Joshua DuBois was a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister when he was tapped by President Obama to serve as the White House’s director of the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships during his first term in 2008. Under DuBois’s watch, the office encouraged religious leaders to address broader and more looming issues such as teen pregnancy, economic downturns, child poverty, and absentee fathers. DuBois stepped down from his post earlier this month and will begin teaching at New York University and writing a series of faith-based columns for The Daily Beast.
He talks with NewsBeast senior writer Allison Samuels about President Obama and the work that excited him most during his time in the White House.
TDB: Talk a little about how you began your work with President Obama.
DuBois: I was watching the 2004 Democratic convention, and I watched then-Senator Barack Obama give his speech, which he ended by saying we worship “an awesome God.” That got me, and I knew I had to work for him. I didn’t know how I’d go about working for him, but I knew I would have to. So I drove from New Jersey to his offices in Chicago and met with enough people who liked me enough to introduce me to Senator Obama.
Prior to Obama winning the White House, what did you do for him?
I worked as a legislative aide for then-Senator Obama, advising him on faith-based issues, and continued to work with him through out the 2008 campaign, which was both amazing and challenging given the many pockets around the country where so many different faiths are at work in so many different ways. A lot of people don’t realize that as a community organizer President Obama was funded by the Catholic Church, so faith has been a big part of his life for a very long time. Taking the president’s message about the importance of faith to masses was an amazing journey and rewarding one during the campaign that I think really resonated with the voters and connected them with the president in a very real way.
You’re currently writing a book with daily biblical scriptures and inspirations for leaders. That’s something you also did for the president daily in email form? When did you begin that ritual with him?
While he was still Senator Obama, I asked him would it be helpful if I sent him Scriptures for inspiration every day, and he said yes. My thought was, why not do something for this man who spends so much time thinking about others and for a man who does so much for others? Why not offer him support in the best way that I can, and thought that should be through Scripture and support through the word. I continued to do it throughout my time at the White House.
What do you consider the most important changes between the faith-based programs that President Bush implemented and the ones developed under President Obama?
President Bush founded the faith-based office in the White House and primarily focused on religious organizations getting funded. That’s not what President Obama’s focus was. It leaned more heavily towards connecting religious leaders with policymakers and also with giving religious communities access to programs that helped them find jobs, or helped with reconnecting fathers with families or creating interfaith programs on college campuses. Some of those projects didn’t receive the attention they deserved, but they made a significant difference in the religious communities.
“While he was still Senator Obama, I asked him would it be helpful if I sent him Scriptures for inspiration every day, and he said yes.”
Of those programs you mentioned, which are you the most proud of?
There are a few. The college campuses that encourage interfaith services were very important to us because it involved all faiths together on different programs on campuses across the country. The other important program would be the jobs ministry program, which is where churches were given help in teaching members how to fill out job applications or on how to produce a great résumé or on just how to give support to those out of work and in need of emotional support while searching for a job. And of course the program that reconnected fathers who’d been lost and separated from their families meant a great deal and was sorely needed. Working with Dwyane Wade and other people like that was important in getting the message out.
How hard was it to leave the White House after all these years?
It was difficult to leave, but I’m excited about the future. I’m thankful to have had the chance to serve under a president that is so dedicated to this country, his family, and to God. In our talks where we discussed what was important to him in the faith-based programs that we were supporting, it was clear where his heart was and how deep his faith is. I’m sure the country will continue to see that as well. I plan on continuing to serve the president outside of the White House in my own way and to worship through teaching and writing and various other ways as well.
In a rousing commencement speech at Morehouse College, the president urged the graduates to become the influential black men that this country needs. 'You now wield something even more powerful than the diploma you're about to collect, and that's the power of your example,' said Obama. 'Use that power for something larger than yourself.'