David Allen – Storyteller for Change

Growing up, David Allen, now RAFI-USA’s Come to the Table Program Coordinator, loved sports and reading and from an early age could usually be found playing some sort of sports after school before being called in for supper. If he wasn’t playing a sport, he was likely watching one. He was influenced by his father who did some sportswriting and announcing on the side, and David could often be found in front of the TV with his brother, announcing big games, notes and rosters at his side. 

David Allen at the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball national championship.

David grew up in Shelby, North Carolina, the oldest of three children. His parents are public educators who are now principals of elementary and high schools. He shares that his family is “incredibly tight-knit, supportive, and caring,” and he talks with them almost every day. “I feel so lucky to have such a great natural support group,” he says. “A lot of what I want out of community now stems from my growing up in Shelby. I am drawn to the idea of a place where everyone knows each other, family is just around the corner, and the community really cares about the place and its people.”

In school, David enjoyed History and English best. “In English, I would soak up every page of every book and I loved discussing what we were reading and what it meant to me,” he says. Regarding History, he says his interest springs from the idea of which stories get told and which ones don’t. 

David’s educational pursuits would eventually lead him to religious studies, but he started undergraduate school as a journalism major. David’s interest in journalism stems from his love of storytelling. He believes that when he was growing up and sitting behind his father at Shelby High football games while his father was doing radio commentary, his love of storytelling was kindled. When he arrived at UNC, he applied for a job at the Daily Tar Heel and immediately got the chance to interview coaches and players and tell their stories. He shares, “The idea of getting to tell someone’s story, the reverence it requires and the detail it necessitates, is both beautiful and scary to me. When writing is its most joyous, it is a sacred experience.” One of his first big stories was on the one-year anniversary of the passing of the legendary men’s basketball coach Dean Smith. “The finesse, research, and interviewing that story took made me fall in love with the art form,” he says. 

He fondly recalls a few memorable moments in sports. Playing golf and soccer in high school …  competing in a few state championships in golf. “But nothing beats the pure joy and camaraderie of a team sport like soccer or baseball,” he adds. Other unforgettable sports moments for David include “When the Braves won the world series last year, I cried like a little baby for about an hour. During my time as a writer, I was at the UNC national championship loss on a buzzer-beater to Villanova which is memorable, but depressing. Going into the locker room after that game was a challenge. My greatest memory, though, was when my dad, brother, and I were in attendance for my childhood idol Chipper Jones’ final home run which was the greatest moment I have ever seen live. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I wrote a personal essay about it, as well,” David shares.

But, while he loved journalism and particularly sports coverage, finding it “exhilarating — I had a sense that it was not what I was ‘called’ to, for whatever that’s worth. Every now and then when there’s a big game going on, I do sometimes wish I was on press row, but that usually fades. I enjoy being a fan,” he asserts.

“I grew up going to church every Sunday and Wednesday and have always been a curious person, so I was naturally interested in theology and religious history. My way of thinking was that if this was important enough for us to do twice a week, I wanted to know more about it and make sure I understood it,” he says. But it was a class with Dr. Bart Ehrman at UNC-Chapel Hill that “transformed my way of thinking,” he notes. “I then switched up and began doing more religious studies classes and over time I found more meaning and fulfillment in those conversations and classes. I ultimately decided to go to Divinity School because of unanswered questions and because I was interested in the idea of formation and education in the church, with a specific interest in conversations around climate change/creation/food justice,” he shares. 

David working at the Duke Campus Farm.

His interest in the environment and agriculture began about 10 years ago when he was introduced to environmental issues happening around North Carolina. At around the same time, he discovered Wendell Berry and read his essays and fiction around farming and food systems. “That was my way of tiptoeing into the field,” David says, “and from there I began to take more and more classes on agriculture and food systems. Once that passion took hold of me, it was only a matter of time before I started connecting the dots to my work in religious studies. Writers like Ellen Davis, Norman Wirzba, and Berry really inspired and motivated me. I then went full throttle into conversations around how faith communities should be taking part and/or responding to food/climate issues.”

He became an intern at RAFI-USA in the summer of 2021 when the Come to the Table team was developing the Farm and Faith Partnerships Project and the School for Food Justice, Faith, and Storytelling. He now leads SFJFS and helps with FFPP. One of his favorite things about working at RAFI-USA takes place in the car ride home after a site visit during which generally members of a faith community and farmers they work with share stories, challenges they’re facing, and the joys they’re experiencing. “Then you get in the car to come home and it’s like an hour of creativity and imagination of getting to think about their story, how CTTT can help, maybe how I can tell their story in a way that will inspire others. I love that feedback loop that shows us both what we’re doing well and what new things we can do to better serve the communities we work in. I love that I have room to think of new ideas, I love that I have a team who are all extremely passionate about our work, and I love that every day is different!” David shares.

Come to the Table’s recent Conference (virtual in March 2022) brought together hundreds of faith community members, farmers, and others working in the food justice space. David played a key role in managing and coordinating all of the details of the conference. “I was just so proud of what we were able to accomplish during a pandemic and the feedback we received was really exceptional, as well. A big win for me, and what excites me the most, is when we have events or gatherings or we post blogs or stories, and someone responds that they’re excited by the content and moved to action. That’s what it’s all about, really. Getting to walk alongside others and getting to be a resource and listening ear as we all grow together.”

David is looking forward to continuing to follow his passions. “I’m interested in education and formation, especially around food systems and the climate crisis, and in my job at RAFI I get to engage those passions each and every day. So in the short term, I want to continue to evaluate our programming at Come to the Table and ensure we are serving faith leaders the best ways we can and continue to imagine new ways of doing the work,” he says.

David concludes with a quotation from Frederick Beuchner that he thinks about often. “Beuchner says that the place we are called to is where ‘your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ So that would be my advice. Triangulate the place, the work, the life that is meaningful to you and your community, place, or world. Dig in there and don’t look back!”

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