Reflections by Chris Crass from recent work with Unitarian Universalists in Minnesota and the Selma 50th Living Legacy Conference in Alabama.
With nearly 200 UUs joining the March 17th webinar on Black Lives Matter (watch the webinar and see resources from it) led by two justice movement leaders and young adult Black UUs, Jova Lynne Vargas and Kenny Wiley, I want to share some of the powerful ways UUs are putting our faith into courageous action for Black Lives Matter. I had the recent opportunity to lead workshops with the Minnesota UU Social Justice Alliance and at the Marching in the Arc of Justice Selma 50th conference, where I spoke with UUs about the work we’re doing for racial justice.
1. Many churches are hanging Black Lives Matter banners outside of their churches - which has involved many conversations in and beyond the church about why it's not "All Lives Matter", about anti-Black racism in policing and society and why the church is standing with the Black freedom movement (not historically, but TODAY). More and more churches need to do this.
2. Thousands of UUs around the country are participating in Black Lives Matter demonstrations and direct actions, speaking out in their churches and communities. Many Black UUs and UUs of color are bringing spiritual leadership to the movement in powerful ways. Many white UUs are developing, what I've been calling "empowered followership", of reaching out and asking about ways to support, which includes: making food for Black-led and Black only organizing meetings, huge amounts of fundraising, providing free space at their churches for meetings and staging grounds for actions, helping with a wide range of action planning logistics. And the "empowered followership" or promoting the leadership, analysis, strategy, and actions of Black activists to their networks, community and family.
3. There are churches, including one in the majority white suburb of St. Louis, Chesterfield, Missouri, who are holding weekly Black Lives Matter vigils and standing strong against white backlash in the community and within their churches (and like in Chesterfield, the minister, is bringing leadership to make the vigils happen and move the congregation towards racial justice).
4. One white minister brought 1500 Black Lives Matter buttons to church and encouraged all of the mostly white members to wear it, everywhere, for a week and see what conversations, experiences, and feelings come up - and to give them out. For white people to notice when they want to take the button off and to remember that people of color cannot take their skin off to avoid the discomfort of race in a white supremacist society.
5. A UU church in a majority white town in Massachusetts helped organize a community viewing and discussion of Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequality by the path breaking film maker Shakti Butler. Over 120 people attended and because of the outstanding media work the organizers did, there was a front page story in the daily paper, covering the event, along with a staff editorial applauding the event and encouraging more honest and open conversations about racism in the society. The organizers were both surprised and energized by the turnout and response, which demonstrated for them the importance of creating visible and public ways for majority white communities to learn about and oppose racism.
6. Multiple anti-racist study circles at seminaries and churches, including one in Madison, WI are reading Towards Collective Liberation to help them have discussions about taking action, anti-racist strategy and leadership as white people.
7. There are thousands of youth and young adult UUs who are stepping up big, through their congregations, but also in the community and activist groups they are part of, to mobilize people to be in the streets.
8. There is much work to be done, and many are still resistant and don't support their ministers or the activists representing the church. And there is also momentum to build from, assets and strengths to build from. We must strive to not let the failures, shortcomings and mistakes keep us from seeing the opportunities and potential. Our responsibility is to build it up, get more people involved, be strategic and focus on what can help us win!
Standing on the Side of Love for Black Liberation! Let's get free!
Chris Crass is a longtime organizer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. Chris has worked extensively with Unitarian Universalists and in the process, found his spiritual home. He has since delivered sermons and lead workshops on spiritual leadership at UU churches and divinity schools around the country. His book Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement building strategy draws lessons from his organizing over the past 25 years, as well as lessons from case studies of historic and contemporary anti-racist organizing. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his partner and their son River. For more about his work: www.chriscrass.org.