A New Day Rises for Your Congregation’s Racial Justice Efforts on January 26th in Fairfax, Virginia

New Day Rising Conference MemeThis past summer, I was pondering. Many of my congregational interactions went something like this: “We want to play a role in furthering racial justice work in our congregation, and figure out ways we might be contributing to white supremacy culture. We just can’t decide what to do!”

I knew we had multiple resources and success stories at our UU fingertips. But I’ve always said that lots of resources aren’t helpful if you don’t know which one to pick. How could the Central East region help congregations decide what their next step should be in furthering their racial justice work and commitments?

At the same time, the UU Congregation of Fairfax extended a generous offer to host a racial justice oriented learning opportunity. And now – long story short – an event has been born: The New Day Rising Conference, to help your congregation assess and respond to the struggle against white supremacy culture. This conference has everything you need to assess your congregation’s needs and decide on next steps, easily accessible in one place.

We’ll have worship from The Sanctuaries DC – an intentionally multicultural artistic community using art to create social change. We’ll have morning workshops run by UUA staff – Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson, Paula Cole Jones, Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Rev. Sunshine Wolfe, Shannon Harper, Rev. Ian Evison and myself. We’ll have dedicated time for identity-based caucusing, a chance to gather in identity-based groups for conversation, reflection and relationship building. In the afternoon, we’ll hear from multiple UU congregations about their stories of struggle and success in a series of 7 minute TED-style type talks about what worked for them and their people (and what didn’t!), with opportunities to connect and ask questions. Through it all, we’ll host a resource fair and bookstore – a room full of resources and materials to browse, and the opportunity to order helpful books right from the Conference.

Gather folks from your congregation and come on down to the New Day Rising Conference in Fairfax, Virginia on January 26th. You’ll come away inspired, resourced, and ready to take your next congregational steps down the road towards liberation and freedom, fulfilling the promise that Unitarian Universalism makes to our people and the world. We can’t wait to see you and learn together!

Click here for The New Day Rising Conference registration page. Sliding scale fee from $20-$40 includes lunch. Partial financial waivers down to $10 are available – see registration page. Child care is available. Hotel rooms at reduced rates are available by contacting Amy Kent at [email protected].

Rev. Megan Foley
Regional Lead, Central East Region

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Religious Educators are “Changing the Narrative”

I have just returned from the annual Fall Conference of the Liberal Religious Educators Association in Houston TX. The theme was “Changing the Narrative” and issues of white supremacy culture within our denomination and the urgency of empowering and sustaining leaders of color were central. What a remarkable conversation we had over the course of 5 days! Denominational leaders including Julica Hermann de la Fuente, Christina Rivera, Greg Boyd, Rev Dr Natalie Fenimore, Aisha Houser and many others led discussions, workshops and informal conversations that were at once humbling, riveting and inspiring. Brave learning and growing “caucus” spaces were carved out for both white participants and participants of color. As has been the case so often in our Unitarian Universalist history, religious educators, both non-ordained and ordained are leading us into new ways of thinking and being with one another.

As you may recall, it was mostly religious educators who spoke up eighteen months ago, changing the narrative of who we are as Unitarian Universalists, what we “look” like, and how we bring forward voices and leaders from the margins in ways that honor and respect their unique contributions to our wholeness as a people of faith. The actions of a few courageous religious educators would ultimately contribute to big changes in our association around hiring and other institutional practices at our UUA headquarters and deep, rich conversations in congregations about what it means to be complicit in a system that continues to harm and erase people within our beloved community.

