Interfaith Civic Leadership Academy
2021 – 2022 Fellows
We are excited to work with an extraordinary group of NYC religious leaders in the 2021-2022 Interfaith Civic Leadership Academy.
Alyssa Abernathy was born and raised in Queens and currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. Alyssa received a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from The College of New Rochelle School of New Resources. She also attended and graduated from Long Island University (Brooklyn) campus, where she obtained a master’s degree in Social Work. Alyssa is currently employed as a social worker with an organization in which she serves the homeless population. Alyssa also served as a youth leader in ministry and various other positions in ministry, providing faith, unity, and love. Alyssa Abernathy founded the 501 ©3 nonprofit organization, the Life Equip Group Inc.
Reverend Antoinnette Renita Donegan is a southern-born transplant resident of Staten Island. Antoinnette loves the work she does in her position as the Community Coordinator for the Central Family Life Center located in the Stapleton area of Staten Island and the Clergy Liaison between two local police precincts. She loves her True 2 Life team which is the cure violence program. She believes that young adults must be seen through the lens of hope, love, and compassion and not their circumstances. Her passion has been recognized with numerous civic and community awards. She is a recipient of the citizen’s police academy training, people’s police academy, and chaplaincy task force.
Christopher Belden is a current sophomore at Manhattan College triple majoring in economics, history, and peace studies with a concentration in environmental economics. He is currently working as the student assistant to the director at the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Educational Center (HGI) located at Manhattan College. As assistant to the director, he works with multiple campus organizations and clubs to organize various events throughout the year to not only educate the Manhattan College community but to also acknowledge the concerns the students have with ongoing events in society. He places great emphasis on community outreach and social justice having been raised on the value of giving back to those in need.
Daniel Leyva is the Program Director of the Latino Religious Leadership Program, an initiative of the Latino Commission on AIDS. For the last 27 years, he has been bringing health education and promotion in Spanish and English for underserved Latino congregations in faith-based setting in New York. In this role, Daniel has worked with his team to elevate the capacity and readiness for communities of faith to provide testing, referrals, and access to care for the most vulnerable communities in NYC. Daniel has also worked as Capacity Building Specialist under the CDC’s Diffusion of Effective Behavioral program and as Programme Support Officer for Latinamerica and the Caribbean at the United Nations Development Program in New York City. He is a graduate of the Pastoral Care and Counseling Program at Blanton Peale Institute in New York City. He holds a degree in Business from the City University of New York. Daniel is passionate about working to build bridges of cooperation between communities of faith and LGBTQI+ serving groups and organizations. The body of his works focuses on the impact of stigma, discrimination, and prejudice that negatively impacts health outcomes. He is a proud Episcopalian married to John Hatchett.
Danielle Williams-Thiam has a passion for empowering diverse religious communities with tools to live out their values through social action. She currently serves as a Community Educator with CONNECT NYC, where she collaborates with diverse faith communities to create and strengthen their response to gender and family violence. Danielle also supports Daughters for Justice NYC in their advocacy efforts to prevent community gun violence. Previously, Danielle was a faith-based community organizer for the Live Free campaign at Sacramento Area Congregations Together, organizing to end police brutality, mass incarceration, and intra-communal violence. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary.
John Ducksworth was born in Harlem and attended the NYC Public School system. Currently completing his Doctorate of Ministry degree at New York Theological Seminary as well as having a master’s degree in Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. As an officer in The Salvation Army rising to the rank of Captain he has served in various capacities throughout the Northeast and New England states. He has provided leadership to Court based programs, Community Corrections, probation and juvenile justice agencies, private corrections corporations, and social services agencies. His various roles have expanded from experiential to providing direct service, to middle and senior management positions, to government agency Executive Team. He is a licensed trainer and facilitator of Restorative Justice Principles and Practices. Currently the Metropolitan New York Area Coordinator for the national multi-faith campaign Ending Mass Incarceration (EMI). He has been published and is married to Joan and they have two daughters ages fifteen and eleven years old.
Jaiwantie Lakhnath, is a native of Guyana, living in New York. She comes from a deep-rooted Arya Samaj/Hindu family and is a staunch believer in the Vedic Dharma. A committed Arya Samaj/Hindu volunteer with a missionary spirit. As an education professional, mother, and grandmother, she takes a deep interest in imparting Vedic/Cultural Education in younger ones towards their goal of becoming a true human being. For 30 years, she has successfully directed the Arya Vir Dal Camps in Arya Spiritual Center, Queens New York, and the Arya Samaj/Hindu community in Guyana. She has helped establish the youth forum platform at Arya Spiritual Center. She is the current President of the United Arya Samaj Federation and as the Past President of Arya Spiritual and vows to relentlessly work to achieve the goals of Making the Universe Noble- Krinvanto Vishwam Aaryam.
Kristina Lopez (she/they) is an artist, death doula, meditation teacher, and Buddhist practitioner. Her practice is informed by an intersectional lens dedicated to collective liberation. She created Liberating Death in 2021 as a death-positive education resource and end-of-life planning service for New Yorkers. As a death doula Kristina aims to bring more mindful awareness of death so that we may all live with less fear of the unknown. She is a second-generation Caribbean American born and raised on Lenape land in NYC.
