communities to make themselves distinct and celebrate their identity and their culture. Going to these wet markets in China, I learned about their habits and holidays, and I was really fascinated with every aspect – the origin of the produce, the seeds, what they cook, how they cook it, the origin of the dishes… At these wet markets, it’s not like here in the states where you can buy one or two different types of lettuce. In China, they have so many different varieties of produce, and when you look up their names on Google Translate, you get ‘Chinese lettuce’ or ‘Chinese potatoes.’ Those, of course, aren’t the real names, and if you do want to find what it actually is, as a foreigner, the information is so scattered; it’s practically impossible to find out what you’re eating, what the nutritional value is, or how you cook or store it. A few times, I ate something fresh that I was not supposed to and got a reaction of some kind.”
“So while I was living in Hong Kong, I didn’t really have any tools to help me navigate this kind of environment, no item or food dictionary to compare with. When Apple came out with image recognition, I created a start-up, an app, for this reason. I found partners that would work on the technology side while I would work on the content, from recipes to prices to actually taking photos of the item for the algorithm to recognize it. It was a lot of work, and it was a great experience. I raised more than $2M, and, like most startups, it failed because working with the technology was quite tough.”
After living in Hong Kong for 7 years, Daniel wanted to embark on a more fulfilling journey. Although his startup wasn’t a commercial success, Daniel wasn’t ready to give up his newfound appreciation of food. He read an article in the New York Times that quoted a food anthropologist and decided to continue with both food and journalism. He is currently enrolled in his first year in NYU’s Food Studies MA program while interning at the UNDP’s Sustainable Finance Hub, working with startup and private sector partnerships, and continues to work for ynetnews in Israel.