The Power of Community

Grateful to bring you our next installment in our bi-weekly messages with a prayer, an ancestor and a song speaking to our spirits. This week Megan Selby curates the first of several offerings featuring UUs in Chicago doing radical work for justice. One contemporary spiritual and justice leader to lean on, one prayer for our messy lives, and one song to strengthen and soothe.


“I have met hundreds of people from many different organizations purporting to be allies of incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated people in the 16 months I have been out of prison. However, the people whom I can call on for support are few in comparison to the number of people and organizations I've come across. I have come to believe there is a difference between ally and community. The idea of allyship to me seems to suggest a temporary connection -- once a shared goal is accomplished, all the people involved go their separate ways. It is practical, yes, and necessary to have allies in any movement, but to me allyship feels very dry and dispassionate.

To me, community means something different. Within community, there is shared responsibility and accountability, caring and connection. It is understood that the health, happiness, success, security and stability of the community is directly connected to that of the individuals within it. In community, support is given where needed. Solidarity is lived, not just a word spoken.”

Monica Cosby, from "On Leaving Prison: A Reflection on Entering and Exiting Communities"

Monica Cosby is a mother, feminist, poet and activist. She is from the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago and comes from a long, rich history and tradition of activism for social justice, beginning with parents whose marriage was delayed, pending the outcome of Loving vs. Virginia, which in 1967 invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Monica was lost to the cycle and system of incarceration for twenty years, but she found her way home in Unitarian Universalism (UU) and in the movement, work, and struggle for justice. Monica considers the UU Prison Ministry of Illinois her home congregation and appreciates being part of a faith community that allows and encourages questions. She helped create the covenant group curriculum used by the UU Prison Ministry of Illinois during small groups at Cook County Jail and, hopefully soon, Logan women’s prison. 

During her incarceration in both of those places, questioning was not only discouraged, it often was not tolerated. Her contributions to the curriculum have been a way for Monica to share a more spiritually liberated space with some of the people she left behind, a space that welcomes questions and assumes everyone’s inherent worth and dignity. 

In March 2018, Monica collaborated on the Tearing Down Walls racial justice conference for UUs across Illinois in which she shared her expertise and some of her work with Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration and the Westside Justice Center. She invited participants to develop practices of abolition and restorative/transformative justice in our own lives: contribute to someone’s bond, offer a ride to someone going to see their parent or child in prison, become a penpal, join or start a solidarity circle for someone getting out of prison, don’t call the cops, get to know your neighbors, build community. Monica is engaged in justice work throughout the city of Chicago and beyond, including building the movement to end solitary confinement. She is excited to be in her first semester at Northeastern Illinois University and is trying to raise funds to cover tuition

Like Monica may we have the courage to question and the imagination to create a world yet unknown to us.


One of Monica’s favorite writers is Starhawk.

"To act with integrity, we must see ourselves in context, as individuals and as members of a larger community... To be a member of that community means both to be shaped by it and to have responsibility for shaping it... No one can live out the fullness of self when she or he is hungry or condemned to a life of poverty and discrimination... People cannot live fully when the color of their skin limits their freedom and opportunities, when their lives are overshadowed by the fear of war or threat of ecological disaster. To live with integrity in an unjust society we must work for justice."

-- Starhawk


This song is a favorite at the UU Prison Ministry of Illinois. In recent years we’ve shared it at protests outside of youth prisons and at actions that demanded (and won!) the release of Bresha Meadows.

"Circle Round For Freedom" Hymn by Linda Hirschhorn

Circle round for freedom, 
circle round for peace. 
For all of us imprisoned, 
circle for release.