Preparing Your Faith Community for the Unexpected

Recent tragic events are causing many congregations to pay closer attention to the safety of their people and the security of their spaces. We all like to think of our congregation as a safe space that offers sanctuary from the world beyond but churches everywhere have become increasingly vulnerable to unexpected intrusions. The chance of an incident occurring remains exceptionally low but we know that when it does happen it is devastating for victims, their families and their communities. The threat of everything from a tornado, flood or fire to a stranger who enters our space with malicious intent is remote but real and all faith communities are encouraged to engage in an open and transparent process to create internal policies, action plans and training for staff and volunteers before the unthinkable happens.

The following resources have helped our congregations develop plans and procedures for addressing threats and violent incidents:

  • Your local police department. Often, they can do a walk-through of your building and give you guidance.
  • Church Mutual Insurance Company’s ALICE Training Institute Online Tutorial. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. These tactics are broader than a “lockdown only” approach, and have proven effective for minimizing harm.
  • The Justice Technology Information Center’s Safeguarding Houses of Worship App and resources to use “in collaborating with community leaders and first responders.”
  • The Anti-Defamation League’s Protecting Your Jewish Institution is a comprehensive security guide covering not only active shooter situations, but also violent protests, threats, and surveillance by hostile groups.

As CER’s program manager for Safe Congregations, I’m interested in hearing from congregations that have developed strong policies and procedures. I’d like to share what you’ve done with other congregations. And if you’re from a congregation that’s just getting started with this work, I encourage you to begin by viewing this webinar, “Safe from Harm.”

For more resources on how to keep your congregation safe from all types of harm, check out our Safe Congregations resources or to reach out to your primary contact. This website is in the process of revision and update, so if you can’t find what you need, just write to the UUA Safe Congregations team and we’ll get you connected.

Patricia Infante
CER Congregational Life Staff, Program Manager for Safe Congregations

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Responding to Violence in Our World

A few weeks ago I took my seat on a Jet Blue flight that would take me from San Diego to JFK in about 5 short hours. I had just left the wonderful Mosaic Makers Conference where we figured out ways to center the experience of the global majority in Unitarian Universalism—and beyond—in a world that is becoming increasingly multicultural. We made some meaningful strides in spite of the difficulties that abound.

Little did I know that my world—our world—was about to change again. While on-line in flight, I received the news of the most recent terrorist attack in New York City, the vibrant city that I live in. A truck speeding down an innocuous bike path deliberately killed eight persons, and injured numerous others—in the name of religion.

My heart, like yours, broke for the innocent persons killed and injured, for their families, on Halloween no less! A fun day. A day when typically, life is celebrated by all ages.

My heart, like yours, breaks as I ask myself, “what can we in Congregational Life do?”

We can pause. We can express our gratitude for the positive efforts being made. We can each do something. And we can celebrate the fact that none of us is alone—we’re a team. From there, we can work with our congregations by supporting their efforts to balance the disparities that abound. We don’t have to do it all but, if we want to be part of the change that we’d like to see, we do have to keep challenging each other, not by being hard on ourselves, but by being real. I shared some of these reflections last Sunday before we paused in silence to acknowledge the tragedy.

After service, I took the train and headed to represent the UUA and the Central East Region at Rev. Audette Fulbright’s Service of Installation. I sat across from a lovely couple. Happy. Carefree. Then, all of a sudden, there was a shift in mood. A shift in tone. Tears. The news: 26 persons were killed and about 24 were injured in another church shooting, this time in Sutherland, a tiny rural town in Texas. I made it to All Souls. Just as the service began I formally shared the horrific news, paused for another moment of silence, before extending warm greetings. My heart like all the hearts gathered, broke. My heart, like yours, breaks.

And yet, I know how important it is for us to allow our grief-filled hearts to invite faith, hope and love to seep in–drop by precious drop. Allow our hearts to guide us in coming together, once again, as often as we must, to claim that we will not let fear dictate the kind of people we are and will be, in spite of the anger, the tears and the fears. Allow us to be the people who know how to respond—yes, once again—by uniting our actions, our hearts and our minds in love. Allow us to remember as we work with the larger world, our congregations, and each other, that we are part of a team, doing the work that we have each been called to do.

