Ask Rev. Dr. Nayoung Ha about her sheroes and she’ll tell you about Harriet Tubman. Ask her why the woman who escaped slavery and became an abolitionist and orator is her historical role model and she’ll say, “because she didn’t just save herself, she also saved others.”
The same could be said of Rev. Dr. Nayoung Ha, (MATS ’07) McCormick’s Alumna of the Year who had earned a Master of Divinity degree before coming to the U.S. in 2003. Rev. Dr. Ha has modeled what it means to give one’s self in the service of others. Her efforts supported the passage of legislation that helped to make Illinois a sanctuary state. As a seasoned organizer, she has been at the forefront in the fight for language access and voting rights protection for Korean and other Asian American communities. She’s worked with the Cook County Clerk’s Office and the Chicago Board of Elections for years, recruiting bilingual election judges so that Korean voters could communicate at polling places. Her efforts over the past year helped to make a Korean-language ballot possible; it was used for the first time in March. She’s overseeing the creation of a Korean-language website that will provide Chicago’s Korean citizens with information on the November election and the vote-by-mail option. She’s heard in seminary lecture halls, speaking on culturally attentive pastoral leadership and the need for an ethic of resistance in South Korea.
“When I wrote my Ph.D. thesis, I stated that the study of theology is not solely academic work, it’s also the putting of God’s Word into action,” said Rev. Dr. Ha, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and part of the worshiping community at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church. “God is everywhere, but God is especially among the least and the oppressed. The most sacred and holy stories I’ve ever heard came from voices that had been muted and unheard.”
Unmuting the voices of undocumented individuals has been one of the most passionate endeavors of Rev. Dr. Ha, who earned her Master of Theology and Doctor of Philosophy in Systematic Theology degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. It’s meant organizing prayer vigils and protest rallies, marching from New York to Washington, D.C. to visit congressional leaders, and standing outside the Supreme Court to call attention to the need to protect DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) recipients and their families from being deported. In June of this year, the Supreme Court upheld that protection, but for Rev. Dr. Ha, there is more to do.
“There are still undocumented people who are not eligible for DACA and are without healthcare, a driver’s license, or a Social Security card,” she said. “That decision was a great win, but many still were left behind. Regardless of their immigration status, people who live and work in this nation deserve to be respected and protected with human dignity and rights because they are also men and women made in God’s image. We have to advocate for all.”
Harriet would be proud.