Speaker: Gregory Ellison

Fearless Dialogues

Reverend Dr. Gregory C. Ellison, II is an artist who creates spaces for fearless dialogues. Rev. Ellison challenges each of us to ask, "who are you and how will you fight for freedom in your most authentic way?" His most authentic way is by creating the space for us to personally wrestle with these difficult and deep questions through Fearless Dialogues. Fearless Dialogues is a grassroots initiative that creates unique spaces for unlikely partners to engage in hard, heartfelt conversations that see gifts in others, hear value in stories, and work for change and positive transformation in self and other by "fearing less." It has engaged nearly 50,000 worldwide in more than five years.

Seeing that society is riddled with fears, Ellison feels that lessening the fear of strangers is central to his walk as a Christian. He engages his fear by practicing "radical hospitality," simple but profound strategies that show people you see, hear and care about them. It is as easy as looking the cashier in the eye, noticing his name, and asking how he is doing.

Ellison brings that hospitality into a wider frame by suggesting we notice the strangers in our lives: people in public who we rarely see, people we encounter daily, people in our neighborhood, and people we meet in moments of crisis. He then moves the idea of hospitality even deeper by asking us who the strangers are in ourselves, the voices that call us from deep inside, that are strange because we oppress and push them out. He invites us to practice radical hospitality with these voices that come from our souls, to make a space for them to speak. These voices will tell us who we are.

Ellison's journey has landed him in an artistic activist space, but it was founded on his ability to discern the difference between what one does and "who you be," a question posed by his grandfather upon meeting someone. Ellison suggests that to ask someone what they do is not revealing of the person, while asking as he witnessed his grandfather, "Who are your people" and "Who be you," challenges us to reveal what we call ourselves in our souls. This is not always indicated by our prescribed and public roles.

Dr. Ellison's public biography cites that he is a product of the Atlanta Public School System and a proud alumnus of Frederick Douglass High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Emory University, where he was inducted into the Emory College Hall of Fame; the first black male bestowed with that honor. Gregory continued his educational journey at Princeton Theological Seminary as a Presidential Scholar where he received his Master of Divinity degree and Ph.D. in Pastoral Theology. Ten years after graduating, he returned to Emory to join the faculty of Candler School of Theology. He is currently an associate professor of pastoral care and counseling. In his second year of teaching at Candler, Gregory was awarded Faculty Person of the Year (2010-2011). Three years later Gregory received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, Emory University's most prestigious faculty teaching honor. He is the author of Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men and of Fearless Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice. He has another book in progress, Anchored in the Current: The Eternal Wisdom of Howard Thurman in a Changing World.

Ellison is an ordained Baptist minister who has served on the ministerial staffs at both Methodist and Presbyterian churches. He cherishes most the strong convictions he holds toward family, fraternity brothers (of Kappa Alpha Psi) and friends. He is married and the proud father of two children.

As he states, his public roles do not always reveal his people or his soul nor do they answer the questions of who he is and how he will fight for freedom. A clue to his soul's identity is in his choice of wearing a baseball cap and a bow-tie. The grandson of a sharecropper with a fourth-grade education, hats remind Ellison of his family history regardless of where he is: picket line, classroom, conference room or pulpit.

Dr. Ellison states that he learned far more from his grandfather than he did from his esteemed teachers at Princeton. His grandfather, Willie Dub Simpson, a sharecropper from Mississippi, decided in the 1930's that all of his children would go to college. Ellison says he is the "manifestation of (his grandfather's) prayers and dreams." Before his grandfather's death, Ellison told him that he was taking him all over the world; the baseball cap is the reminder not only of his grandfather's presence, but Ellison's responsibility to future generations. He is "operating in the ancestral presence of a man with a fourth-grade education and is happy to do it." That is who he is.

It is through artistry that he fights for freedom. Ellison matches his hats to his outfit out of "flair" and "fun." The bow tie is the part of his "artistry" and "creativity" that gently challenges the rigidity he frequently finds himself facing theoretically and institutionally in terms of conforming. What might go unnoticed is a button he wears on the left side over his heart. He calls it an "ancestor button" and it is an invitation to question. One that he wears is of Gordon Parks, an artist, activist, photographer who used pictures to tell stories of a community that was unseen. All combined, the cap, bow tie, and button create a space around Ellison that is intriguing, that prompts stories, that invite conversations.

His unique ensemble is a testament to his integrity of being an artist activist who has heard the voices of his soul, who has wrestled with his identity, and who has spoken with his ancestors past and future. This presence extends seamlessly into the space around him. As a Craftsman of Care, Ellison creates environments where it is "possible to hold a hard, heartfelt conversation without fear." It is in these public and private dialogues that we are then able to answer the questions he poses, the ones our souls are actually asking: who are we and how will we fight for freedom in our most authentic ways?

Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer

Feb 23, 2019

An Elder's Look Back at Healing Our Divided Selves and Worlds

Victor Kazanjian

Victor Kazanjian

Oct 26, 2019

United Religions Initiative: Seeking Wholeness in a Time of Brokenness

Mandar Apte

Mandar Apte

Aug 3, 2019

Beyond Reducing Violence: Creating Conditions for Sustainable Peace