USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Stories of Social Change: Spirituality in Action

In Action

“Stories of Social Change: Spirituality in Action” is a multimedia exhibit at USC Annenberg.

Listen to music by people featured in the exhibit while touring the exhibit or at home.

Musical notesApple Music

In Action

Activists, peace builders, humanitarian workers. Often surrounded by supportive communities, these people contribute to social change across sectors. They provide basic needs, deliver life-saving medical care, support vulnerable groups, protest against inequalities, change laws, preserve cultures and care for the earth.

On this page, explore the impact of people across the globe whose spirituality inspires them to tackle our world’s most urgent issues.

Emily Saunders

Visit the desert with Emily Saunders and her partner Scott Warren as they leave water and easy-open cans of beans in the southern Arizona desert in an effort to reduce migrant deaths. Reporter Jude Joffe-Block narrates for The Spiritual Edge:

Scott Warren was arrested for providing humanitarian aid to migrants and successfully argued that he had the religious freedom to provide humanitarian aid, protecting the work of organizations like No More Deaths.

Listen to the full Spiritual Edge podcast episode about the trial of Scott Warren:

Journalist: Jude Joffe-Block

Ida Puliwa

Hear how the Othakarhaka Foundation empowers villagers in Malawi to care for each other through its volunteer program:

Ida Puliwa created the organization, which empowers 6,000+ volunteers to “pass on the kindness,” as its name means, and help others through agriculture, education, elder care and more.

Watch the full video profile and read more about Ida Puliwa’s journey

Researcher: Donald E. Miller

Sister Marie Stella Kouak

Observe what life is like at Sainte-Monique Orphanage, which has taken in children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS with this video published by National Catholic Reporter:

Sister Marie Stella Kouak founded Living in Hope, a nonprofit that runs two orphanages and sponsors 1,850 children living in foster families in Togo.

Read about how COVID-19 affected her work with HIV/AIDS patients and orphans

Journalists: Julien Pebrel and Clemént Girardot

Tuenjai Deetes

Hear how Tuenjai Deetes works with people of hill tribe communities in Northern Thailand to help them gain their citizenship:

Tuenjai Deetes, a Thai human rights activist who established the Hill Area Development Foundation, has spent more than 40 years working with the hill tribe communities in Northern Thailand.

Read about her work to eliminate statelessness in Thailand

Watch the full video from DW 

Journalists: Magdalena and Noel Rojo

Rev. Cecil L. Murray

Listen to Rev. Dr. Cecil L. Murray preach from the pulpit of First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles in the midst of the 1992 Civil Unrest:

Watch an excerpt from his sermon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “In bad times, we have a good God.”

As pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Murray transformed a small congregation of 250 into an 18,000-member church with economic development programs that brought jobs, housing and corporate investment into South Los Angeles.

Watch a video profile of Rev. Dr. Cecil L. Murray

Watch the full sermon during the 1992 Civil Unrest

Visit the Murray Archive for more sermons

Jerry Berndt Archive

The USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture has studied the local faith community’s efforts to create change since the aftermath of Los Angeles’ 1992 Civil Unrest. In the 1990s, photographer Jerry Berndt (deceased 2013) documented the worship and civic activities of congregations for “The Soul of Los Angeles” exhibit, including two spiritual exemplars: Rev. Dr. Cecil L. Murray and Father Greg Boyle, SJ.

See more photos from the “Soul of Los Angeles” exhibit

Berndt later traveled with CRCC’s cofounder Donald E. Miller to Rwanda, where he recorded the impact of the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsi people, and exemplar Jean Gakwandi’s efforts to comfort survivors.


View the Orphans of Rwanda Book

Jerry Berndt’s photographs appeared in major magazines and are included in several permanent collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.