The good news is – they are still at it! Religious educators from across the continent participated in workshops on restorative circles, creating space for families of color, the theology of love and shared ministry as faith formation, just to name a few. Innovations are underway to bring JUUbilee training to children and youth, to offer congregations more study materials to continue the conversations begun with the Teach-In on White Supremacy, as well as new engaging resources from BLUU via a monthly “BLUU Box.” These are just a few of the many ways you can be a part of changing the narrative within your own congregation

We have work to do as a religious people, things to learn, deep conversations to share, and curiosity to be satisfied – in other words, faith development work. If you are lucky enough to have a professional religious educator, please look to them for a pathway into and through this brave work. You can begin by asking them what gems they carried home from the conference and what they are really excited about! Your religious educator has access to many tools and resources, whether they attended the latest LREDA Fall Conference or not. If they weren’t able to be in Houston this year, make it a priority to send them to Baltimore in November 2019 (yes, Baltimore! Hurrah, the LREDA Fall Conference is coming back to the Central East Region!). Religious educators, ministers, lay leaders – all are invited into the bold work of writing the next chapter of Unitarian Universalism!

Patricia Hall Infante, Congregational Life Staff holding the Faith Development portfolio and Credentialed Religious Educator

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Social Justice Learning at Home and Away

There are many opportunities for all of us to learn more about various social justice issues in our homes, congregations or at trainings and events around the region. Here is a sampler of what is available. If you know of others, please recommend them in the comments!

Learning and Participating at Home
For those who want to learn more or participate in something from home:

Participate in this year’s Common Read. The 2018-19 Common Read is Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Environment, edited by Manish Mishra-Marzetti and Jennifer Nordstrom (Skinner House Books, 2018). At a time when racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice are seen as issues competing for time, attention, and resources, Justice on Earth explores the ways in which the three are intertwined. People and communities on the margins are invariably those most affected by climate disaster and environmental toxins. The book asks us to recognize that our faith calls us to long-haul work for justice for our human kin, for the Earth and for all life. It invites us to look at our current challenges through a variety of different perspectives, offers tools to equip us for sustained engagement, and proposes multiple pathways for follow-up action. Justice on Earth is available at inSpirit: UU Book and Gift Shop. The UUA has created a discussion guide that offers Unitarian Universalist congregations, groups, and individuals a single 90-minute session and a more in-depth, three-session series. Optional slides (PowerPoint) allow groups to project the discussion and reflection questions rather than write and display them on newsprint or a chalkboard. If your congregation does the common read as a group, please share your congregation’s participation in this year’s Common Read map.

Looking for a personal or congregational outreach program? The Church of the Larger Fellowship will be sending almost 900 holiday cards to CLF members experiencing incarceration. Could you help?  Invite your social action committee or youth to write messages of hope. If you’re interested, it’s important to read a detailed list of Do’s and Don’ts at this link. CLF staff and volunteers will address all envelopes, bringing a bit of cheer to our incarcerated UU members, many of whom are lonely and without support. Questions? Reach out to Beth Murray at [email protected].

If you want a longer investment, Church of the Larger Fellowship has a Prison Ministry program. You can become a penpal, join with others as part of a community working to support prisoners or become an Ambassador. Learn more about this program at https://worthynow.org/

Trainings and Events around the Region or Beyond
For those who want an interactive experience these events may fill your desire to have learning with others:

Join the Pittsburgh Cluster for their Annual Assembly with a focus on social justice non November 10, 2018. Keynote speaker is Rev. Kathleen McTigue of the UU College of Social Justice speaking on The Faithful Resistance: Prophetic Witness in Dangerous Times. This event will include panel discussions and interactive sessions with local social justice leaders from PIIN, ACLU and other organizations to help us join the Faithful Resistance.

UU Justice Ohio General Assembly on November 17, 2018 is focused on A New Way: Building a Moral Democracy. Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign speaking on A Prophetic Voice for the Poor: Building a Movement to End Poverty. The day will include workshops on Health Care, Sanctuary, Poverty, Congregational Justice Ministries, The Promise and the Practice program, and Prison Ministry.

Note that other Legislative advocacy groups offer trainings and events throughout the year, however this is the only one we currently know about.

Youth in particular are invited to join us in Mt. Kisco, NY for UU College of Social Justice’s Activate Training. Activate Your Community: Love Resists! will offer youth, youth advisors, and chaperones an opportunity to deepen their understanding of opportunities for youth engagement in social justice activism, guided by Unitarian Universalist values and practices. Over the course of a long weekend gathering, participants will build community, explore their identities, and discern how they can show up in the world, beginning in their own communities, as agents of spiritually-grounded social change. The training takes place December 7-9, 2018

Your Central East Regional Staff are hosting a training on January 26, 2019 at UU Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, VA, on Struggling with White Supremacy Culture: Identifying Your Congregation’s Next Steps. Registration and details on this event will be available soon.

