Boston University alumnus and former White House official Joshua DuBois spoke to more than 60 members of the BU community at the Metcalf Trustee Ballroom Tuesday about the role of religious faith in politics and poverty as well as its impact on college students’ daily lives.
DuBois, who graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2003, served as Special Assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
“I hope that by listening to my own story students take away that it’s important to be bold, even when you’re not qualified,” DuBois said. “Dream big dreams and then leap out there.”
DuBois engaged in conversation with Keith Magee, a theologian and visiting social justice scholar at BU’s School of Theology, before fielding questions from the audience. He also read excerpts from and signed copies of his book, titled The President’s Devotional.
The Howard Thurman Center, Dean of Students Office, School of Theology, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s Sigma Chapter and Kappa Alpha Psi’s Chi Chapter cohosted DuBois’ lecture and conversation.
“[Students are] seeing that their lives are influenced by BU, and once [DuBois] left, he felt brave enough to step outside of his comfort zone and take those risks,” said director of BU’s Howard Thurman Center Katherine Kennedy. “I’m hoping that they heard that loudly and that gives them inspiration.”
During his time in the White House, DuBois wrote a religious devotional and emailed it to the President every morning. He said he reached out to Obama during the 2008 presidential election because he was concerned with his spiritual well being.
“He has policy advisors and political supporters, but I didn’t see anyone thinking about his soul,” DuBois said. “Something in my spirit was telling me that this was one of those moments when you should do something that you’re not qualified to do.”
DuBois said he has used his position in the White House to oversee ways that the federal government could support secular aspects of religious organizations intended to alleviate poverty in local communities. He ascribed the continuing problem of poverty primarily to an “empathy gap” along racial and socioeconomic lines.
“We’re not spending a whole lot of time with folks who are struggling,” he said. “We have a lot of debates about poverty without actually hearing from and receiving leadership from people who are in poverty.”
DuBois also spoke about the importance of getting exposure to different religious perspectives.
“College is obviously a time to learn, to have fun, to meet new friends, but it’s also a time to understand who you are,” DuBois said. “Students should take time to explore their religious background, to explore their relationship with God and to become serious about their personal faith at some point in their college career.”
CAS senior Meredith Medlin said she appreciated DuBois’ acknowledgment of the intersection of faith and politics.
“It was interesting how he connected humility with so much power and honor that comes with being an elected official like the president,” Medlin said. “That was so wonderful and inspiring, and it’s also a characteristic of an effective leader.”
Issa Kenyatta, a College of Communication sophomore, said DuBois reflected attributes he saw in himself.
“As an African-American male, it’s great to see someone out there who came from the same type of beginning as I have, being through BU, and making it to the White House,” he said.
Kenyatta said he was most struck by DuBois’ message to pursue goals that seem unreachable, as he did when contacting the President.
“A lot of times in life we doubt our own potential and power, and we’re greater than we think we are sometimes,” Kenyatta said. “If we don’t go out and tackle those things, then we decrease the amount of opportunities we get to succeed.”