Don’t be fooled by the boyish face of Joshua DuBois, 26, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The young Pentecostal minister (and Boston University and Princeton graduate), who has worked with President Barack Obama on faith outreach since his days in the Senate and throughout the campaign, says he is ready for the ambitious work ahead.
Since being tapped in February for the new office, DuBois has focused on connecting with faith-based and community groups around four main objectives: economic recovery, responsible fatherhood, reducing the need for abortion, and inter-religious cooperation.
From his Washington office, bare-walled except for a photo of Reverend Joseph Lowery giving the benediction at Obama’s inauguration, he tells ESSENCE.com about the President’s mission, clashes with evangelicals, and the role of religion in the White House.
ESSENCE.COM: Catholic bishops are boycotting the President’s upcoming commencement speech at Notre Dame because of his positions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. How have you navigated such issues when reaching out to the faith community?
JOSHUA DUBOIS: By finding common ground. With regard to tough issues like abortion, the President believes in a woman’s right to choose. But he also thinks, in this area where there are very strongly held beliefs on both sides, there are areas in the middle that we can come around to support—to reduce the need for abortion, to reduce unintended pregnancies and teenage pregnancies, through things like more education, supporting adoption through adoption tax credits, and making sure that pregnant women have the health care they need. That’s an ethic we brought to our outreach. It was, “I don’t care if you’re a conservative, evangelical Catholic who’s never voted for a Democrat before; we’re going to call you, we’re going to sit down with you and try to find areas to work together. And even if you don’t vote for us, we still want to work with you so that there’s not some ‘us vs. them’ mentality.”
ESSENCE.COM: What role does faith play in the Obama White House?
DUBOIS: On a personal level, the President is a committed Christian. He would be the first to say it’s a very important force in his life, and in the life of the First Family. It’s an inspiration for him, and it helps him set his moral path. In terms of the Obama White House, we recognize that faith-based groups, which are serving people day in and day out, are central to any prospects we have to serving people in need. In communities across the country where there may not be an office of state, local or federal government, there’s probably going to be a church or a synagogue or a mosque or a community-based organization. It just makes sense that, if we’re going to serve the American people and get things done, we have to connect with people where they are.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you think about comments that, at age 26, you may be too young to take on this level of responsibility?
DUBOIS: Well, the proof is in the pudding. Much can be made of age, but I’ve been honored to serve the President successfully in his Senate office, and in a very successful campaign. I think, because of the voice and support that he brings to this office, and the resources that we’re able to connect to it, I’ll be successful here as well. So, I don’t think age has much to do with it.