Yours, HOPE

Rev. Hope Johnson, CER Congregational Life Staff

If you need assistance with talking about these issues with your congregation, please refer to the UUA’s pages on Trauma Response:

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UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change

Members of the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change

Have you heard of the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change?

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Commission on Institutional Change is charged with long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism. Appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees in 2017 for a period of two years, the Commission will analyze structural racism and white supremacy within the UUA.

The members of the Commission are

  • Rev. Leslie Takahashi, chair: Lead Minister at the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek, CA, and Affiliated Faculty with Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Caitlin Breedlove: Vice President for Movement Leadership at Auburn Seminary; former Campaign Director of the UUA Standing on the Side of Love Campaign, former Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground
  • Mary Byron: Member of the UUA Audit Committee; former executive with Goldman Sachs
  • DeReau Farrar: Director of Music at the First Unitarian Church of Portland, OR, member of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network
  • Rev. Natalie Fenimore: Minister for Lifespan Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, NY; former president of the Liberal Religious Educators Association
  • Dr. Elias Ortega-Aponte: Associate Professor of Sociology and Religious Ethics at Drew University, and member of the UUA Religious Educator Credentialing Committee

Additionally, Rev. Sofia Betancourt, former UUA Interim Co-President for Institutional Change, will help support the Commission as it gets started during the first few months.

Watch their introductory video:

Their Principles and Goals are:

The Commission on Institutional Change held its first in-person meeting on August 21 and 22, 2017. After two days of deliberation and consideration of the charge presented it by the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Commission completed a statement of its work, its guiding principles and its approach to its work. Over the two years the Commission will report back to the Board and General Assembly its learning, recommendations, and guidance for ongoing work. The Commission will:

  • Ground its work in theological reflection and seek the articulation of a liberating Unitarian Universalism which is anti-oppressive, multicultural and accountable to the richness of our diverse heritage.
  • Oversee an audit of racism within the Unitarian Universalist Association practices and policies to set priorities and make recommendations for anti-oppressive strategies (including hiring and personnel practices and governance structures) and that will advance our progress towards building the Beloved Community and hold the Association accountable.
  • Collect stories of those who have been the target of harm or aggression because of racism within existing UUA culture and to identify the aspects of that culture which must be dismantled to transform us into a faith for our times.
  • Examine and document critical events and practices at all levels of the Association, congregations and related ministries which spotlight areas for redress and restorative justice and illuminate the expectations placed on religious professionals of color in the transformation of our faith.
  • Identify promising practices for recruitment, retention and formation of religious leadership which spans the spectrum of race, class and age and which reflects an ecclesiology of an inclusive faith.

The Commission has a webpage on the UUA website that details their charge, goals, bios of their members and how they plan to work together. They have also created a blog where you can follow their work.

The Commission will report back their findings at future General Assemblies. To contact the Commission, email [email protected].

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UUA Announces Promise and Practice of Our Faith Campaign

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President

The following letter was set to all congregations announcing the new Promise and Practice of our Faith campaign this month.

In October 2016, your UUA Board issued a charge to all Unitarian Universalists, calling us to invest collectively and signifcantly in the leadership and organizing of Black Unitarian Universalists.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to live the most deeply universalist aspect of our theology and to begin to overcome the limitations of our history. Our commitment to raise and invest $5.3 million for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) recognizes that centering black leadership is crucial to building multiracial, multicultural communities and to supporting justice work that is free from white supremacy and paternalism.

Our UUA believes so deeply in this commitment to support BLUU’s ministry that it has put forth $1 million from our endowment. In June, a family joined the UUA in its fnancial commitment, making a remarkable $1 million gift to encourage and match contributions from our congregations. This family has been committed to racial justice throughout their decades as Unitarian Universalists, and is investing these funds because they agree that it is time to align our finances with our theology. They made this donation a matching opportunity because they want you to join with them and with us as we boldly build the future of our faith.

