I flew back from New Orleans yesterday (I’m writing this message on June 28) tired, energized, my head filled with images, learning, ideas. As I said to Rev. Susanne Intriligator, nearly every UUA General Assembly that I have attended (and I’ve been at a lot of them) has found me excited and optimistic when I arrive at GA, and depressed and embarrassed to be a UU when I depart. This time, it felt different.
This was a “Justice GA,” which meant that there was a pre-GA anti-racism training offered at nearly every intersection. It occurred prior to GA, through the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond, with a training which nearly 160 UUs took advantage of. Crammed into four convention center rooms for two days, they were there to gain deeper understanding of what it means to live into anti-racism, anti-oppression, and understand the realities of white supremacy, close up.
Almost all the GA programs and workshops focused on white supremacy, anti-racism, shared leadership, and related topics, and many were led by people of color. Some programs were only for people of color or indigenous people and, as a member of Allies for Racial Equity (an ally group to DRUUMM, Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries and BLUU, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists) I was asked to stand at the doors to the workshops to make sure that people who did not identify as people of color/indigenous people respected the request for safe space.
I listened, again, to the moving story of the UUA’s Black Empowerment Controversy of fifty years ago from Mtangulizi Sanyika (formerly known as Hayward Henry Jr.,) who had been one of the leaders of our youth movement and had left our faith after the UUA reneged on its commitment to fund black organizations. This time, things were different: the UUA has committed over 3.5 million dollars to Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists and – whether you view it as reparations or coming to a new understanding all these years later – it felt to me like our faith community might have been given a do-over.
What can be different this time? A Commission on Institutional Change has been formed to conduct both truth and reconciliation studies and help chart a new way forward for our faith community that yearns for justice but frequently, finds it hard to embrace. The leadership of people of color has been welcomed and empowered, and it showed up throughout General Assembly as our worship, programs, major addresses took place. The three interim co-presidents of the UUA – all people of color with highly respected records of service to our faith – held us all with such deep commitment and care that I and many of us felt like – maybe this time – things would be different.
Living into this kind of intentional change is challenging and a bit frightening, and there is the likelihood of both sacrifice and reward. Sacrifice of what has been the status quo and the ‘old’ models of power; reward in seeing a palpable connection between what we dream of and what might actually come to be.
All this comes forward at the same time that this congregation has passed a resolution on anti-racism that will call on the members and friends of Follen to live into the change and exploration of what might be, with bravery and commitment and openness to letting go of old ways and finding new ones. This is hard work, friends. This is the work of many years. But it is so worth doing, for it can help all of us achieve that which we might have only dared to imagine. I look forward to walking this path with you in the coming months, and welcome your engagement and conversation as we explore, together.
Interim Director of Religious Education