Want something more immersive for your congregation or yourself? Now is the time for congregations to schedule immersion learning journeys with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice for Spring and Summer 2019. Learn more about the journeys available to youth, young adults and adults of all ages or contact [email protected] to ask about setting dates for your congregation.

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Ohio Issue 1 – Electoral Justice Issue

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President

Ohio Issue 1, if passed, will dismantle much of the mass incarceration system in Ohio by reducing felony drug possession convictions to misdemeanors retroactively.  This aligns with our UU commitments to resist white supremacy, embody solidarity with those harmed by the prison system and prioritize resources for people healing from substance use.  Learn more about the issue from our partner, Ohio Organizing Collaborative.

Want to help? You can even if you aren’t in Ohio or unable to attend the get out the vote efforts.

Help with phone banks and get out the votes: Sign up here

Those in Ohio or nearby have an opportunity to be the boots on the ground November 3rd and 4th.

Unitarian Universalists, including UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, and UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) will join faith and grassroots partners to canvass and give people rides to the polls for early voting on Saturday & Sunday on Nov. 3rd & 4th in Cleveland, Ward 9.

Khnemu Foundation Lighthouse Center, known as The Lighthouse (956 E 105th St, Cleveland, OH 44108), and a part of the Organizing Ohio Collaborative will serve as the organizing hub. Training will be provided at the Center and volunteers will be asked to sign up for shifts. The polls are open between 8 am & 4 pm on Saturday and from 1-5 pm on Sunday.

During the weekend, we will have opportunities to come together for fellowship, networking, and worship. Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray will be preaching at the Sunday worship on November 4th at West Shore UU Church  in Rocky River Ohio before heading out with fellow UUs to bring ‘Souls to the Polls’ in Ward 9.

Sign up here if you would like to participate in the Nov. 3-4 weekend and we will send your more detailed information.

If you are interested in learning more about what is happening in Ohio, check out the UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) website for other events and trainings happening in Ohio. If you are not in Ohio but want to volunteer to help with other election trainings and events around the country, check the UUA webpage on Election Reform.

 

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Dealing with the Flaws

tennis racquet and ballsI love tennis. I play it whenever I can (rather badly) and I am an avid fan. If there is tennis on TV, that’s what is showing at my house. I follow a number of the athletes, I’m on top of the news from the sport, I know exactly where the tour is going next, I have every tournament’s app on my phone.

But…

Let’s face it. This is a sport created by upper class white European men. It started in France and most of the rules were created in England. It has a deep tradition that has made it difficult to respond to changes in cultures and our changing understanding of the world. It’s been slower to adopt technology than other sports. It has its flaws.

One of those flaws is that many of the rules are vague and are up to the umpire to decide if they need enforcing. So while on paper the rules of tennis may seem fair, the enforcement of the rules can vary widely. Implicit bias can certainly enter the court as the umpire makes those decisions. Case in point is the US Open’s Womens Final this month. Serena Williams was given three code violations during the match, the final one for arguing with the umpire, which cost her a game and potentially the match.

I’m not going to debate whether or not Serena Williams broke the rules. What I want to point out is how the system made it possible for the rules to be enforced unfairly. As many male tennis players stated on Twitter, they have said much worse (oh so much worse!) to the same umpire and not been called for a code violation. So why was a woman? Here is an example of where implicit bias seemed to have taken hold. The umpire was reacting to an angry black woman. Not a tennis player. Was he trying to put her back in her place? Whether the umpire’s reaction was to her gender, her race or a combination of the two, no one knows. She only had to be judged to the standard in the umpire’s head, the ideal female tennis player.

