Dr. Zaria Davis Named CHHSM’s New Rev. Jerry Paul Scholar

CHHSM Scholar Zaria Davis

The UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) has named Dr. Zaria Davis, a student at UCC-related Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo., as its new Rev. Jerry Paul Scholar.

“I am excited to welcome Zaria Davis as this year’s Jerry Paul Scholar,” said Jamar Doyle, president and CEO of CHHSM. “Zaria brings a wealth experience to CHHSM, particularly at the intersection of criminal justice reform, social justice, and health equity. Her diverse skill set and knowledge base will undoubtedly benefit CHHSM, and Zaria has expressed an equal level of excitement at the opportunity to engage with our agencies in deep, meaningful ways — a true mutually beneficial learning experience.”

Davis will complete her M.Div. degree in late 2023. In addition to attending seminary, she is the senior consultant with New Direction Coaching & Consulting, LLC, working with nonprofit organizations. She has had a specific focus on people impacted by the criminal legal system. Zaria also has served as director of advocacy for the Chicago Community Bond Fund, addressing pretrial justice issues in Illinois and supervising the advocacy team and interns.

“I have always had a heart for serving others. My life experiences and educational background all aligned with me in a role of service within health and human services. As someone with a social work background, when I was called, I knew the direction was in a space to heal and address trauma,” said Davis. “When I entered seminary … often there is a focus on pastoring, and I knew that wasn’t my call. When I saw [CHHSM and the Jerry Paul Scholar Program], I said to myself, ‘I have found my people.’ This organization and program are directly aligned with what I have been called to do!”

The Rev. Jerry Paul Scholar Program — named for an honored CHHSM leader who embodied the notion of serving leadership — was created specifically for seminary students who are interested in learning more about ministry in a faith-based health and human service nonprofit organization. Scholars are able to engage with leaders in CHHSM organizations, attend CHHSM Board of Director meetings and its Annual Gathering, and craft their time with CHHSM and possible career paths through monthly conversations with CHHSM staff. Previous CHHSM Scholars also have participated in CHHSM’s Nollau Leadership Institute, which helps participants explore how the role of being a serving leader is played out in their personal and professional lives.

“Zaria Davis brings many years of health and human service experience to CHHSM, as well as a deep-seated faith that has made her committed to liberation,” said the Rev. George Graham, vice president of CHHSM. “I know that CHHSM will benefit greatly from her work in advocacy for individuals and for systems change, and I will be excited to see how her year as the Jerry W. Paul Scholar shapes the trajectory of the leadership she offers.”

Davis said she is excited about all she will be able to learn as the Jerry Paul Scholar. “I am excited to engage with the various organizations and professionals in this space,” she said. “I believe that I have a lot that I can learn in this environment. I also know that I have skills and talents that I can contribute to CHHSM. This experience … will allow me to connect, assist in developing opportunities to support the members, and grow in my seminary and ministry journey.”

Prior to her work with the Chicago Community Bail Fund, Davis worked with the Pretrial Justice Institute, providing local, statewide, and national training on the criminal legal system from a racial equity perspective. She said she is looking forward to both her continuing seminary studies and her time working with CHHSM members. The mission of CHHSM, focused on “a just, caring, and compassionate world,” resonated with her.

“As someone who is newer to the UCC — joining my church several years ago — I have consistently seen how the church, and now CHHSM, is aligned with my interest in healing and addressing trauma for those who are working in the helping professions,” said Davis. “I believe that I still have a lot to learn about both the UCC and CHHSM. My goal is to grow my leadership so that I am able to support the work of professionals and organizations. I think that my theology will continue to expand, and my call will become more vivid and clear for me.”

CHHSM began the search for a new CHHSM Scholar following the completion of Essence Ellis’ year as UCC Fellow for CHHSM and Justice Local Church Ministries earlier this year. After a rigorous search, Davis was chosen as the new Jerry Paul Scholar.

Davis earned a B.A. degree in Sociology from Wilberforce (Ohio) University, and a M.S.W. degree from the University of Cincinnati, where she was a Joe Hall Scholar and an Albert C. Yates Scholar. She earned a D.S.W. degree with honors from Capella University. Her dissertation was “Can you see what they see: An adolescent perspective of dating practices.”

“I am not only honored but humbled to have Dr. Zaria Davis as our next CHHSM Scholar. Her impressive professional experience, education, and accomplishments made her application materials stand out, and her grounded presence, insightfulness, passion, and collaborative spirit blew us all away during the interview process,” said the Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry, CHHSM’s associate for advocacy and leadership development. “She truly embodies the mission, vision, and values of CHHSM, and so it is easy to see how her time as scholar could blossom into shared learning, collaboration, and camaraderie in the work for healing and justice. She has a contagious passion for caring for those on the front lines. I can’t wait to see how her year and our relationship with her unfolds.”

Davis added that being selected as CHHSM Scholar has been personally validating. “I feel truly blessed and honored to have been selected,” she said. “I have faced a lot of adversity, much of it from a place of judgment. To have been selected because people were able to not only see who I am, but also who God has called me to be; to be willing to invest in me as a student and leader — it means the world to me. I am grateful for this opportunity, and am really looking forward to my time with CHHSM.”

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