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About CBE

Founded in 1970, The Center for the Church and the Black Experience (CBE) is committed to empowering and training persons to be prophetic "leaders of leaders" for the African American religious community and society-at-large.

As part of its academic mission, CBE offers the seminary and the broader community opportunities for understanding Christian faith via interracial and cross-cultural perspectives.  It also seeks to facilitate greater understanding of religious leadership dynamics, organizational change, and public outreach and witness of black churches in relation to the broader religious and social context.  Black faculty members and other scholars operating through CBE provide research, mentoring, and training via classroom teaching, publishing, seminars, workshops, and consultation to churches, community agencies, and the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary community.

Courses taught by CBE faculty are open to all students and are designed to be fully integrated into the overall curriculum of the seminary. CBE recognizes a responsibility to highlight the richness of the African American religious experience while at the same time enabling students, and church leaders in general, to maximize their broader theological learning and equip themselves for effective professional leadership in increasingly multi-cultural ministry contexts.

Further, given the seminary's commitment to recruit students of African descent, there is need for CBE as a space of hospitality and of educational support, pastoral consultation, solace, and re-affirmation of the personhood of people of color.

About the Director

Angela Cowser
Director of the Center for the Church and the Black Experience 
and Assistant Professor of Sociology

Beginning October 2012, Angela Cowser was appointed assistant professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Church and the Black Experience (CBE). Dr. Cowser will concentrate on building a strong financial and programmatic foundation for CBE. An experienced fundraiser, Cowser has previously worked with The Industrial Areas Foundation, a national community organizing network; The Fund for Theological Education; and Lilly Endowment, and will aim to leverage these strengths on CBE’s behalf. Partnering with the CBE faculty at Garrett-Evangelical, Cowser will continue to explore relevant issues for the Black church and our communities. “My aim in directing CBE will be to find joyful and creative ways of working toward justice. CBE is a great vehicle to show faithfulness to Jesus. Whether it is fundraising, teaching, or building programs, it is all about expressing faithfulness to Jesus by working toward justice.” 

“I am extremely excited to welcome Angela to Garrett- Evangelical,” stated President Philip Amerson. “Her vision for CBE is inspiring, and we all are anxious to see her successes in the coming years. Her remarkable gifts as director will be a great compliment to her instruction in the classroom.” Having recently completed her dissertation at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Cowser will also serve as assistant professor of sociology. “Teaching at Garrett-Evangelical and directing CBE is a great vocational opportunity for me,” said Cowser. “I am excited to join such a distinguished faculty and look forward to working with them.”

Dr. Cowser received her bachelor of arts in political science in 1982, a master of arts in international relations from The University of Chicago in 1988, and a master of divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2006. She completed her doctor of philosophy in ethics and society in May of 2012 from the graduate department of religion at Vanderbilt University. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships, honors and awards including most recently, the William J. Fulbright Foreign Scholarship in 2009 and The Fund for Theological Education Doctoral Fellowship in 2006 through 2008. 

CBE Faculty

Cheryl Anderson
Associate Professor of Old Testament 
Reginald Blount
Associate Professor of Formation, Youth, and Culture
Gennifer Brooks
Ernest and Bernice Styberg Associate Professor of Homiletics
Angela Cowser
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Larry Murphy
Professor of the History of Christianity
Stephen G. Ray, Jr.
Neal F. and Ila A. Fisher Professor of Systematic Theology 


CBE Board of Visitors

Paula Banks is an experienced Change Agent and Human Resource professional with documented successes in organizational, communication and problem solving.  She has led numerous strategic operating, merchandising, diversity and inclusion planning initiatives, and has held numerous senior leadership positions at industry-leading corporations, Sears, Amoco, BP, and PepsiCo.  Her experience is complimented by more than thirty years of non-profit volunteer work and fundraising.

Beverly Calender-Anderson has over 20 years experience in not-for-profit fund development, public relations and volunteer management.  She currently serves as Safe and Civil City Director for the City of Bloomington, Indiana.  A lay member in the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, Beverly serves on the Indiana Conference Transition Committee. Beverly holds a B.A. in Human Relations (sociology, psychology and anthropology) from Judson University, Elgin, IL and an M.A. in Criminal Justice from DePaul University.

Mark Andrew Dennis, Jr. is the Senior Pastor of the historic Second Baptist Church of Evanston. Previously he served as: President, The Alford Group (a national consulting firm to the not-for-profit sector); Interim Director, University Development, Howard University; Assistant Professor, Pastoral Theology and Associate Dean for Development/Institutional Advancement, Howard University School of Divinity; Associate Pastor, Third Street Church of God; and Instructor, Music Theory and Composition, Bowling Green State University.  He is a graduate of several institutions of higher education:  (B.A., Morehouse College '71; M.A., Bowling Green State University, '73; M.Div., Howard University School of Divinity '80; and (A.B.D.), University of Maryland.

