Elizabeth J. A. Siwo-Okundi ’01
B.A., Denison University
M.Div., Boston University School of Theology
Th.M., Harvard Divinity School
African Studies Graduate Certificate, Boston University African Studies Center
Citation awarded on Saturday, June 4, 2016
A Black Studies program graduate of Denison University, Elizabeth J. A. Siwo-Okundi believes that preaching should address the realities of the human experience in its beauty and its pain. She engages the “small voice” to comfort, challenge, and celebrate. Her award-winning sermons examine and expose the unnoticed and unnamed, silenced and marginalized, rejected and neglected voices within social contexts and religious texts. Siwo-Okundi, a Kenyan, is deeply influenced by the faithful and informed activism of her family. The daughter of a professor and a nurse, Siwo-Okundi founded a non-profit organization to support orphans in Kenya. She also has raised resources for persons affected by post-election violence in Kenya. Locally and internationally, Siwo-Okundi speaks at academic and religious institutions to address violence against women and girls.
Siwo-Okundi has preached in numerous settings, served as a pastor and spiritual advisor, and taught at the university level. While completing the Master of Theology at Harvard Divinity School, she was selected as the student commencement speaker and featured in the Harvard University Gazette as one of 12 “best and brightest” among Harvard’s graduating class of nearly 7,000 students. She also served as a Teaching Fellow in the African Language Program at Harvard. Her scholarship, sermons, and prayers are published in academic journals and books including the 3- volume Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, 2012, and 2013) and Unraveling and Reweaving Sacred Canon in Africana Womanhood (Lexington Books, 2015). At Denison, Siwo-Okundi was the first African/Black woman elected student government president and selected as the student commencement speaker. She received the Dean’s Distinguished Leadership Award and the Black Student Union’s Distinguished Leader Award. She penned the proposal to make MLK Day an official day of service at Denison and was invited a few years later to give the MLK Opening Convocation address. Siwo-Okundi is one of the youngest alumni ever to be awarded an Alumni Citation.