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First William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Scholar Chosen

Rahiel Tesfamariam

On the very day that former Yale University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. died, Rahiel Tesfamariam '09 M.Div. put a letter in the mail accepting Yale Divinity School's offer to name her as the first recipient of The William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Scholarship a newly created scholarship for students who exhibit Coffin's "prophetic leadership, his passion for justice, and his critical theological interpretations of the contemporary social and political scene."

Tesfamariam, raised in the South Bronx and Washington, DC after a childhood in war-torn Eritrea, served until July 2005 as editor-in-chief of The Washington Informer, an African-American owned newspaper circulating in the District of Columbia region. Against a background of poverty in Eritrea and New York , Tesfamariam describes herself as dedicated to "movements pushing for social change." In January 2005 she was a member of a 12-person African American Leadership Delegation on a fact-finding mission to Sudan, where she visited the Zam Zam Camp in North Darfur .

"Two years ago, I went on a delegation to Sudan," said Tesfamariam. "In the midst of war, refugee camps, and devastation, families were still worshipping God. That was a defining moment for me. There was no doubt that this was where God was leading me. Divinity school was an obvious next step after working as an editor and activist. Being a student is a somewhat selfish endeavor because the goal is self-knowledge and personal growth. At the same time, the hope is that I'm going to give back to my community afterwards. Christ is and will always be at the center of my education."

Coffin, who preached a social justice and anti-war message from the Battell Chapel pulpit during the 1960s and 1970s, died at his home in Strafford , VT on April 12. Details about the Coffin Scholarship can be found on the Divinity School web site at http://www.yale.edu/divinity/coffin/ .

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