To be sure, these are challenging times. We are witnessing a demonstrable increase in hate crimes, a resurgence of the KKK, and daily political and spiritual assaults on our collective humanity. At the same time, we are opening our eyes to white supremacy as it exists in the very fabric of our story as a society and a nation. There is much that we must hold simultaneously. In this time, our commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people and our collective interdependence call for us to live, invest in, and understand our faith in new ways.

Now is the time to invest in Black Leadership and organizing within Unitarian Universalism, for this is the very leadership that can help move our faith forward in the promise and practice of beloved community – a community which practices radical inclusion within, and bold justice leadership for all beyond.

Today, I call each of you to be part of this bold commitment to fulfill the promise to support the ministry, leadership and organizing of Black Lives within Unitarian Universalism.

I invite you to share in the dream and vision of what our faith will look like when we fulfill this radical commitment, when we uphold and center the history, the voices, and the leadership of Black Unitarian Universalists.

In order for our work to be truly transformational, I ask every Unitarian Universalist congregation to join in this real and lasting investment in the future of our faith. Indeed,, this is the challenge issued by the family who has pledged so generously. In order to receive the matching funds, we must raise $11 million in our congregations over the next two years.. This challenge calls us to our covenantal promise to one another, and it calls us to be bold as we return wealth historically built on the exploitation and divestment from black communities and make good on promises that were unfulfilled.

To meet this challenge, the donor family has asked congregations to pledge at least $10 per member to this campaign. (Or however you count the souls you serve.) All gifts are needed, and every gift is appreciated. If your congregation is able to reach the threshold of $10 per membe,, BLUU will receive a dollar for dollar match for your contribution.

We know that you are engaged in the often-exhausting work of guiding your congregation through the troubling daily onslaught of news. Embracing this campaign and engaging in the practice and promise of our faith is one powerful way in which we as Unitarian Universalists can lead in our communities and become the change we want to see in our world.. We hope that your congregation will join us and the donor family, and consider gifts that feel inspirational and transformational.

We are all being called to make a commitment that will create enduring impact. For, as a faith community, the investment in Black Lives is an investment in the promise and practice of Beloved Community within Unitarian Universalism. This is about who we are. It is about who we are called to be. And it is about our collective commitment to nurture a radically inclusive, justice centered, multiracial and multigenerational religious faith for this time.

Please visit our webpage, where you can find additional materials and resources for your congregation to use during this campaign and thereafter.

Yours in gratitude and spirit,
Susan Frederick-Gray

Congregations are asked to join in the Promise and the Practice of Our Faith by engaging in the following opportunities:

  • Schedule at least one Sunday on November 12, 2017 or February 4, 2018 (or any Sunday that is convenient for your congregation) to engage around the theme The Promise and the Practice of Our Faith.
  • Make a financial commitment in our support to BLUU that is transformational and inspirational which helps fulfill our $1 million match opportunity (double the impact of your contribution by meeting the threshold of $10 per certified member, or however you count the souls you serve).
  • Make a long-term commitment to dismantling white supremacy, racism and oppression from within our denomination and beyond, and uplifting the Black Lives, Voices, and Leadership of Unitarian Universalism.

Learn more at the UUA website.

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Pumpkins Offer Opportunity for Community and Learning

Rev. Hope Johnson at the Central Nassau, Garden City, NY Pumpkin Patch Photo by Patsy Kaplan

UUCCN, the UU Congregation of Central Nassau,Garden City NY initiated the Pumpkin Patch—outreach to our local community, the larger Long Island community, and the Navajo community in New Mexico. I’m often described as the “Pumpkin Minister” and that’s fine with me! Patsy Kaplan, VP brought this project to us thirteen years ago. It’s become our biggest fundraiser and the entire congregation “owns” the Patch!