Mahtab Khan is an activist from Queens, NY. In 2019, he graduated from CUNY John Jay College with double majors in Political Science and Criminal Justice with double minors in Law and Human Rights. Since then, he has been preparing to go to law school. In 2020, he was a Delegate and organizer for presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. He also ran for District Leader with his team the “NY AD 24 Democratic Slate”. Now he is the Secretary of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, where he helps mobilize the Muslim community here in NY to become more civically engaged and informed about local elections.
Marianne Montero was born and raised in New York City and has been active in churches with a commitment to social justice during most of her adult life. The first church that she joined was The Riverside Church. She comes from a family of activists, as both her parents were activists working for equality, working against racism and discrimination, and nuclear disarmament two generations ago. She has a degree in Education and has attended New York Theological Seminary. One of her internships for her seminary degree was working with the Minister for Social Justice at Riverside Church. Most recently, she has been a member of Riverdale Presbyterian Church in the Bronx. Riverdale is becoming increasingly diverse, and I believe there are ways that the various faith communities can come together to work collaboratively on issues that affect us all.
Mark Levy is a lifelong New Yorker who’s lived in three of the five boroughs while working varied careers in the non-profit, public, and small business sectors. He grew up in The Bronx and Upper West Side and lived in Park Slope, Ditmas Park, and is currently in Madison Square with his wife Alisa Brot. He graduated from SUNY New Paltz. In the non-profit world, he worked as a tenant organizer, a low-income housing manager for 2 CBOs: Manhattan Valley and Flatbush Development COs. In the public sector, he was a senior construction, facilities, and property management positions with 4 city agencies including HPD, DHS, and DCAS. He oversaw the management of thousands of City-owned residential properties in Brooklyn and Queens supervised maintenance and construction for the City’s homeless shelters, ran historic preservation and handicap accessibility projects for the City’s historic courthouses, and damage assessment at Ground Zero after the attacks of 9/11. He retired from the city in 2002 to start a family tour guide business with my 3 sons The Levys’ Unique New York.
Venerable Miaochu Shih is a Monastic nun of International Buddhist Progress Society, following Venerable Master Hsin Yung, the founder of the Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Order and fully ordinated in 1996 at Taiwan Headquarter. She has two years of learning meditation at Meditation Hall. She has been working with colleges promoting Humanist Buddhism since then. She was Advising Venerable for Scouts, youth groups and served as Director for Dallas Buddha’s Light Private School for years. Active Steering Board member of Richardson Interfaith Alliance at Dallas, Texas. Transfer back to New York International Buddhist Progress Society December 2021.
Hajj Mohamed Amen was born in Ismailia, Egypt. He graduated from the law school of Cairo University and worked as a lawyer in Egypt for two years. He came to the US in 1996 and settled in Manhattan. He began his career in the US as an English-Arabic Interpreter for special projects with TransPerfect Translation and law firms Strook & Laven and Davis Polk & Wardwell. Mohamed joined the New York City Police Department in 2007. After quickly excelling, he was transferred to the elite unit of Transit Manhattan Task Force in 2009. In 2011, he joined the Community Affairs Bureau, where he conducted outreach to houses of worship, senior centers, hospitals, and youth centers using his language skills and background as a tool to build bridges between the different communities of NYC and the Police Department. In August 2015, Mohamed joined the Clergy Outreach Unit focusing on developing relationships between various houses of worship and the Police Department, inclusive of all religions and denominations. Detective Amen’s work with the community helped identify and link community leaders, and community-based organizations, which helped strengthen community ties, and establish a contact list for the NYPD. Additionally, Mohamed is the Arab Muslim Liaison to the Police department. Mohamed is committed to strengthening ties between all communities in New York City with the NYPD.
Ryan Hill Ryan Hill of Richmond, VA has been a creative, analytical lover of humankind. Having a career in finance exceeding 15 years, he now plans to integrate the physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial into a practice offering holistic services to the disenfranchised. He has been working with LGBT populations performing justice and restorative work since 2018. Currently, he is a board member of LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent and volunteers as a faith leader with Equality New York advocating for policies that benefit Black and Brown LGBT communities. A lover of music, art, and the human spirit, Ryan desires to implement the arts and spirituality in every aspect of life fostering an environment where people can heal.
Sahar Alsahlani has been on the interfaith scene in NYC for over six years, in myriad roles that promote interfaith social justice. She is a member of the Community of Living Traditions, an intentional multi-faith community, and co-chair of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the country’s oldest interfaith organization geared toward peace and non-violence. She is also on the board of Religions for Peace, USA, a United Nations-affiliated NGO; a fellow at Greenfaith, an interfaith environmental network; and a board member of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). She perceives her work as a way to encourage civic engagement with people from different backgrounds in the five boroughs. She has been involved in justice activism as a representative of CAIR and the broader Muslim community, including environmental justice causes, such as Standing Rock, and racial justice causes, such as Ferguson and Charlottesville.