Graduate Student, Educational Equity Leader Selected for Pahara Institute Fellowship

Marilyn Rhames
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Marilyn Rhames

Graduate student Marilyn Rhames has been selected for a Pahara Institute Fellowship, a program that brings together leaders in educational excellence and equity, especially those serving low-income children and communities.

Rhames came to the U of A to research "at the intersection of faith, race and education" under her faculty adviser, professor Patrick Wolf, in the Department of Education Reform. An author and speaker, Rhames leverages tenets of Christianity to advocate for policies that promote educational justice for children and families living in fragile communities.

In 2011, Rhames founded Teachers Who Pray, a nonprofit with more than 140 school-based chapters in America. She has delivered two TEDx talks, including "Why Faith Will Fix Education." An education consultant with clients in the philanthropy, government and nonprofit sectors, Rhames served on the design team of Harvard University's Leadership Institute of Faith and Education. Her book, The Master Teacher: 12 Spiritual Lessons That Can Transform Schools and Revolutionize Public Education serves as a course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"I worked as a New York City journalist for seven years, but after covering the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I felt called to become a teacher," she said. "I returned to my hometown of Chicago and began teaching in 2003."

Rhames said she quickly realized that teaching was the "hardest, most consequential job" she had ever done. Chicago Public Schools were losing 25 to 30 students a year to street violence. Her students were coming to class with severe academic, social and emotional needs.

"As a Christian, I knew that the job was bigger than I could do alone, so I began praying with other teachers at my school for help and hope," she said. "We needed inspiration and spiritual support to bring our best selves to work every day."

She started Teachers Who Pray to let educators of faith know that prayer before or after school or on a duty-free lunch break is legal. Her 2018 TEDx talk, "Why Faith Will Fix Education," focused on teaching as a spiritual endeavor.

"In fact, the act of teaching is divine, but teachers are human," she said.

Rhames earned a bachelor's degree in English from Dominican University, a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a master's degree in education from National Louis University. She expects to complete her Ph.D. in education policy at the U of A in May 2024.

Rhames is among 23 new Pahara Fellows who were purposely selected from different ethnicities, ideologies, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds to explore racial justice concepts in education together.

"We are encouraged to bring our full selves into the Pahara space and have brave conversations about how to best advance racial equity in K-12 schools," she said.


Shannon G. Magsam, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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