We’ve learned about the narrative arc from pumpkins grown on Navajo land, to immigrant rights, to fair wages for all, and more. Our focus is on partnership and we now see our neighbors, near and far, through new multicultural eyes. We offer “storytelling,” face-painting, pink pumpkins to support breast cancer research, and more to our young-at-heart visitors of all ages. With time, our neighbors learn about UUCCN and Unitarian Universalism. Musicians, including UU Master Drummer Matt Meyer, perform in the Patch each year. We also offer homemade apple pies, flowers (Mums), and craft items. With a focus on sustainability, the fresh pumpkins are delivered “priced-to-size,” on consignment!!! Leftover or gently bruised pumpkins are turned into soup, bread, pies and such delights. At the end of the month, remaining pumpkins are donated to a local hunger relief organization.

We’ve learned through our regional work that we really are “Better Together!” So, this year there’s a new “Pumpkin Minister” in town—the Rev. Jude Geiger, Minister of the UU Fellowship of Huntington, NY. Here’s their story: “While challenged with organizing a fundraiser that draws from the community, not from our members, we kept running into the hard reality that our building is too off the beaten path to get drive by traffic. We wanted to have a Pumpkin Patch fundraiser, but needed a location with lots of drive by traffic. With the encouragement of Patsy Kaplan, UUCCN’s Pumpkin Patch Coordinator, we found an off-site location. We are renting the lawn of the local American Legion Hall. Although people may stop in thinking it’s a fundraiser for the Hall, they soon learn about us, and that their purchase helps us, the American Legion and the Navajo Nation in NM where the pumpkins are grown. We love the charity helping charity aspect of this, and our customers do as well. Actually, The Garden City Congregation also benefits because the company gives them money based on what we make because Patsy is mentoring us. It’s a charity win-win.” We’ve also mentored UU congregations in Stony Brook, NY; Meridian, CT and beyond…. Ah, the fields of orange beckon…. come visit, Garden City or Huntington, and En-JOY!!!

Rev. Hope Johnson
CER Congregational Life Staff and Minister, UU Congregation of Central Nassau, Garden City, NY

Family Fun at the Pumpkin Patch. Photo by Patsy Kaplan
Sales Volunteers by Fernando Rivera


Huntington, NY Church Volunteers unload the truck for their Pumpkin Patch
Huntington, NY Pumpkin Patch set up.
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Navigators USA Founded in UU Congregation

Here is an  example of how our congregations are providing support and filling a need for both UUs and the greater community.

Navigators USA, a secular, all-gender scouting movement, founded at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York, is seeing explosive growth. We’ve been growing since 2012 at an average rate of 2 new Chapters a month until last November when the rate moved up to 5 new Chapters a month. Then in July, after the President’s speech at the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree, we have received over 20 new applications in August!

We believe that boys and girls need to get out into nature now more than ever and all scouting organizations need support and participation. That said, we’ve been hearing from parents across the country that policies may change but the culture in many local Troops remain challenging for some demographics.

Navigators USA is a bottom up movement similar to the UUA, as a membership service association. Our members are moving us toward a more family focused model with entire family participation in meetings and activities. Building community and social capital along with youth leadership is our mission.

Our growth comes without marketing, completely from Facebook and Google. People are searching for what we have to offer, including UU’s. Of the 189 Chapters started, 38 are sponsored by UU congregations. In many cases we help grow their congregations and strengthened their RE programs.

Robin Bossert
Founder Executive Director
Navigators USA

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Does Your Congregation Provide Trauma Support to Members?

At one time in our country people joined a religious community because it was expected that they do so. At the heart of what they sought within the community lay a societal norm and a sense of “Being Human Religiously” to quote James Luther Adams. They came seeking social and spiritual connection and grounding, for themselves and for their children. And Church was the primary place that you could find these social and spiritual connections.

That has changed. Now our culture offers a plethora of opportunities for both social and spiritual connections, and for a sense of grounding and foundation from which life can be lived. In essence, the traditional church found that it had competition, and it has struggled to let go of the assumptions of the role and place church should play in a society.

