Karen Wills, Acting Executive Director
Karen (she/her) is a “born and bred” Unitarian Universalist, whose mother was a California UU organizer, and her fathers were gay rights activists. Karen has attended 13 different UU congregations in Boston, Pasadena, Chicago, Iowa City, Provincetown, and Minnesota. She spent many years volunteering as a religious education teacher and youth advisor. For example, she taught “Our Whole Lives” in Rochester, MN; “Neighboring Faiths” and “Coming of Age” at First Universalist in Minneapolis; and “Beloved Conversations” at Minnesota Valley UU Fellowship in Bloomington, MN.
As a hospital-based pediatric neuropsychologist (now in part-time independent practice), Karen wrote successful grants, legislative briefs, lectures, book chapters, and Op-Ed letters advocating for children with disabilities and special health care needs. Her coolest jobs before working with MUUSJA were teaching sign language to chimpanzees, training psychology interns, coordinating Girl Scout jamborees, training volunteers to defeat the same-sex marriage ban, planning an intersectional rally at the state capitol, and organizing campaigns for several Minnesota state representatives. She lives in Bloomington with her husband, Steve, and loves to visit her daughter Emma in Los Angeles (especially midwinter!).
Pastor Danny Givens, Statewide Organizer
Danny Givens is a heartfelt activist and orator who received a life changing gift of forgiveness from an off-duty police officer he shot during a botched robbery in 1996. Propelled by forgiveness, Danny began his journey toward reconciliation and resiliency prior to his release from incarceration in 2008. He later went on to receive his B.A. in Christian Ministry from Bethel University in 2011, accompanied by a three-year residency as an Interfaith Minister at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2016.
Danny is now the Senior Pastor of Above Every Name Ministries, a young cutting edge congregation in the Twin Cities that prides itself in being a “Church for the People.” An advocate for Racial Justice in black, brown, and indigenous communities, Danny devotes his time to the #BlackLivesMatterMpls movement in the role of Clergy Liaison. Parallel to activist work, he is one of the Founding Members of Black Clergy United for Change (BCUC), a collective of black clergy committed to the work of Racial Justice and Social Transformation in urban communities. In addition to the litany of actions and peaceful demonstrations Danny has organized, he continues to convene tables where traditional and non-traditional faith leaders covenant to work at the intersections of faith, race, and justice. Danny provides racial justice consulting for congregations using a praxis curriculum he created for faith leaders looking to deepen justice work from the pulpit and beyond.
Over the years Mr. Givens has received multiple awards for his grassroots organizing and justice work including the following but not limited to: TakeAction Minnesota – Leadership Award 2015, OutFront Minnesota – Justice Award 2016, Interfatih In Action of Greater St. Paul – Local Legend Award 2016, and Kaleo Center for Faith, Justice and Social Transformation – Lifetime Achievement Award 2016.
A native of the historic Rondo community in St. Paul, Minnesota, Danny values moments of adventure and spontaneity amidst local and international travels with his wife Natasha. Between travels and meaningful time with family, he continues to lend his voice personally and professionally to diverse audiences across the country. Danny now resides in Minneapolis with his wife and three children. Learn more about Danny at dannygivens.com.
Board of Directors
Taylor Putz, Co-Chair
Taylor Putz attends the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis and joined the MUUSJA board in 2014 as its youngest member. He works for Prepare + Prosper in St. Paul as the Communications and Engagement Manager. His journey for social justice began in Wisconsin where he worked for Drug Free Communities of Fond du Lac County to reduce the growing problem of substance abuse. He then went to work for a national grassroots organization, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Taylor graduated with a BA in international studies from Marian University and studied abroad in Nicaragua.
Rev. Laura Thompson, Co-Chair
Rev. Laura Thompson has served as the minister at Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Bloomington, MN since September 2016. Previously she served as Ministerial Intern & Campus Minister to UU Church of Davis (CA), as Chaplain Resident at United Hospital in St. Paul, as a Summer Ministerial for MUUSJA and as a Ministerial Intern to First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis. She holds an MDiv from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Laura makes her home in St. Paul with her wife, Emily and their dog, Pip. She is passionate about anti-racism work, economic justice and LGBTQ rights.
