One Woman’s Search for Justice & Truth

Meet 5280 Fellow Renise Walker

“I had opportunities that friends and family members who were going to school on the other side of town could never dream of,” remembers Renise Walker, a fourth-generation Coloradan and 5280 Fellow.

Growing up in the burgeoning suburb of Aurora allowed her to take Advance Placement classes and get into a good college, but the sting of inequality – especially for many of her peers – sparked a passion for justice at an early age.

For example, while attending Colorado College she observed two different elementary classrooms in her urban education class. One was an International Baccalaureate school where students spoke French, did science experiments, and appeared to fall in love with education. In another urban school, she saw chaotic behavior, failing test scores, and a principal who explained that kids in poverty couldn’t learn nouns and verbs like other “normal” kids.

“Given their early school experiences, what kind of future possibilities do these two sets of kids see for themselves?” she wondered.

Today Renise is an education liaison for the State of Colorado. Her job is to plug the “leaky talent pipeline,” which refers to the number of students who don’t complete the path from high school to employment in the highly skilled workforce. According to the Colorado Workforce Development Council, only 18 percent of ninth graders in Colorado will complete high school and enter the job force within one year of graduating college. Renise works to repair this pipeline by collaborating with businesses, educators, and government officials to align workforce needs, educational opportunities, and young people looking for a career.

“I believe we are saved by God’s grace and invited into God’s plan to heal the world and redeem his creation,” Renise says. “In our communities is where that happens.” But that conviction wasn’t always so – and has been tested since returning to Colorado from an early career venture to Washington, D.C.

The Inward/Outward Journey

When Renise was 13, she answered an “altar call” and was baptized three weeks later. “But I didn’t have a sense of what that actually meant for my day-to-day life. There was a disconnect,” she recalls. “Church was just what you did on Sundays.”

Some early faith experiences sowed seeds of doubt about the church. “It was all about the prosperity gospel,” Renise remembers of her childhood congregation. “Was God really telling me to put $500 in the plate, or was that just the pastor?”

After college, she moved to Washington, D.C. to work for Jubilee Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit. While there she attended a church where she enjoyed the sermons but left small groups unsatisfied. Renise saw wealthy congregants walk by the homeless on the way to church as if “they had blinders on to the pain of the city.”

But at Jubilee Housing, Renise discovered a different kind of faith, neither a “health and wealth gospel” nor a complacent Christianity.

Jubilee Housing was established by members of Church of the Saviour. There they taught that faith was both about an inward journey and an outward journey, about spiritual vitality and community engagement. “It was more than going to church or giving money,” says Renise. “I felt God calling me to connect with him and impact the culture around me.” Community members around Jubilee modeled a genuine faith that shaped both souls and the city.

Through her job, Renise’s commitment to justice and her faith were merging – until she moved back to Colorado five years later.

“My move from D.C. to Denver has resulted in a difficult career transition,” Renise says. “I went from working in a faith-based environment where I felt whole – able to integrate my faith, my commitment to social justice, my passion and love of people into my job – to now working in government, where the emphasis is on separation of church and state.”

“I want to talk about faith at work,” Renise confesses, “since I believe faith undergirds everything I do.”

Renise explains why she applied for the 5280 Fellowship. “I want to continue my desire to explore spiritual, intellectual and relational questions, and to gain the tools to better understand how God can use me in whatever role I find myself to carry out His purpose for me and for the people of Colorado.”

The 5280 Fellowship exists to create space for people just like Renise to explore the intersection of their faith, work, and the city early in their careers. Use the form in the footer of this webpage to subscribe to more information about the 5280 Fellowship.

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