Interfaith Matters

From Foster Care to Activism: Onleilove Alston on Improving Life in “The Most Spiritual City in America”

September 19, 2017

Host Maggi Van Dorn (left) with Onleilove Alston

Our Guest: 

This time on “Interfaith Matters,” host Maggi Van Dorn talks with Onleilove Alston, executive director of Faith in New York, an affiliate of the PICO National Network, committed to the work of justice and faith-rooted community organizing.  Onleilove knows the vital importance of this work more intimately than most: as a child, Onleilove experienced homelessness, shelters and foster care before she was ten years old.  Today, she is a contributing writer and board member of Sojourners magazine, and founder of “Prophetic Whirlwind,” an organization – and forthcoming book – about the Black presence in the Bible. Onleilove will be one of the experts working with faith leaders at ICNY’s upcoming “Interfaith Civic Leadership Academy.”

Podcast Highlights:

On her conversion experience and the call to work on behalf of social justice causes: “Encountering a God of the orphan and the widow was empowering because I was an orphan.  Reading about a God who preached good news to the poor was good news to me because I was poor.  And I began to think I could do something to change my community and to help other young people like myself.”

On faith-based advocacy: “[It is] harnessing the power of faith communities to make a difference in public life – to bring a moral imperative to public life. It’s a moral travesty that families are going to sleep homeless every night.”

On spirituality in NYC: “The Bible Belt may be the most Christian-active part of the country, but as far as spiritual activity of any faith, New York City is actually the most spiritual place in America. If just 10% of those people who are spiritual were infused in public life to support progressive policies, we could change this city.”

Three things faith leaders stand to gain from attending the Interfaith Civic Leadership Academy: “One, to build relationships with like-minded faith leaders. Two, to build relationships with organizations doing [social justice] work. And three, to gain strategic tools they can use to change conditions in our city.” 

On how faith leaders can avoid burnout while responding to the political crises that come up seemingly every day: “Discern the one, two or three issues you’re going to work on, so that when things happen, that guides you, and share the burden, with people in your congregation, with other partners, so you are not overwhelmed.”




This episode of Interfaith Matters is underwritten by One Spirit Learning Alliance – an interfaith learning institute that trains spiritual leaders and offers workshops for the public to spark personal transformation. More information is at, where our listeners can find a free download of one of their teachings, “The Life We Are Called to Live.”


Beginning in November 2017, ICNY will sponsor 20 faith community leaders to participate in evening training workshops on a bi-monthly basis in civic engagement, legal literacy, and community organizing. These workshops will be led by expert partners including: The Center for Court Innovation, Faith in New York, The Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, CUNY CLEAR as well as the NYPD.

Individual participants will each receive a $1,000 stipend + seed funding for community projects.

The application deadline is October 2, 2017

Program details and application info is available at

For more info, email Iman Boukadoum or call 212.870.3515.


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