We have been listening deeply to where Love has been calling us as a faith community, and over the past few years, through sermons, videos, and book discussions, we’ve begun to lay the foundation for our racial justice work. As we consulted with others in 2014, it became clear that we needed to put together a racially diverse leadership team that could help us move this work forward.
Each member of the team serves a one year term. In selecting this team, we (ministers and staff) did our best to ensure some degree of racial diversity, as well as gender balance, length of time at First Universalist, age, and experience with racial justice work.
This team helps us determine the next steps in our racial justice journey, and how, over the coming years, every part of our faith community will be informed by racial justice principles – our worship, Religious Education, our partnerships, new member classes, communications, web presence, etc. Ultimately, these principles will be institutionally embedded, and this team will help us begin to put that in motion.
We held an initial retreat, with an agenda to develop relationships among the team members, to get a sense of the work of the team and to connect with Heather Hackman, whom the church has engaged as a consultant in this work.
To read the Racial Justice Leadership Team position description, click here.
To return to the main Racial Justice page, click here.
From Former Team Member Michael Dotson:
As an African-American member of First U for about 25 years I have been buoyed when issues of racial justice have been addressed from the pulpit or through a visible initiative within the congregation. I have been saddened during periods when recognition and engagement with these issues seemed absent.
I came to the Leadership Team retreat with a concern that whatever the church does in this area be substantial in developing real, honest, personal relationships and productive outcomes toward justice and equity. Racial oppression and white privilege are deeply embedded in many facets of our society. They are insidious in how they are perpetuated and are chameleon-like in avoiding being clearly recognized. Many, if not most, historic efforts to address racial injustice have not succeeded because people have been distracted by feeling good about the work they were doing. They have failed to recognize and focus on how deeply and intricately that injustice is ingrained. The members of the team seem to share the need to do productive work, and understand the need for a high level of awareness, insight and strategic action.
For me, a significant, ongoing and guiding question will be, “What is it that we are trying to accomplish?”
There was a sense, at the retreat, that the church is ready to do this work. Several team members commented on this separately, saying the leadership is in place and engaged, there is something percolating within the congregation, the timing is right and we have strong consultation.
Heather Hackman, with whom some of the team were acquainted, engaged the group and presented. She has been working with the staff during the past year and has experience working with organizations including schools and churches. She is a powerful facilitator; engaged, knowledgeable and experienced in exposing the dynamics of racial oppression and inequity and the insidious nature of the systems that perpetuate it. Heather briefly introduced concepts to understand systemic oppression and racial justice. She presented racial justice work as a moral imperative; ‘our dinghies are tethered together and if some of us go down, we all will go down’. ‘White people need to see that their lives depend on ending racism.’ Heather will lead a workshop on August 24 for our team and the teams from Unity Unitarian and the White Bear UU fellowship, where she will expand on her concepts and strategies.
Personally, I wonder whether First U could actually feel like my church. I need relationships and conversations with people wherein I can unpack my experience of this racialized society, draw support and develop effective responses and interventions. Conversations in which my experience and perspective is part of uncovering the insidious aspects of racial inequity, how we experience it and respond to it. I place high value on forging personal relationships that recognize and value our different journeys. We need to know the people to whom we’re tethered as part of our individual motivation and commitment. Without personal connections the work is theoretical and about some unknown persons out there somewhere and is grounded in charity (even with the moral imperative). I believe personal relationships and connections that support critical examination, discussion and collaboration around issues of racial justice are what make this work real.
From Former Team Member Denise Konen:
The first meeting of the Racial Justice Leadership team was animated with anticipation, but we also wondered how this work would impact relationships, programs and plans at First Universalist. As advocates for racial justice the members involved understood the serious and sustaining commitment it will take to wholeheartedly embrace and move forward this important work.
I wondered as we introduced ourselves if there were meetings similar to this in 1965 convened by Reverend John Cummins, First Universalist’s minister and a civil rights advocate, which helped prepare him to join Martin Luther King for the march in Selma after the murder of Reverend James Reeb. I am mindful and inspired by the road he and others of our faith have walked before us.
We each had a reason for making this sacred commitment and saying “YES” to something deeper than just an investment of our time and energy. Why did I say “Yes”? I asked myself this question as I moved into embracing the essential work of creating real and lasting racial justice and inclusion in our church community. It isn’t just because I have experience in three school systems on what was initially called diversity committees, then multicultural training and eventually became known as equity work today. I have invested myself in doing the daunting work of looking at race, institutionalized racism, and white privilege because of something that happened in my own life when I was fifteen.
I grew up poor in a large, Catholic family with parents who had to leave school at eighth grade to work on their respective family farms. We lived in a very white, conservative town north of Minneapolis. There was little overt racism in my home, perhaps because there were no people of color in my world. My parents divorced when I was young and my brothers, sisters and I lived with my mother on welfare. When I was fifteen there was only one black boy in my entire school. I first saw him on the bus and watched helplessly as kids ignored him, threw things at him, and treated him like he was less than human. I remember my sadness and surprise that he was treated worse than I was. At some level, I realized that I would grow up and leave that town where I was ignored and demeaned because of my class status, but this boy could never leave his brown skin behind. He was stuck with this kind of treatment. I was used to living with oppression I couldn’t name, but this was the first time I had my eyes opened to injustice in a larger way.
Something shifted in me that day. What I saw happening wasn’t right. I knew everyone deserved to belong. I saw that separations of color, class and the countless ways we divide human beings up was wrong. It has led me to look inside myself at the many biases I have acquired that have become a part of me without my consent, starting with the cartoons I watched, the games I played, the words I heard in my home, my neighborhood, my church and my school. I absorbed this poison without knowing how destructive it was to me and to others.
It’s now up to me to uncover and take an honest look on how these implicit biases keep me from being fully human and truly connected to those that I think of as different and less than me. I have a part in dismantling the racist system we live in.
I can’t not do this work. I believe the people on the Racial Justice Leadership Team feel the same way. It appeared to me from the thoughtfulness, honesty and open-heartedness in the room that each person on this team is here because addressing racial injustice and bringing healing to our church community contributes to their wholeness as it does mine. We can’t accomplish this alone. In the lyrics of Ann Reed’s song written to commemorate our 150thanniversary. “It’s a long road we set our feet upon. And with loving hearts we walk on. We will walk on . . . “ I look forward to walking this road together with this beloved community as we move toward creating a racially conscious and socially just environment where everyone knows they belong.