Engaging in Equity: Meet Héctor Hernández Marcial, Director of Community Engagement

Earlier, we announced NBA’s new Community Engagement Program. Now, we’d like to introduce you to the new Director of Community Engagement: Rev. Héctor J. Hernández Marcial.

Héctor was part of the 2015 NBA research and design team on mental health and congregational care, which helped launch NBA’s Mental Health & Wellness Initiative. In 2016, he joined the NBA to serve as a peer group convener for NBA’s first Peer Learning & Wellness Group. Héctor was then called in January of 2019 as the full-time NBA Connect Coordinator, organizing all the NBA Peer Learning & Wellness Groups. An additional component of Héctor’s work was the focus on and collaboration with Hispanic/Latin@ Disciples communities in adapting and implementing the Mental Health & Wellness Initiative design.

“Héctor brings many talents to this role, including his training and skills as pastor and mental health advocate, coupled with his ability to connect that work to justice issues and community involvement,” says Rev. Monica Wedlock Kilpatrick, Vice President of Organizational & Leadership Development. “As part of the NBA Prison & Jail Ministries team, Héctor regularly offers insights on how to include issues of immigration and detention as part of the larger justice issues of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. Héctor has been proactive in developing partner relationships across the Disciples community, as well as seeking ways to involve other community partners and organizations. NBA has benefited from Héctor’s unique ability to identify with diverse communities and cultures, ensure work is contextually appropriate, and amplify the diversity of voices among those communities.”

In this new role of directing NBA’s Community Engagement, Héctor’s primary responsibility is to identify, establish, and deepen collaborative relationships that strengthen all of NBA’s programs. He works with NBA staff to design, implement, and evaluate programs with specific attention given to leadership development, advocacy, activism, and initiatives that entail community organizing. Additionally, Hector collaborates with all of the NBA’s program areas in our organizational commitment to ensure diverse voices are included and heard equitably.

Hector began this role in January 2021. Get to know Hector in his own words!

NBA: Talk about how this role came about? Is it something you were able to form with other NBA staff? 

HHM: The Community Engagement Program flows from the very core mission of NBA to “create communities of compassion and care and advocate for the well-being of humanity.” In a desire to expand this work—and through a coordinated approach to Community Engagement—current and new programmatic work of NBA in leadership development, advocacy/activism/organizing, and collaborative partnership development will be enhanced and strengthened.

This feels like a natural next step for the work NBA has been faithfully embracing. As a team, we have been dreaming and exploring possibilities and imagining bold collaborations with Disciples’ ministries and partners and increasing collaboration within the NBA. We have been asking ourselves, how could we be more intentional in learning from one another and, how could NBA staff share what they have learned in their area of expertise?

NBA: What does community mean to you? How does it differ from what community engagement means to you?

HHM: To me, community is the intentional decision of being connected with our neighbors. To become a social unit with commonality by being invested in the wellbeing of the others. Community needs to be forged, and often, requires energy, stamina and creativity to keep it afloat.

My understanding of what community engagement means is shaped by experiences in the revolutionary work of the church of my youth, my faith work in Indiana, and more specifically my own pastoral work at Iglesia Nueva Creación, serving immigrant communities. Any person who is affected by any particular issue that impacts their community must have a voice and a vote in making decisions about it. When the church is part of a community, then the church works with and for communal wellbeing, taking extra consideration of the protection of the most vulnerable.

The church, as a unified body of individuals, needs to engage in public participation, speaking on behave of (advocacy)  and together fight for what is just and right (activism). We all have the responsibility to influence the decisions that affect the delivery of services, visions for the future, and the sustainability of our communities.

Therefore, we could say that community engagement or what I like to say, community commitment, centers on mutual decision making. By working collaboratively, people and the church as part of their community can create and realize sustainable visions for their community’s future.

NBA: What excites you most about being the new Director of Community Engagement at NBA? 

HHM: I see this new role as a Kairos moment—a moment for decisions and actions. A perfect opportunity to listen and explore, to assess the impact of NBA’s social justice efforts, and to build upon them. We want to embrace co-creation spaces with as many people as we can and ensure equity is at the very center.  And to me, equity means justice, righteousness, and balance, being the essence of the Gospel of abundant life in which I believe. There is a canvas in front of us, and the Spirit continues to guide our efforts. I am excited about the possibilities and opportunities ahead of us!

NBA: Why is a program like this important for NBA to pursue, especially now? 

HHM: For more than 130 years, the NBA has responded faithfully to a particular moment in time related to the needs in public health, social services, and justice issues. As a nation, we are living in challenging times of extreme violence, systemic racism, xenophobia, polarization, and economic inequality, which require a living, breathing Church to move and act in new ways. The Spirit is challenging us to imagine a just and peaceful world and stirring in God’s creative activity. Between the Hosannas and shouts of Crucifixions, the Church is experiencing a paradigm shift, and our actions should be bolder and louder. Many NBA partners are doing ministry in nontraditional yet effective ways. We are looking to collaborate and support those efforts beyond the pulpits.

NBA: What are your hopes/aspirations for this program? 

HHM: I am excited about the possibilities for even more collaboration and cross-pollination within the NBA and with  partner organizations and leaders whom we work alongside. For example, developing new models based on the redesigned Peer Learning & Wellness Group model. A collaborative approach is at the heart of my work, and I hope to reach out and connect with as many diverse communities of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and our partners as possible. I am eager to imagine and discover how communities of color and immigrant communities will change the status quo and lead the way to more inclusive social structures and systems.

Lastly, I look forward to helping weave activism and advocacy efforts and strategies into everything we do at the NBA and embracing new ways of reciprocity that ensure our collective work is focused on equity and justice.

NBA: What can our audience expect next, and how can they get involved with this program area? 

HHM: If your individual, congregational, and/or regional work is involved in a ministry with incarcerated people, returning citizens and their families, activism, and advocacy, or if you work with oppressed communities and ministries of justice and equity-related to health and social services, please share your stories and experiences with us. We want to learn and collaborate with you, sharing each other’s strategies, challenges, learnings, and hopes. It is imperative to move beyond working in silos and imagine and find ways to work and support each other.

As to what is next, the work continues. We want to encourage ways to do ministry creatively with compassion and care. Many challenges are expected as we unlearn old ways and models of relating to each other and learn new tools. There is hard work ahead of us, yet I remain hopeful and enthusiastic about NBA’s continued focus on justice and equity. It is an honor to be a part of this process.