Tennis is an example of our greater society that we’re currently living and working in. In our society there are rules that we all follow without thinking. There are rules that are vague that we enforce upon those around us in different ways depending on how we read the situation. We don’t usually take into account the culture of the other person or if the expectations or ideal in our head is inappropriate. We react. This is what we’re talking about when we say we’re fighting the white supremacy culture that’s in the water we swim in. We’re fighting against the centuries of cultural norms that are very white European in our expectations and trying to open up our minds to other ways of doing things. What other new ideas and innovations and ways of doing things are we missing out on because we’re focused on doing things they way they always have been? How many voices have we silenced? How many innovative ideas have we lost?

Changing the rules will only go so far. We have to change our minds, re-learn behaviors, and adapt how we react. That’s not easy for anyone at the best of times. But we will not see a world that is fair and equal for all until we do.

Because of this I will continue to work towards the Beloved Community and challenge white supremacy culture when I see it. Even in my beloved sport of tennis.

Beth Casebolt
CER Operations Manager and Communications Consultant

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Grow Your Skills In Battling White Supremacy Culture This Summer!

One of the things I love about summer is the way you can let concepts and ideas seep into you in a new way, swim around in your heart and gut, forming their own new paths of meaning and inspiring more active steps when the time is right. In that vein, the Central East Region would like to offer a couple of short learning opportunities for your contemplation over the summer.

These might introduce concepts that are new to you – or ones that are familiar, but could be helpful to your congregation. Feel free to share broadly!

Microaggressions: Say what?! Small slights … big impact! (video, 5 min).

How Microaggressions Are Like Mosquito Bites (animated video, 2 min, some vulgar language)

White Fragility and the Rules of Engagement, by Dr. Robin Diangelo (article, 3 pages). (And check out her new New York Times bestselling book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, published by our own Beacon Press!)

Hope your summer is filled with time for new ideas and the space to soak them in!

Love, the Central East Region staff

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Falling Forward

Rev. Megan Foley

You may remember that last spring the UUA was embroiled in a controversy over hiring practices for staff such as myself who serve our congregations. It was a perfect storm of UU crisis: a significant portion of our UU family calling out important, long overdue problems with the UUA. A social media firestorm with plenty of blame to share. Defensiveness and poor messaging from leadership. The resignation of the UUA’s President, Chief Operating Officer, and my boss, the Director of Congregational Life. And then, a UUA commitment to once again tackle the perennial UU problem of embedded structural racism and white supremacy culture.

In the midst of all that spring madness swirled so many questions: What really happened with the Southern Lead hire? How did we get to the firestorm in which we found ourselves? And, not for nothing, how can we sift through it all and learn from it so that we might be able to do better, next time?

Last month the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change issued a report about the events of last spring that has helped shed some light on how we found ourselves where we did. Helpfully, this report also offers suggestions for how to move forward. You can read the report here.

One of the things I found most instructive in the report was the claim that our UUA structures, our chosen policies, were often seen to be archaic and unhelpful, so they often weren’t followed, with negative consequences. This reinforced what I see as a need for structures at the UUA that function and work for the people they are supposed to serve. I am committed to that work in this region and in the Congregational Life staff group as a whole. Our systems matter; they can help us do the work for liberation in the world or they can contribute to oppression and pain. I want to help us choose the path of liberation and my staff team and I are working to be sure that is so.

One of the things that was new to me and many white-identified folks on Congregational Life staff was the vastness of the extent to which our religious professionals of color feel misused and abused by our congregations. We learned and are growing to see that when those conflicts come to the attention of Congregational Life staff, we can contribute to the abuse and oppression rather than mitigate it. We in the Central East Region are doing our best to hear that and to plan ways to do better. In partnership with religious professionals of color and our congregations, we are committed to learning together how to create new paths out of the damaging practices of white supremacy culture and into a new future where all UUs can bring their whole selves to their work. This will in no way be easy; American racism is nothing to take lightly. But if anyone can do this work, even a little, as hard as it is, I think Unitarian Universalists can. We staff of the Central East Region are committed to this work, and are learning with other regions and our headquarters staff how to do it better.