Nazim B. Fakir is the Senior Pastor at Celia Gregg African Methodist Episcopal Church in Calumet City, IL.  Originally from Detroit, he graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy summa cum laude with a B.S. in Business Administration and earned an M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  At Garrett-Evangelical, he served as a member of the Student Council, a student member of the Board of Trustees, and as Student Coordinator of the Center for the Church and the Black Experience.  He previously served as Vice President of Marketing and Community Relations with a Mortgage firm in Detroit he founded with three colleagues.

Trunell D. Felder is the Senior Pastor of New Faith Baptist Church International in Matteson, Illinois, a thriving worship center with over 6,300 members, and eight churches and two Christian schools in Ghana, West Africa. He earned a B.A. in Marketing from Michigan State University and an M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University with a concentration in Pastoral Care in May of 1993.  In 2000, he graduated summa cum laude from the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta, Georgia with a D.Min.  His thesis was entitled, "An Inward - Outward Journey: A Paradigm for the Spiritual Formation of the African American Male Disciple."

Walter Earl Fluker (Chair) is executive director of the Leadership Center at Morehouse College, Coca-Cola Professor of Leadership Studies and Professor of Philosophy and Religion.  He was recently appointed as Interim Director of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, a 10,000-piece collection of handwritten notes and unpublished sermons.  He also serves as director and senior editor of a multi-volume series entitled, The Sound of the Genuine: The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman. His publications include Ethical Leadership: the Quest for Character, Civility and Community (2009)The Stones that the Builders Rejected: Essays on Ethical Leadership from the Black Church Tradition; co-editor with Preston King of Black Leaders and Ideologies in the South: Resistance and Non-Violence; co-editor with Catherine Tumber of A Strange Freedom: The Best of Howard Thurman on Religious Experience and Public Life. Dr. Fluker has held academic positions at Vanderbilt University, Harvard College, Dillard University, and Colgate-Rochester Divinity School. He holds a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from Boston University, an M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and a B.A. in philosophy and biblical studies from Trinity College.

Jon McCoy has been the Senior Pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Chicago, IL since 2004.  He is a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Clinical/Community Psychology and an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Jackson State University in Jackson, MS.  He is particularly interested in the role of the church as a critical institution in the community that provides opportunities for the transmission of spiritual, academic, vocational, and familial values.

Sharon Zimmerman Rader is the Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church and Bishop in Residence at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She is the retired Episcopal leader of the Wisconsin Annual Conference. Prior to her election to the episcopacy, Bishop Rader served as the District Superintendent of the West Michigan Annual Conference, having previously served pastorates in Battle Creek, MI, East Lansing, MI, and Chicago, IL. She received a B.A. from North Central College, an M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and pursued additional graduate studies at the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Pier C. Rogers is Director of the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University where she also teaches in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management.  Prior to her 2007 appointment at North Park, she served as the Associate Executive Director of the New York City Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.  She has also served as an Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Management at the New School University in New York City, an Associate Research Scholar and Lecturer at Yale University's Divinity School and Program on Non-Profit Organizations, and has held management positions in organizations including United Way of Massachusetts Bay, Associated Black Charities, and New York University.  She received her Ph.D. in public administration from New York University's Wagner School of Public Service, an M.A. in African American Studies, an M.S.S.S. in social work from Boston University, and a B.A. in philosophy and political science from Wellesley College.

Tracy Smith Malone is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and has served as Senior Pastor of the Gary UMC in Wheaton, Illinois since 1989.  Having also served in several other parishes including Wesley UMC in Aurora and Southlawn UMC in Chicago, her ministry has been shaped through her relationships with people of diverse backgrounds and her involvement with missions around the world.  She serves additionally as Adjunct Professor at Aurora University and Northern Seminary.  She holds a D.Min. from United Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical, and a B.A. from North Central College. 

Rosalyn D. Wesley joined Fortune Brands in September, 2002, and is responsible for developing and delivering strategic initiatives and solutions in all areas of Human Resources.  Prior to this, she was with Motorola for thirteen years, functioning mostly with global operating divisions providing Human Resources solutions and strategies in the areas of Organizational Effectiveness, Leadership Development, Recruitment and Selection, and Employee Relations and Wellness. Throughout her career, and currently at Fortune Brands, Rosalyn has also been responsible for developing and implementing global diversity strategies which include work/life initiatives, launching networks and affinity groups, and other diversity strategies. Rosalyn has also held Human Resources roles with Kraft General Foods, Nicor, Inc., Gould Electronics, ImCera Group and United Airlines. She has had numerous articles published, has appeared on television with noted national and local anchors,  discussing workforce and workplace issues, is a much sought-after lecturer, keynote speaker and workshop leader, and has won several awards, two from U. S. Presidents for her work launching creative labor and workforce initiatives. She holds a B. A. from Knoxville College and has graduated from numerous executive development programs.

