Social Justice Stories Continue

This month we are publishing stories of congregational social justice work as a way we can inspire each other. This month we have two stories of new projects from smaller congregations.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Utica, New York

Our Social Action Committee came up with a program called “Project Up & Out” that has exciting potential. We will be partnering with Thea Bowman House in Utica to sponsor a family for a year. The staff of Thea Bowman House is in the process of identifying a family for us and spending time with them to learn what their specific needs are . Once their needs are known, volunteers from our congregation will step up to offer support in the specific areas the family identifies such as ESOL, adult education, interview preparation, financial literacy mentoring, etc. Congregants will also contribute a set amount financially to pay for school supplies, clothes and other needs the family has throughout the year. Students from Hamilton College will be studying Project Up & Out to measure our goals and outcomes and to determine whether or not Project Up & Out is an effective and sustainable model for helping families get out of the cycle of poverty. The Youth of our congregation will be delivering updates throughout the year on Project Up & Out. If the outcome is positive, the Social Action Committee hopes to document the model to be used throughout Utica. The congregation is excited about this project and eager to make this the main focus of our Social Action work in 2015, though other initiatives will continue.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Oberlin, Ohio

We have now been in our new building over 2 years.  From the beginning we have seen it as allowing us to undertake social justice projects that were not possible without a building.  There are three programs that we have chosen because they fitted the space requirements and because we had special people in our congregation with the interest and skills to make the projects succeed:

POWER's Greg JonesPOWER is a successful environmental organization started by one of our members, Cindy Frantz.  Its purpose is to assess by invitation the energy use of area homes, and after assessment to work with the homeowners to increase their energy efficiency.  Funding for the program was cut, and POWER was faced with firing one of their 2 employees.  They appealed to OUUF for space so they could drop their office space and keep their employees.  We found a small room with space for their files and for interviewing clients.  We have been pleased to have them in our building.

Students at Oberlin High School have a fine LGBTQQIA  group, but the students in Lorain County do not.  One of our members, Nancy Boutilier, felt this was a service OUUF could provide.  She volunteered to be the advisor, and, along with a few other members, formed a drop in center.  It is OUUF’s Welcoming Congregation safe space called Café Q, with monthly meetings at OUUF. They had their first meeting this fall, and students are beginning to drop in.

Our most ambitious project is to join with a large group of Oberlin and Lorain County churches to host homeless families under a program called Family Promise.  Fourteen selected families are in the program for 60 days during which they have skills training at a central site and look for housing.  The job of each church is to give a week several times a year providing the families meals and a place to sleep.  The children are bussed to their own schools.  Our first week is December 28 to January 4.  Although OUUF is a small group, and a number of us are out of town for the holidays, we have managed to fill all 56 slots with the help of some friends.  We are fortunate that the Oberlin Methodist Church is our partner, and they are providing the breakfasts and lunches as well as large quantities of equipment and supplies.

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Columbus Ohio Sponsor Prayer Walk

We are continuing posts of social justice activities of our congregations this month.

In response to the police involved deaths of people of color, interfaith leaders in Columbus Ohio, including Unitarian Universalists,  a Prayer Walk for Justice on January 10th 2015. These are clips from the media who covered the event.

 

From Channel 4, NBC, WCMH-CBO –
For article – http://www.nbc4i.com/story/27819581/faith-leaders-walk-for-racial-reconciliation

And an article about the event in the Columbus Dispatch.

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“Let’s Talk” about race at District Assembly

Our blog posts this month continue to provide updates on social justice in Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts. This blog post is an invitation to a scheduled conversation at District Assembly on how we will and are responding to the post-Ferguson movements for racial justice.

My Black Body and Justice by Samuel Prince

Samuel Prince
Samuel Prince

Most of us, if not all, have heard of the grand jury decisions not to indict or have any criminal charges brought to the white police officers who had shot two black African American males and the ongoing investigation of the killing of a young twelve year-old boy in Cleveland by a white police officer.

As with the jury decision not to indict Trayvon Martin’s killer, these lack of indictments and killings has fueled and spawned a national protest that #blacklivesmatter with the need to take a closer look at policing around the country.

It’s been noted that “African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, in this country are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed.” This statement is a truism, and a narrative pointed out by activists, black clergy and others to the enormous problem and issue plaguing the Black community with it comes to arrest, equality and black livelihood in America.

These killings have been compared to the many African Americans who have been lynched and or killed at the hands of those who had a racial prejudice towards them, their families and other racial injustices directed towards the black community. The trail is a bloody and deadly one!

What is it about the black body our bodies, my black body that cause so much consternation, so much angst, so much disgust and so much anger! Even when the most mundane infractions are committed, the measure of punishment and outright brutality criminalized a black body!

Even though white Americans outnumber black Americans fivefold, black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed when they encounter the police in the US, and black teenagers are far likelier to be killed by police than white teenagers.

Our Unitarian Universalist first and second principles affirms the worth and dignity of every person and the equity, justice, and compassion and LOVE in all human relations. The countless past examples have shown that justice matters to Unitarian Universalists and our need to see that justice matters and to speak out against unjust acts. The question then becomes, what of our internalized upbringing and reaction when confronted with our own biases and prejudices, racism? Would Justice speak out to you in our predominantly white organization?

If we do not have the conversations forthrightly about race, we will arrive at the same apex that has been inherently embedded in us, the outcome of killings that we see so prevalent today. You cannot train out racist mentalities; you can change a person behavior but not their mindsets.

So let us continue to learn how to affirm a person’s dignity and worth and at the same time, their individual right for justice, equity, compassion and love in all human relations. Let us get to know “the other”, so when we are confronted, we respond in kindness and love. #alllivesmatter

Join us in the conversation, “Let’s Talk”, at District Assembly, March 27-28th, 2015 in B3.

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Multigenerational Social Justice

Each week this month we are featuring social justice stories from various congregations.

First Unitarian Rochester, New York

The relationship between First Unitarian’s Honduras Project Task Force, the Global Health Program of the University of Rochester Department of Family Medicine, and the people of San Jose, Honduras, has yielded many transformations in quality of life for our Honduran partners: new water systems, cook stoves, scholarships, health care brigades, and tutoring, among others.

One element of this ongoing relational life is a yearly educational exchange of a lesson and an activity that both do. This year, First Unitarian’s children and youth designed 5 parachutes (one for each school) with words in Spanish and English for colors and colorful ties around the edges. In addition, Youth Group put together individual parachute kits for each child to decorate with colors and words to play with, in an effort to help kids have fun and learn basic English which they will need if they advance beyond 6th grade. Honduran children sent a parachute for RE with their pictures and words on it! Youth Group also hosted a Souper Sunday and will host a bake sale in the spring to continue their commitment to one student’s advancement to high school which they have sponsored for many years.

Syracuse, New York

Family FUUN Night
Family FUUN Night

Every month First UU Syracuse and May Memorial host a Family UU Night (FUUN) where we do some sort of social justice or community service activity. These events are open to anyone of any age from either church or from the community. We started this in August and so far we have stuffed backpacks for a back to school event, made care kits and collected socks to hand out to homeless people in our community, picked over 100 pounds of apples to donate to the food pantry, hosted a guest at your table potluck to raise money for the UUSC and helped the Eastern Farm Workers fulfill the Christmas wishes of families they serve. These events regularly draw 20-40 people and are a great way for newcomers to come try us out and meet new people. And, our teens spent a day volunteering to fix bikes for our city’s annual Christmas bike give away.

 

Evin Carvill-Ziemer, Congregational Life Staff

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