Richard Flory shared the following reflection upon the announcement of his appointment as CRCC’s executive director, effective July 1, 2021.
Thank you all for the notes of congratulations and kind words of support. I’m very excited for this next chapter for CRCC as we build on the solid foundation established by Donald Miller and Brie Loskota. I will always be grateful for the opportunities afforded me through working with each of them.
My path to CRCC really started just before I graduated from college. I had attended a chapel service at my evangelical college—one of the “required” chapels that I actually attended there—to hear an African American pastor from an LA church speak. I don’t remember anything about that chapel other than that there was something that pastor said that made me think, “I want to do something in the city” after I graduate.
I had no idea what that meant or could be at the time, but it led me on a journey from teaching second grade and junior high school (math and English, believe that or not) at a small church school in South-Central LA, then realizing that teaching those grades was not my gift, to heading off to grad school at the University of Chicago, and ultimately being able to return back home to LA to teach at a small university in Southern California.
While I was teaching there, I called up Don Miller at USC. We got to know each other and ended up working on several projects together. One of those projects allowed me to meet Brie Loskota—now more than 18 years ago—on her first CRCC project, before either of us worked for CRCC. A few years later, I left where I had been teaching to come to work full-time at CRCC with Don, Brie and the rest of our stellar crew.
The USC Center for Religion & Civic Culture is a pretty unique place. What we’ve managed to build over the last 25 years is a place that focuses on academically rigorous research on religion, identifying trends and providing our interpretations on those trends. But we also take seriously our task to make that research and our thinking about it available to faith, community and civic leaders in various forms.
We organize lectures, and now Zoom events. We provide trainings and mentorships for faith leaders who want to develop their skills and expand the capacity of their congregations and faith-based organizations, so they can have greater impact in their neighborhoods. We provide instructional and training programs for members of underserved communities on such things as financial literacy, in order to, as our in-house spiritual guide Rev. Cecil Murray says, “teach them to own the pond” rather than just teach them to fish in a pond that belongs to someone else. We work with public officials to help them better understand how the faith world actually works, often disabusing them of incorrect assumptions about what faith groups can do for the public, but also showing them pathways to partnerships.
Our goal in these efforts is to learn from community and bring back resources, knowledge and training for faith and community leaders, and to public officials who are working for change in their communities.
I could list all the things that CRCC has had a hand in over the last many years, but just go to our website and spend 30 or 40 minutes looking around. That will give you a good idea of our mission, our reach and where we want to go as we look to our next chapter.
My job as the (new) executive director is, on one hand, to maintain what we’ve done and “stay the course.” But, my view of organizations is that you cannot rest on your laurels, you always have to be thinking about the future asking, “Where is the next opportunity and the next challenge? What is really needed that we can provide through our work?”
And, more specifically for CRCC, “How can we take what we know and push it out to groups that are working hard to make our city, state and nation a better place?”
Thus, my real job is to build on what we’ve done in the past, with an eye to the future. Yes, pursuing important research, but also continuing to make those connections beyond the university so that we can support individuals and groups as they work to contribute to our world in a positive way.
Last word. Anybody who knows me, knows that I love to make connections, introduce people to each other and then see what happens, and when possible, to collaborate on different kinds of projects. I believe that we are best when we have others with different experiences and perspectives in the conversations and projects we are pursuing. So please, stay in contact with us. If you have an idea and want to pitch it to us, let us know. Good things come from thinking and working together. So, if you haven’t already, put your name on our mailing list. I promise we won’t send you a ton of junk email. Just one newsletter each month and occasional other communications related to special things we’re doing. And who knows, maybe something we say or do sparks a new idea for you.
Had I skipped chapel that day in college, like I so often did, I might not have been put on the path to where I am today. Good ideas can come from places you might not expect, and I always want to have an ear for those opportunities.
Mahalo Nui Loa for all your support—both for me and for CRCC.
Love and aloha to you all. All best wishes to my friend Brie Loskota as she embarks on a new endeavor. I look forward to what we might do together from 2,000 miles apart!
Richard Flory is the executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.