We know our congregations are also committed to a future that is less racist, more liberating and more just for all. We’re excited about partnering with you on this journey too. Maybe you’re wrestling with many of the same questions the UUA is wrestling with. Maybe you’ve also had painful experiences and are trying to learn and do better, and it feels awkward and embarrassing. Let’s do this together. We UUA staff will be talking more about our learnings as we go along; stay tuned as we offer more resources and tools as well – here’s a start. In the meantime, be in touch with me or your congregation’s Primary Contact if you are looking for ways to do this work better.

It will take all of us to move us forward. No one is in this alone, and a group of people asking powerful questions in the midst of suffering and not-knowing is a group of people poised to do something important. I can’t wait to travel down this path with all of you.

Rev. Megan Foley
CER Regional Lead

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the Interdependent Web of Musical Culture

As Unitarian Universalists have been growing into deeper understanding of White Supremacy Culture, being interculturally respectful and competent, and learning how to avoid the pitfalls of cultural misappropriation, we are learning to learn and share the stories and contexts behind the songs we sing as part of our worship.

This is a work in progress. The hymnal Singing the Living Tradition had a companion book Between the Lines with some information about each hymn, but both volumes were before we had any sort of intercultural lens. We don’t have any “official” resources to help us in this important work.

There is no right way or answer, but an invitation to be in the struggle and the conversation of how to faithfully include music of other cultures in UU worship. One model is engaging with each hymn and its history as a spiritual practice.  The Rev. Kimberley Debus has—with vulnerability—spent a over a year engaging with a hymn each day on her blog Far Fringe.  I have referred to this blog as I ruminate about hymn choices and how to present them in their original context. I found it to be a fruitful spiritual practice.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CER Congregational Life Staff

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African American Women of the Civil War Era – Untold Stories

FREED Performers, Left to right: Sandra D. Wilson (Dr. Rebecca Lee David Crumpler), Marie Davenport (Elleanor Eldridge) , Ruby M. Thomas (Preacher Amanda Berry Smith), Patricia A. Tyson (Hallie Quinn Brown), Judy Williams (Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield)

On October 21, 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF) was honored to host five visitors from the 1800’s, mostly the Civil War era, through the inspiring performances of the Female Re-enactors of Distinction (FREED).

The FREED performance was sponsored by the UUCF Racial Justice Steering Committee (RJSC) in support of its Second Principle Project. The project is designed to help UUCF live our commitment to the Unitarian Universalist Second Principle by affirming and promoting justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Through this project, the RJSC is dedicated to helping the congregation understand the root causes and effects of racism and developing partnerships with other institutions working to dismantle racism, particularly institutions led by people of color. Education is one of the ways the RJSC addresses these goals.

FREED was founded in 2005 in association with D.C.’s African American Civil War Museum and focuses on resurrecting real life stories of African American women of the mid-19th century whose stories are not found in traditional textbooks. Through these re-enactments, the women of FREED help to fill in the gap of so many important missing pieces of our nation’s history. Their mission is to educate the public and promote the accomplishments of African American Civil War Soldiers and the women who supported the fight for freedom. Most history books depict slaves working in plantation fields but fail to include the achievements of so many other African Americans, like the exceptional women portrayed by FREED.

The accomplishments of the African American women portrayed in their re-enactments are impressive, not only for the era in which they lived, but even by today’s standards. As writers, political activists, doctors, and nurses, they helped bring victory to the North and advance the cause of civil rights in the decades beyond.

After the performance, everyone joined together in a potluck dinner shared with the performers, while having the opportunity to talk with them in greater depth about the characters they portray and their reasons for being involved in these re-enactments. The event provided an opportunity for everyone to connect with one another and to learn and grow through reflection. It was an informative and educational event that taught us more about our history which has been ignored. As a woman in the audience said, “It makes you wonder how many more important figures in our past, such as these women, have been ignored in our history books.” Another attendee commented that it motivated her to start researching to learn more about the accomplishments of her African American ancestors and their contributions to the history of America. Anyone wanting more information about this event or the performers may contact Kaye Cook, [email protected].

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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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