I was in New Orleans for the annual General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association, where the Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray became our first elected female president (not the first to serve–keep reading for details). All three candidates were women, and they created a covenant of behavior among them when the race began. It made for a positive process, focused on each candidate’s vision instead of on tearing down others’. For me, it helped me to turn my focus as well to what I want in a president and my hopes for our religious movement.
On one thing, they were all agreed: the tendrils of white supremacy, which has arranged US Americans into a hierarchy based on race since before our country’s founding, reach even in to our congregations and association, and there are antidotes that we have not tried. For the previous ten weeks, since the abrupt resignation of UUA President Peter Morales, the UUA had been led by a Board-appointed trio, all African-American: the Rev. Bill Sinkford, previous president; the Rev. Sofia Betancourt, a parish minister and seminary professor (and the first woman to serve as UUA president); and Leon Spencer, the first layperson to serve as UUA president. They established a Commission on Institutional Change that will “analyze structural racism and white supremacy within the UUA . . . with the goal of long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism.”
What we know from experience is that in order for us to overcome the backward pull that is exerted on people of color in our communities, we need to pull the other way. This General Assembly had a high proportion of UUs of color, and one key element made the difference: scholarships. Going to General Assembly is expensive, and while people of all races and ethnicities can experience financial hardship, it is far more prevalent among people of color. Usually, most of these UUs stay home during GA, which is everyone’s loss. In the convention center in New Orleans, I felt like I was seeing the future: a glimpse of a UUA that looks like the USA. Maybe one day we will even have a UUA that looks like the world. It was beautiful. But we–all of us–will have to work to put funding in place for similar scholarships for next year.
The gathering of ministers that takes place just before GA was energizing, and particularly focused on how we can lead our organizations and congregations toward honest confrontations with white supremacy, in its overt and subtle forms. If you’re looking for similar communities:
- join me in listening to Voices and Experiences of Unitarian Universalist People of Color (resuming August 27, 1-2)–the next reading, by KokHeong McNaughton, is available from the office.
- join DRUUMMM, the organization of UU people of color, if that’s you (druumm.onefireplace.org)
- join Allies for Racial Equity (a UU organization, alliesforracialequity.wildapricot.org) and/or Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ, a non-UU organization, showingupforracialjustice.org), if you’re white
- whatever your background, if you’re passionate about the movement for black lives, join Black Lives of UU (blacklivesuu.com)
- become active in our Criminal Justice Reform group (the e-mail list is criminal-justice at lists.uucpa.org)
- join the Adult Religious Education programs on economic justice and Class Conversations when they begin in the fall / winter. Sometimes, and troublingly, we white people can divert race conversations to the issue of class, and it’s important that we not use it to defer racial justice yet again. However, if class and race are understood as intersectional, then building our courage to deal with classism can speed our progress toward racial justice.
I get jazzed about the wider UU world whenever I go to Ministry Days and GA. If you’d like to feel that thrill, the UU World magazine puts out a weekly e-mail with the latest news about what UUs are up to all over the world; subscribe at lists.uua.org, where you’ll see UUWorldWeekly on the list.
I will see you in church on Sunday, August 13, for our ingathering and Water Communion.