Sherri Knuth, Secretary
Sherri Knuth attends Unity Church – Unitarian in St. Paul. She is inspired by the First and Fifth UU Principles: “The inherent worth and dignity of every person,” and “The use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” Sherri is a member of the Restorative and Racial Justice Team at Unity Church and works as Government Relations and Membership Engagement Director for the Minnesota State Bar Association. Sherri previously worked at League of Women Voters Minnesota where she was a lobbyist and advocate for voting rights. She received a 2014 Public Leadership Award from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota for her work in ensuring that all citizens have access to voting. Sherri holds a Masters degree in Public Affairs from the Humphrey School and a law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Jeff Snyder, Treasurer
After living in Rochester for 38 years, and attending First Universalist Unitarian Church of Rochester for the last seven of those years, Jeff and his wife Karen moved to Minneapolis in June of 2014. While at First UU, Jeff served as a member and chair of the Finance Committee and was on the Board of Directors serving as Treasurer at the time of his departure. Jeff and Karen are new members of First Universalist Church where Jeff is now a member of the Community Investment Team. Jeff’s primary interest in the social justice arena is in the area of environmental justice. He is currently retired and plans to stay that way after a long career with IBM as an engineer and project manager. Jeff and Karen have an adult daughter and son living in Los Angeles and Minneapolis respectively.
Gail Bishop has been a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester for 25 years, having served as a past president of the congregation as well as in other leadership capacities. At First UU she currently is Chair of the Social Justice Council, a member of the Finance and Stewardship Committees, member of the Disability Task Force and serves on one of the church Hospitality Teams. She is an advocate for the disabled, serving for the past eight years on the Board of Directors of PossAbilties, an organization that creates opportunities for children and adults to contribute and connect with the Rochester community. Her family consists of one husband, two daughters and three Westie dogs! When not serving for causes on the ground she is in the air as an instrument rated, private pilot. “At altitude,” she says, “there are no differences – we all appear the same!”
Rev. Rita Capezzi
Rev. Dr. Rita Capezzi has served the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mankato since 2018. She is a native of Pittsburgh, PA, and lived 25 years with her spouse and two children in Buffalo, NY. There she taught literature and composition at a Jesuit college, until 2015 when she entered Meadville Lombard Theological School. Rita is happily settled and humbled to companion with others to create a more just world for all.
The first time Ellen attended a Sunday service at the Unitarian Church of Underwood, she knew she had found her home and became a member a couple of weeks later. Ellen has served in a variety of roles since joining the church in 2007, most notably as president of the board of directors for three years. Currently she serves as a member of several committees. She is leading a Religious Education class using the book White Fragility. She is also one of 7 celebrants. It is her role as a celebrant that most feeds her soul. Her activities as a celebrant include officiating ceremonies, studying with the other celebrants and speaking during Sunday services at her church, as well as a guest speaker in other churches or fellowships. She lives in her hometown of Fergus Falls, where she helps to care for her mother and her 3 grandchildren. The motto that she tries to live by comes from a quote by Oprah Winfrey. “Every experience is an opportunity to choose love over fear.”
Judy Foster has been a member of the St. Cloud Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (SCUUF) since 1979, having served in numerous leadership positions, including two terms as president of the Executive Board. Now retired as an English professor at St. Cloud State University, she is active in the community, currently serving on the St. Cloud Area Regional Human Rights Commission. At SCUUF she serves as newsletter editor and chairs the Community Garden and Technology committees. Her current social justice focus is justice for ex-offenders, a joint project with Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalist Church in St. Cloud.
Lia is a longtime member of Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul and has served in a number of capacities there from Board Trustee to Worship Associate to member of the Sunday Welcome Team. She works in the arts as administrator and practitioner. She and her husband, Matt Brown, reside in the Little Bohemia neighborhood of St. Paul at Casa Grande. While they adore winters—hockey and shoveling—they look forward to summers on the S/V Kitty Lou on Lake Superior.