Alum Honored With Portrait in US District Court

March 6, 2014

For Judge Saundra Armstrong (MDiv ‘12), the unveiling of her portrait in the US District Court of Oakland wasn’t just the culmination of her 44-year career. It was also part of her work to create change in her community.

“My hope is children in Oakland, children who came from the same neighborhoods and schools that I went to, will be inspired by a face that looks like theirs or someone they know,” she said. “That they need not look a certain way to see their true reflection on the walls of marble buildings.”

After receiving an AA from Merritt College, and a BA from Cal State Fresno, Armstrong was a police officer in Oakland for 7 years, while attending USF’s School of Law. She worked in the Alameda County courts and the US Department of Justice before becoming a judge in Alameda County Superior Court, and in 1991, a US District Court judge.

When she received her call to go to Pacific School of Religion, it was not to change careers, but rather, to enhance the work she was already doing.

“I felt a compulsion to set aside time to deliberately focus on the Bible, spiritual practices, my and other faith traditions, in order to develop tools to assist me in digging into and better understanding what God is calling me to do,” Armstrong said. “To sharpen my ministry skills to be more of a blessing in the sphere of influence God has gifted me with.”

While at PSR, Armstrong sought out spiritual disciplines that would help her see her work and the communities she serves in new theological light. “I am grateful for being introduced to the practice of reflecting on seemingly everything I read and did,” she said. “For me, the practice of reflecting is analogous to taking a slow stroll down a street rather than driving; it allows you to take time to see and smell the roses."

Just as she hopes her new portrait in Oakland will create diversity, she has a similar hope for PSR.

“We have varying perspectives or lenses, through which we see Scripture, the Church and how God acts in the world, among other differences,” Armstrong said. “For me, theological education piqued my interest in myriad areas of the human experience, especially as it relates to faith and spirituality.”

In order to see that her lessons from her public and spiritual lives can be used to help center lawmakers and theologians alike in a contemplative justice practice, Armstrong is considering creating curriculums for seminaries and law schools that would help others make the connection she made.

“It is my belief that both venues largely ignore the other, to their respective detriments,” she said. “Both would benefit from a healthy infusion of enlightened instruction about the other.