Ex-officio Members:

Dr. Lallene J. Rector, Garrett-Evangelical President
Dr. Luis Rivera, Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dr. Reginald Blount, faculty
Dr. Larry Murphy, faculty
Dr. Stephen Ray, faculty
Rev. Michele Watkins Branch, Ph.D. Student

Past CBE Directors

Bishop Edsel Ammons
CBE Founding Faculty Member, G-ETS Faculty

"Garrett's black faculty and students have not conceived of nor designed a plan for creating two racially distinct communities within the seminary. Our concern, consistent with the faith which roots in the gospel, is to prompt, to prod, to engage us all in a uniquely different approach to the shared goals of an inclusive community. To call it by another name, what we seek is a healthy and legitimate cultural pluralism which allows for a black presence at Garrett which is not defined (and thus delimited) by whites and which confirms the justice of group equality and not simply individual equality. The goal is not new. What is new --and very likely the focus of much, if not most, of the anxiety now felt - is the initiative of black faculty and black students who insist that the goal must begin to become a reality in the life of the school, that the old definition of community in Garrett is invalid and deserves to be discarded, and that the structures of valid community can emerge only out of the agonies we are experiencing" (1971). 


Dr. Hycel B. Taylor
First CBE Director

"It is my opinion that if Garrett is to make a significant contribution toward the resolution of race problems in its life and that of the larger world, it must not merely recognize and speculate about the evident racial attitudes and actions of it constituents. The critical task for Garrett is to deliberately, systematically, and creatively work to make of its own life a microcosm of the kind of world of racial interaction which Christian faith demands at this point in history."


Dr. Carl H. Marbury
G-ETS Academic Dean
Late 1970s

"It would appear to me that Black religious groups and/or Black churches should be in the vanguard of society as we are compelled to consider new exigencies for the twenty-first century. After all, Blacks have had more existential experience at adapting to hard realities than anyone else in this country. . . . Black theologians, preachers and Black leaders in general must take the lead in making a commitment to the quality of life, to humaneness, and to human welfare" (1980).


Dr. Philip A. Harley
CBE Director
Late 1970s

"The decade of the ‘80s is opening before us, and CBE faces probably its greatest challenge since its birth at G-ETS. It looms as a time of crisis. One may perceive that the world, our country, is seemingly disintegrating before our eyes. Crimes of violence against hopeless victims (poor and defenseless), growing hunger in the midst of plenty, decaying cities, schools failing in their mission and in an arrogant and contemptuous manner turning out functional illiterates, rising costs and inflation reflecting an oppressive and runaway economy, creeping malaise of moral sickness and ethical irresponsibility-all these are signs of a troubled age and a despairing and hopeless people. . . . Who is to address the eschatological questions voiced by an angry GOD who hears the cries of His people and would save them?" (1980)


Dr. Larry Murphy
CBE Director
Early 1990s

"The major impact (of CBE) was the integration of the black experience into the life and learning of the seminary as part of the normative force of human life. The goal was not to set aside a program for African-Americans, but to integrate it into the everyday seminary experience and provide a distinct enrichment for all members of the Garrett-Evangelical community" (1990).


Dr. Linda Thomas
CBE Director
Late 1990s

"In 1997, when I arrived at Garrett to teach theology and anthropology and direct the Center for the Church and the Black Experience (CBE), I knew I entered an institution that had a checkered history in relation to African Americans. CBE developed out of African Americans' struggle to have a voice and intellectual space in the institution. James H. Cone, the first African American to graduate with a Ph.D. from Garrett/Northwestern Graduate School, experienced explicit incidents of racism there. . . . Thus, in my second year, I decided that CBE would invite James H. Cone back to his alma mater (for a conference) to honor him and to examine the future of black theology (2003).


Dr. Jeffrey L. Tribble, Sr.
CBE Director
Early 2000s

"Dr. King warns us to continue to fight against America's interrelated structural flaws of racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. Unfortunately, this prophetic challenge rings all too true today. . . . These are ethical issues that we do not have the luxury of simply thinking about and going to sleep. These are important issues that result in life and death, inclusion and exclusion, enlarged freedoms or restrictions of freedoms" (2003).


Dr. Reginald Blount
CBE Interim Director

"The African American Experience continually evolves and the Black Church finds herself continually seeking understanding about how to effectively minister in the midst of ever-changing currents. CBE is well positioned to bring attention to the changing dynamics of the African American experience and is further positioned to empower and equip emerging leaders to provide prophetic and transformative leadership to 21st century needs."


Dr. R. Drew Smith
CBE Director

"The public leadership of black Christianity, and of liberal mainline Christianity, both gains and loses momentum with the election of Barack Obama as President. It gains momentum from the fact that we have not before had an American President who so clearly personifies Civil Rights Movement ideals related to racial equality, human rights, poverty alleviation, and Biblical faith as a resource for liberal social activism. On the other hand, it loses momentum because people concerned with the relation between political life and Christian faith look not to official church leaders but, rather, to a U.S. President who, while shaped by faith and traditions of black church activism, is accountable and beholden to forces that may run counter to convictions held by many progressive Christians. Black church leaders have a strategic role to play in maintaining the independence and the incisiveness of the church's theological critique of society-especially when that critique runs counter to the positioning of a President admired so greatly by those of us who are social progressives" (2009).