Melanie S. Morrison is founder and executive director of Allies for Change, a national network of social justice educators. She is a seasoned educator, pastor, author, and lesbian feminist anti-racist activist with 30 years experience designing and facilitating transformational group process. She is passionate about working with individuals and organizations to better understand the connections between systemic oppressions, and to nurture collaborative action and authentic relationship across differences in race, gender, class, abilities, and sexual orientation. She believes it is possible to grow ever more aware of the depth and complexity of systemic oppression, without surrendering our capacity for compassion, joy, and hope.
Melanie was born on April 3, 1949 in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Truman A. Morrison, Jr. and Eleanor Shelton Morrison. She is grateful for the legacy of social justice activism that her parents modeled throughout their lives. When she was five years old, Melanie’s family moved to East Lansing, Michigan. Her father served as founding pastor of Edgewood United Church of Christ, UCC and provided leadership in the campaign to abolish the restrictive real estate covenants that barred people of color from obtaining mortgages or purchasing homes in East Lansing. Melanie’s mother taught the first human sexuality courses ever offered at Michigan State University, wrote books about teaching sexuality to undergraduates, and became an advocate for lesbian and gay civil liberties, serving on a legislative task force in the early 1970s that re-examined the definition of family.
After graduating from Yale Divinity School in 1978, Melanie was ordained to ministry in the United Church of Christ. She served three churches, two in Michigan and one in the Netherlands. In 1988, she and Cyril Colonius founded Phoenix Community Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan – the first congregation in Southwest Michigan to be explicitly welcoming of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. That same year, Melanie and her mother, Eleanor, started Leaven, a non-profit organization that provided education, training, and resources in the areas of feminism, spiritual development, and sexual justice. One of their first major projects was to write Created in God’s Image for the United Church of Christ, an adult sexuality curriculum published in 1993 and used in local congregations throughout the country.
In 1998, Leaven founded The Leaven Center, a retreat and study center in Lyons, Michigan, dedicated to nurturing the relationship between spirituality and social justice. Melanie served as co-director of the Leaven Center for 12 years before leaving to found Allies for Change and work full-time as a social justice educator and facilitator.
Melanie has been a keynote speaker at national and regional conferences addressing issues of racial and sexual justice. She is proud to be one of the founding members of CLOUT (Christian Lesbian Out Together), an international movement launched in 1990 to celebrate the miracle of being out, lesbian, and Christian. In 1998, Melanie was awarded a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Her dissertation was entitled, The Politics of Sin: Practical Theological Issues in Lesbian Feminist Perspectives.
The work of racial justice is Melanie’s deepest vocation. Melanie believes it is imperative that she and other white people engage in the deep and never-ending work required to understand the privilege they carry and embody an anti-racist identity, so that they can step up with courage and humility to participate in movements led by people of color, interrupt racism where they live, work, and worship, and help move other white people to greater anti-racist awareness and action. In that spirit, Melanie co-founded Doing Our Own Work in 1994. Doing Our Own Work is an intensive anti-racism program for white people who seek to deepen their commitment to confronting racism and white privilege. She has co-facilitated this program for 23 consecutive years, and hundreds of people throughout the United States and Canada have taken part.
Passionate about writing, Melanie is the author of four books, including The Grace of Coming Home: Spirituality, Sexuality, and the Struggle for Justice (Pilgrim Press, 1995). Her latest book -- Murder on Shades: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham – will be published by Duke University Press in the Spring of 2018.
Melanie lives in Okemos, Michigan with her beloved partner, April Allison. In December 2015, they celebrated 25 years together.
(This biographical statement provided by Melanie Morrison.)
Biography Date: April 2017