PNP Spotlight is a feature that takes a closer look at relevant issues as well as Africans in the diaspora doing interesting things in their communities & careers. Today we are spotlighting Reverend Itang Young: A young, talented engineer turned reverend who is using her diverse background to make a difference on the global development stage.
Who is Reverend Itang Young?
IY: I am a Nigerian-American preacher, theologian, global activist, engineer and humanitarian living in New York City, Harlem respectively. I was born in Beaumont, Texas, and raised in Houston. However, my paternal roots are in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State Nigeria. I am the fourth of five children; I have two amazing brothers and two beautiful sisters. I earned my Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Distribution Engineering from the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M Univerisy – College Station, and Master’s of Divinity in Pastoral Care at Theology from Union Theological Seminary.
You’re an engineer by training but decided to make a major switch. Is it something you always wanted to do?
IY: Yes, accepting the “call” to become a reverend was a definitely serious decision. Was becoming a reverend something I wanted to do? Absolutely not! I was young and had a great job; the world was at my fingertips. I was living what I thought was the life and having fun. However, the plans that we construct for our lives, clearly, at least in my case, do not always manifest in the manner we thought they would. Prior to engaging ministry, I worked in corporate as an engineer for a Fortune 500 company. I had a wonderful experience; I was young, successful and moving up the corporate ladder. However, I felt as if something were missing; I felt as if I was moving further and further away from my purpose – despite not knowing what my purpose was at the time. I took some time to reflect very deeply and sincerely ask God, “Why am I here? What should I be doing while I’m here? What is my purpose?”
Long story short, I left corporate, matriculated in seminary, graduated, and went on to pursue full-time ministry. The decision was a hard one to make. I left my life of comfort, security, and financial stability and journeyed into the abyss of the unknown. I did not have the best relationship with uncertainty at the time. I was scared out of my mind and often wondered if I had made the “right” decision. Since making the decision to walk into my purpose and destiny, I am left without regret. Was leaving a lucrative corporate position hard? Absolutely. However, the joy, fulfillment, and contentment I’ve experienced since making that decision to accept my call far outweighs the initial burden of making a decision to walk away from the life I charted out for myself.
Tell us about your church Abyssinian Baptist Church
IY: The Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York is one of the oldest African-American Baptist churches in the nation and the first in New York state. The church was established in 1808 when free blacks and Ethiopian merchants joined forces and set out on a mission to create a church where God’s black and brown children could worship in the absence of discrimination and segregation. I first became affiliated with the church when I enrolled at the Union Theological Seminary to begin graduate studies in theology. I attended the church for at least five years before being called to serve in a leadership capacity. I was licensed to preach by Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III in February 2012 and ordained in December 2014. As the only female clergy person on staff, I serve as the Assistant Minister for Youth. In this role, I develop holistic (spiritual, academic, social, mental and emotional) programming for youth in grades K through 12 in our congregation and in the larger community.
The Abyssinian Baptist Church for the last 209 years has maintained an undeniable commitment to social justice and uplifting the community, domestically and abroad. As a reverend, it is my goal to ensure that my service not only within the church, but in the world, is an extension the institution’s legacy of public witness and prophetic action. My vision as it relates to ministry is twofold: education and inspiration. It is my desire to continue to assist youth in the community to becoming active participants in creating positive outcomes for their lives by providing them with tools, education and resources. Assisting them with their process of development will afford them an opportunity to transition into well-informed and well-prepared young adults who are confident and are able to successfully negotiate various stages of life. Thus, allowing them to be exactly who God created them to be.
Tell us about Reverend Young the Philanthropist
IY: In addition to my role as Assistant Minister at Abyssinian, I serve as the Executive Director of The Abyssinian Fund, Inc. The Abyssinian Fund, affectionately known as The Aby Fund, is a non –governmental organization committed to reducing global poverty. With a successful track record of global collaboration, education, and empowerment, The Abyssinian Fund enjoys a unique position in the global community through its partnerships with farming communities in Ethiopia. Through these partnerships, members of the Ethiopian coffee community in Chafee Janette have access to support and training that has enhanced the coffee production process. In addition to the work we do in Ethiopia, we have a partnership with the Mathuki Secondary School in Kenya. We are in the process of helping to build a computer lab for the students in effort to assist in expanding their knowledge base, while enhancing their technological skills. Moreover, I am also a United Nations DPI-NGO Representative. As a representative for the last six years, I have been able to work closely with numerous NGOs and faith-based organizations (Church Women United, Inc. and Ecumenical Women at the UN) that work to promote the rights of women and children in developing countries.
With regard to my global work, connecting Africans in the Diaspora is of the utmost importance. As a woman of bi-cultural heritage, faith leader, and humanitarian, I will continue to be a bridge-builder for Africans and African-Americans. It is my desire to continue to serve both communities in ways that bring us closer, inspire us to work toward collective liberation, and assist us improving our quality of life through shared experiences.
Who are some people that inspire you/have influenced your work?
IY: I know this may sound cliché, but my family is my inspiration. My late father was an engineer, educator and humanitarian who made sure I received my education. In the process of making sure I received and education, he instilled in me the value of it. My father also made sure I understood the importance of giving back to the community as we are all connected. My mother, who at one point, worked as nurse. She exemplified to me what it means to serve humanity with care, compassion, and understanding. She would randomly help anyone in need without expectation. She modeled what true service looked like. My oldest brother is one of my biggest role models. There are so many other individuals – teachers, counselor, mentors, and friends, who have positively inspired me and impacted my life. They poured into my dreams and my vision – personally and professionally; collectively, they helped to not only provide the foundation, but shape the work I am currently engaged in.
I was young, successful and moving up the corporate ladder. However, I felt as if something were missing; I felt as if I was moving further and further away from my purpose – despite not knowing what my purpose was at the time.
What advice can you give to professionals who want to shift gears or find more meaning in their work but do not know how to do it?
IY: I would advise professionals who are looking to engage in more meaningful work/find meaning in their work is to engage in a serious moment of self-evaluation and personal reflection. Identify your passions and follow them, move towards that which your heartbeats for, and embrace those wild and unconventional thoughts and ideas that keep you awake at night. Somewhere in the midst, you will find what is meaningful. If one is a person of faith, pray and ask God for insight and guidance. When you ask, you must prepare yourself for the answer you receive – even if it sounds crazy to you at the moment. Speak to a person you can trust with your passion and your goals as not everyone will believe in your dreams and your ability to fulfill them. Find a mentor who is engaged in the work/field where your passion lies. Most important, be open to the experience and trust the process knowing that you will end up EXACTLY where you are supposed to be.
What are some of the things you have been working on?
IY: In April, I delivered a presentation during the 61st United Nations Commission on the Status of Women about the poverty reduction work and economic development for women in Ethiopia. Aside from traveling to Africa to monitor our work the next few months are filled with more speaking engagements that will focus on the work in Africa. At some point, I hope to pursue doctoral studies. Personally speaking, perhaps life will happen. 🙂 In the meantime, I will continue to allow God to direct me to where I am needed.
How can people follow your work?
Itang Young – Facebook
www.itangyoung.com – website
Congrats to Reverend Itang Young for her desire to pursue the call of God. While it is commendable to emulate the black American church history it would be more robust an enterprise to embrace the Nigerian and African religious experience in her quest for divine calling. That said, I greatly admire her courage.