New Scholarship Honors the First Black Woman Graduate of Yale Divinity School

A new scholarship at Yale Divinity School honors Rena Karefa-Smart, the first Black woman to graduate from the school. An anonymous donor has given funds to establish The Rev. Dr. Rena Weller Karefa- Smart ’45 B.D. Social Justice Endowed Divinity Scholarship. The scholarship will support students who will contribute to the school’s diversity and inclusion commitment and/or pursue careers promoting greater social equity.

A leader in the international ecumenical movement, Rena Karefa-Smart accomplished many “firsts” over the course of her 97 years. In addition to her YDS distinction, she was the first Black woman to earn a theology doctorate from Harvard Divinity School (1976) and the first female professor to earn tenure at Howard University School of Divinity (1979).

In 2017, Dr. Karefa-Smart received the Divinity School’s Lux et Veritas Award, given annually to a graduate who has demonstrated excellence and distinction in applying the compassion of Christ to the diverse needs of the human condition through the wider church, institutional ministries, ecumenical organizations, nonprofit organizations, government, or industry.

The award citation hailed her work as a global champion of ecumenism, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, professor of  ethics at Howard, and associate at the Center for Theology and Public Policy in Washington, D.C. “Dr. Karefa-Smart’s pioneering presence and subsequent success,” the citation declared, “have paved the way for generations of Black women at YDS.”


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