I believe there is a different trend that draws people into religious community today. People may stay in a congregation because of the community, the connection, and the sense of grounding, but that is not what draws them to a religious community anymore.

When I was in Parish Ministry, it was part of my practice to offer to meet with visitors, one on one. Not all would take me up on it, but many did, and what I learned was that almost every person who came into our doors fell into one of two patterns. Either they had attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation somewhere before and had just moved to our town, or they had recently experienced a trauma in their life.

Trauma is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot, so let me tell you what I mean. Trauma is experiences of our physical, mental, and spiritual being that disrupt our sense of safety, integrity, or identity. Trauma is an experience where a person’s core assumptions about themselves, their family, their community, and even their country are challenged in such a way that they can no longer hold.

Human beings experience trauma, and some people experience more of it than others. One way to understand privilege in our society is that those individuals with privilege experience trauma less, because society is less likely to challenge their core assumptions. Other people experience trauma on a daily basis, because society challenges or negates core aspects of their identity, body, relationships, and ideals every day. Each of us deals with trauma differently, but we all experience it.
What I learned listening to those who were visiting our church was that most had recently had an experience in their life that challenged their core assumptions about themselves, their family, their community, or their country. Often several experiences… and seeking to recover from this trauma what convinced them to get out of bed that Sunday morning and first come to a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

How does it change the way we seek to bring people into our religious communities if we realize that many are not just seeking a spiritual, religious, or secular community, but that they have come because they are hurting? Because something has challenged a core sense of themselves? That they are coming because of a deep need created by a trauma to their sense of identity, safety, body, relationships and ideals? Especially when you consider that those already within the religious community will also experience their own trauma?

When I offer workshops on new member integration programs, I offer that a congregation should let go of the desire to tell people about the church, and foster a desire to help visitors tell their own stories of their lives. That a congregation should develop a practice of deep listening to visitors, to hear their stories, and to help people express who they are and what they need from a religious community. I share that we do not build a sense of connection with visitors through programs, but through relationships with people. And often, that begins with a relationship with just one person. It begins with the visitor making a friend who will listen to the pain that brought them to church that morning.

While I do believe that membership programs that realize that many who are exploring a congregation are integrating some trauma in their lives are more successful at gaining new members, that is not my point. My point is that this is a ministry to individuals and to the world that we need to be doing. We have the gift that people come to our doors when they are hurting because something somewhere makes them believe that we can help. And we… we need to be worthy of that belief.

Rev. David Pyle
CER Congregational Life Staff

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CER Hiring Event Coordinator

The Central East Region is hiring an Event Coordinator to join our team. This position will be replacing Sue Tabone who will be retiring this year.

We’re looking for someone who has:

  • Respect for, interest in and experience with religious congregations.
  • Ability to work as part of a team and willingness to participate in the practice of covenant.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills, including proofreading.
  • Ability to manage multiple projects and work assignments in an unsupervised setting; ability to meet deadlines.
  • Excellent interpersonal and customer service skills in person, by e-mail, and by phone.
  • Proficiency in web-based content management including basic HTML, Google applications, Zoom, and social media. Familiarity with Wufoo and Trusted Employee a plus.
  • Proficiency in the Microsoft Office Suite, especially Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Word.
  • Demonstrated success coordinating events.
  • Demonstrated success in office administration.
  • Experience in negotiating with hotels, conference centers, retreat centers, and other venues.
  • Worked or lived experience with communities of color or indigenous peoples is of particular value.
  • Willingness to work in an organization in which the dismantling of white supremacy is a high priority.

Read the full job description and details PDF.

We encourage anyone who is interested to apply for this position.

Learn about all the positions available with the UUA at the UUA Job Openings and Careers Page.

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#UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn Fall 2017 Dates Announced

In the last few weeks, Unitarian Universalists have responded alongside interfaith and activist partners with love and resistance to overt white supremacists in Charlottesville and across the country. In April, May, and June, 682 of the 1,038 UU congregations–and 32 other UU communities–held UU White Supremacy Teach-ins.

