As Charles Hill DIV ’17 finishes his final year at the Yale Divinity School, he is looking to start a new chapter of his life in his hometown by running for mayor of Stonecrest, Georgia.
Hill announced in January that he would run in the inaugural mayoral race of Stonecrest, a newly established city outside Atlanta. Hill is a graduate student in the Divinity School’s Master of Sacred Theology program with a concentration in youth in social movements and church spaces, as well as economic development in urban environments. Hill, who grew up in the area that is now Stonecrest, said he has always wanted to give back to his community.
“I just really felt as though this newly created city was an opportunity for the area that I grew up in,” Hill said. “I really felt it was an opportunity to do something positive with the community.”
Hill said that from the 1980s until the early 2000s, the area that is now Stonecrest was a “haven for upwardly mobile African-American families,” but is currently facing rising crime rates, struggling schools and a stagnant economy. Hill said he aims to return the community to its former glory through new innovative leadership. The Stonecrest mayoral election will take place on March 21, and Hill has been travelling back and forth between Georgia and New Haven to campaign.
Greg Sterling, dean of the Yale Divinity School, said that many Divinity School alumni go into politics, with notable alumni including Sen. Christopher Coons DIV ’92 LAW ’92, D-Del., and Rep. David Price DIV ’64 GRD ’69, D-N.C. Sterling said that the Divinity School gives students a broad liberal arts education and equips its students with a Christian theological background to help them relate to the 70 percent of Americans who identify as Christian.
In an interview with the News, Coons said he came to Yale to attend law school, but after taking several classes at the Divinity School, he decided to pursue a Master of Arts in Religion degree with a concentration in ethics. Coons said that since the students and faculty at Yale Divinity School came from such diverse denominational and theological backgrounds, his time at the school helped him better understand the religious pluralism of the state and nation he serves.
“Politics in its best expression is about working together across our differences,” Coons said. “The Divinity School helped me better understand the differences in values of Americans from widely differing religious perspectives.”
Hill said that his theological education gave him a diverse, unique set of skills to contribute to his community. He added that his courses have taught him how to have a greater impact on his community as well as how to be assertive and “speak truth to power” in a more innovative way.
“I have been painted as someone who is too young to hold this office, or someone who is a firebrand, or someone who is a live wire, but that’s just not true,” Hill said. “I’m just very passionate about seeing the community be better than it is.”
Stonecrest was established by referendum on Election Day 2016, as 59 percent of the population voted to create the city of 50,000.