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Meet Maria Salazar

This was the only place where I could bring my whole self: the logical mind of my academic life, and the leadership from the heart I utilized in community organizing. That experience triggered a line of questioning: How do I combine my deep love for organizing and my faith? How do we do community organizing out of love and not just anger?

Maria Alejandra Salazar is a first year Master of Divinity student at Garrett-Evangelical, having graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Social Policy and Education with a Minor in Latina/o studies. Born in Lima, Peru, Maria Alejandra considers herself a one-and-a-half generation immigrant, meaning she was not born in the United States, but she spent her formative years in the United States. A community organizer and advocate for immigrants, she worked to pass the Illinois DREAM Act, legislation designed to make scholarships, college savings, and prepaid tuition programs available to undocumented students who graduated from Illinois high schools. Maria Alejandra also worked to expand immigrant access to Temporary Visitor Driver’s Licenses, in order to increase the number of immigrants driving with insurance, and to decrease the risk of being deported for minor infractions of driving without a license or without insurance.

Why did you choose Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary?

“I was raised in the Catholic Church, but began to question my faith when I moved to the United States. When I became involved in community organizing, I knew that churches were the places that I could get numbers to support my organizing efforts. Going to churches became part of my job. There was a tension in my mind between faith and acting for justice, but sitting in protestant, suburban church services, the message from the pulpit began to sink in: organizing is an act of faith, justice is an act of care.

“In April, I attended an event through the Hispanic/Latino Center at Garrett-Evangelical, which was a deeply moving experience. This was the only place where I could bring my whole self: the logical mind of my academic life, and the leadership from the heart I utilized in community organizing. That experience triggered a line of questioning; ‘How do I combine my deep love for organizing and my faith?’ ‘How do we do community organizing out of love and not just anger?’”

What has surprised you about theological education at Garrett-Evangelical?

“At Garrett-Evangelical, we pray with our feet. As Cornell West writes, ‘justice is what love looks like in public.’ Of all organizations I have worked with, Garrett-Evangelical is the only one who showed up to stand with the people at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I was able to travel with Dr. Tim Eberhart and a group of students to the Oceti Sakowin camp when the tribal leaders called for clergy of all faiths to join them. What I experienced there was a radical kind of forgiveness practiced by the people at Standing Rock, people who have suffered for 500 years. I have to at least try to do the same. 

“Garrett-Evangelical is the place to put together things you didn’t think fit together before. Particularly in courses like Vocational Formation and Christian Leadership, I am given the opportunity to reflect and connect all that I learn in my other courses. I couldn’t know what a unique skillset a seminary education at Garrett-Evangelical would offer me. I know that my time here will equip me to make more significant change than the ‘short, winnable campaigns’ which community organizing has long pursued. My education will equip me to carry out transformative organizing, where the organizers, faith-based organizations, and the wider community are healed and transformed by the process itself; where all are empowered to employ radical imagination and courageous hope in order to manifest the reign of God on earth.”