Through public witness, education, and introspection, our faith is coming to understand that fighting white supremacy means both resisting its most blatant forms “out there,” and disrupting its systemic manifestations within.

The first round of teach-ins brought moments of triumph, awkwardness, fierce debate, powerful revelations, joy and pain for Unitarian Universalists of color, and much more. The Teach-In team again calls our siblings in faith to action to continue the work of growth and learning. On Sunday, October 15th or Sunday, October 22nd, join together with UU communities nationwide in Part Two of the UU White Supremacy Teach-in. Our power and reach are magnified when we come together.

The Teach-In Team is collaborating on building three different “tracks” for congregational lay and clergy leaders in which to situate their communities. Some UU churches lean towards being intellectual, academically inclined places; others are full of activists, and still others are places that “love church,” but are hesitant to enter the waters of the social justice and most are a mix of all three. In the coming days, an assessment tool will be forthcoming, which will help those planning your congregation’s Teach-In to choose a track. Webinars, Sunday morning worship, children’s chapel, religious education, high school youth, and other resources, lesson plans and more are coming soon, friends. You can find the resources on the Teachin website,

Some ask, “Why give up another Sunday for ‘social justice work’ and ignore spirituality?” For us, the answer is clear: for the oppressed, there is no such thing as separating social justice and spirituality. Combating overt white supremacy and white supremacy culture is a theological endeavor for our faith–from the top of the UUA, to each individual in every congregation and community. We treat it as such—and on October 15th, 22nd, and every day between now and then, we call on you to join us. Register your congregation’s participation today at the Teachin website.

In faith,
Aisha Hauser, Christina Rivera, Kenny Wiley, and the UU White Supremacy Teach-In Planning Team- consisting of religious educators, lay and ordained clergy and UUA staff

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UUA Names Two Books as this Year’s Common Read

Each year, a committee of the UUA selects a book to be the Common Read. Having one common book that individuals and congregations can read together along with a study guide can build community in our congregations and our movement by giving diverse people a shared experience, shared language, and a basis for deep, meaningful conversations.

The challenges, the call, and the opportunity of this moment in Unitarian Universalism and in the broader US American society are compelling. Unitarian Universalists must be prepared and willing to look inward, examining, exploring, and acting to dismantle white supremacy culture in our association, in our congregations and groups, and in ourselves.  At the same time, we must be prepared and willing to look outward and act to lift up Unitarian Universalist values in the political and civic challenges of our time. After much deliberation, the Common Read Selection Committee has chosen two books for this year’s Common Read:

  • Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry, edited by Mitra Rahnema (Skinner House, 2017), centers the stories, analysis, and insights of a number of Unitarian Universalist religious leaders of color as they explore how racial identity is made both visible and invisible in Unitarian Universalist communities. Centering offers help with the inner work of today’s Unitarian Universalism
  • Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want, by Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen, (Beacon Press, September 2017) lifts up the importance of democracy itself. It examines the anti-democracy movement that led to the Trump presidency, then offers a vision and call to action to save the democracy we thought we had and to take our civic life to a place it has never been. Daring Democracy provides a vision and practical guidance for advancing our justice-making work in the public square.

We invite you to make time to read both, and to work with others to organize discussion groups in your UU community.

In addition to providing a study guide and a way on the UUA website for congregations to share their events related to the Common Read, this year we have a special opportunity to involve the authors of Daring Democracy in a conversation. UU religious leaders are invited to meet Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen, co-authors of Daring Democracy, hosted by the UUA and Beacon Press from 11 a.m. to noon (Eastern) on Wed., Sept. 20 at 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA and via live webcast.

Learn more about the Common Read program and the books selected at the UUA website. You can also find past Common Reads and their resources. Past common reads include The Third Reconstruction, Just Mercy, Reclaiming Prophetic Witness, Behind the Kitchen Door, The New Jim Crow, Acts of Faith, and The Death of Josseline.

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