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Hartford International University has announced the appointment of three preeminent Black Church scholars  to its faculty. With the leadership of Dr. Walter Earl Fluker, Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, and Dr. Cleotha Robertson, HIU’s Howard Thurman Center is becoming a national leader in the field of Black church studies and its intersection with social justice. The Center’s mandate is to educate and enable Black pastors and lay leaders to lead their communities and guide their congregations toward greater equity and engagement in the public square.

In addition to teaching, the three will take on key leadership roles at Hartford International’s Howard Thurman Center for Justice and Transformational Ministry. Dr. Robertson will be the center’s Director.

The Howard Thurman Center, which launched earlier this year, is named after a national icon who promoted the idea that out of religious faith emerges social responsibility. The Center is the home of the Black Ministries Program, which began in 1982, and the recently launched John Lewis Institute for Public Leadership, as well as other initiatives.

In 2023, the Thurman Center will undertake a Faithful Healing Fellowship to address the twin deep traumas of racism and Covid. The John Lewis Institute will be training community activists in the democratic process and civic engagement. These initiatives are funded with the generous support of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the J. Walton Bissell Foundation, and the Connecticut Health Foundation.

“The time is ripe,” said President Joel N. Lohr. “Now is the moment for which we have all been waiting. The new Howard Thurman Center at HIU is an ambitious idea coming to fruition, a place of learning, justice, and transformation. It’s hard to imagine — and I mean this — three more accomplished scholars in the areas of Black Church and Black Christian Theology than Drs. Fluker, Gilkes, and Robertson. This is all in addition to the continued excellent leadership and scholarly contributions of Bishop Dr. Benjamin Watts.”

Executive Minister of the Thurman Center, Bishop Dr. Benjamin Watts, added his excitement for this announcement, stating, “Step by step, the dream of HTC is beginning to materialize. Adding three distinguished faculty members who embody the ethos and spirit of Thurman will enhance our ability to prepare contemplative leaders to be agents of social change.”

Here is some background on our new faculty members:

Dr. Walter Earl Fluker

Dr. Walter Earl Fluker has been appointed Distinguished Professor of the Howard Thurman Center.

Dr. Fluker is the Martin Luther King, Jr Professor Emeritus of Ethical Leadership at Boston University and presently serves as Dean’s Professor of Spirituality, Ethics and Leadership at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He retired from the Boston University School of Theology in June 2020.

In addition to his work as a pastor and chaplain, Dr. Fluker taught at Harvard College from 1990 to 1991 and was named Dean of Black Church Studies and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (CRDS) in 1991. In 1992, Fluker became editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project. He served as Director of the CRDS’s National Resource Center for the Development of Ethical Leadership from the Black Church Tradition from 1993 to 1998.

In 1998, Dr. Fluker joined Morehouse College as Executive Director of The Leadership Center (renamed the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership), The Coca Cola Professor of Leadership Studies, and Professor of Philosophy and Religion. In 2004, Fluker served as Distinguished Lecturer in the International Human Rights Exchange Program and visiting professor for the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business and from 2008-2011 as faculty at The Salzburg Global Seminar, Salzburg, Austria. He has served visiting professorships at the Harvard Divinity School and Candler School of Theology; and visiting scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Columbia Theological Seminary.

Dr. Fluker has also consulted and provided ethical leadership training in diversity and inclusion for an array of organizations. Among his many publications is the forthcoming, The Unfinished Search for Common Ground: Reimagining Howard Thurmans Life and Work.

Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes

Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes will join Hartford International as Distinguished Professor, Community Liaison, and Research Consultant for the Howard Thurman Center, in partnership with the University’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Dr. Gilkes is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor Emerita of African-American Studies and Sociology at Colby College in Waterville, ME. An ordained Baptist minister, she is an assistant pastor for special projects at the Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, MA. She has served as visiting faculty at several seminaries and schools of divinity, most recently Chicago Theological Seminary.

Dr. Gilkes holds degrees in sociology from Northeastern University (B.A., M.A., Ph.D.), has pursued graduate theological studies at Boston University’s School of Theology, and has received an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D. D.) from Ursinus College. In addition to her book, If It Wasn’t for the Women: Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community, she has published articles in scholarly journals and edited volumes on race and ethnicity, the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, and African American religion. She has also published sermons in several journals and edited volumes. Until the pandemic, she was “Dr. Dr. Cheryl” on Colby College’s radio station where she hosted a gospel music radio show, “The Uncloudy Day,” for 19 years. Since the pandemic she has contributed several opinion pieces to Religion News Service and has written the introduction to the fiftieth anniversary publication of James Cone’s book, The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation.

Dr. Cleotha Robertson

Dr. Robertson has been named Director of the Howard Thurman Center and Associate Professor.

He concurrently serves as Associate Professor of Old Testament at Alliance Theological Seminary’s New York City Campus. Dr. Robertson is also the Senior Pastor of Sound View Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, NY, where has served since July 1994.

Dr. Robertson is a native of Brooklyn, NY, where he received his early Christian nurture at Cornerstone Baptist Church. He was licensed and ordained to Christian ministry under the guidance of Dr. Harry Wright and Rev. Henry Scott.

Dr. Robertson received his academic training at Dartmouth College (B.A.), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Brooklyn College (M.S.), New York University (Ph.D.), and Lutheran Theological Seminary (D.Min.) He has served as an adjunct faculty member at New York Theological Seminary, Hartford International University, and Alliance Theological Seminary.