Riverside, CA 1999
My interest in and call to racial justice started long before my ministry in Riverside, California, but I think it's fair to say that it was there it took shape. I know that many in the Black community are suspicious of white liberals, and especially of those who claim to work for civil rights and racial justice: rightly so. Too many have showed up with ulterior motives, political and self-serving agendas, and in the process, have caused more harm than good.
It was a fellow minister, Rev. Johnny Harris, who challenged me to stop talking and to get out and start doing things in the community if what I said about racial justice was true.
That was almost twenty years ago, and I continue to learn so much about my own history of white privilege, my own complicity, and as a person who is by nature introverted, sometimes it's hard for me to "show up." Still, I hear Rev. Harris, and I know I have a part to play.
UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore
When I left Riverside, and arrived in Lexington, Kentucky, I assumed there'd be plenty to do in anti-racism work. Not so. The church I served was far removed from the North side of town, where the majority of Black citizens lived, and there seemed to be an informal apartheid that, while completely unsettling to me, after living in the melting pot of Southern California, was accepted by, it would seem, everyone, including the Unitarians. In our congregation were two of the folks who'd be inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame for their activities during the fifties and sixties. Their stories and the glory of their courage were frequently raised up. And yet, our few attempts at interaction with Black churches and communities were less than glowing successes. Other than paticipation in the annual MLK Day parade, and a mentoring program in a downtown school (which serves many children of color) we were a part of the segregation. WE had only a few Black members.
After 14 years, I resigned, and took an interim position in South Jersey. There, we posted a Black Lives Matter sign in response to the Charleston shootings of June 2015. Although I encouraged the sign, this congregation was ready. They'd done their homework on white privilege and its causes. They understood why "All Lives Matter" was not an adequate reply to "Black Lives Matter." So when the sign was vandalized five different times... they were able to respond, with grace and alacrity. Yes, there were bumps and ripples within the congregation caused by the sign. All was not smooth. But the people of UUCSJS were courageously ready to take a stand, and they did it.
Fast forward: I've returned to Kentucky, and I'm just feeling my way around to see where I might find community. I'm thinking maybe I'll go over to Louisville to take part in a SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) group there. My daughter and I did attend one meeting and action:
Louisville, July 2016
Meanwhile, I hear that a SURJ group is re-organizing in Lexington! And, furthermore, a march is being planned for late July in response to the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Imagine my surprise when I hear that the organizers of the march are two young women of about 16 years of age. They call their action We Move! It takes hold on Facebook. Hundreds sign up to take part. The organizers come to our Surj meeting. I give one of them a ride, and get to chat with her. This is happening! In Lexington... where, for 14 years, nothing like this ever really took place, where racism was just a word that was not uttered, at least not publically. I was amazed, astonished, and overjoyed.
Rozalyn, We Move organizer.
The day arrived.
We met at the courthouse as agreed. Those of us (white accomplices, SURJ members) made plans to block the perimeter and wore red armbands. We made signs, gathered water, and handed out song sheets. I'd sprained my ankle badly just two days earlier, so I walked as little as possible. But my role was peripheral. I was there to support and observe. Hundreds of people gathered. Maybe more white than Black. Lots of folks brought children. A few poems were read, a song was shared. We marched. The streets of Lexington were silent except for the chants of the crowd.
This was glory. These very streets, where slaves had been sold, families separated, black folks denied entrance to stores and hotels and lunch counters, rang with the loud calls of freedom, justice and righteous indignation from black throats and white. I marveled that these young women, who'd not even been born when I had arrived in Lexington, had become its salvation.
You really did have to have been there. This was completely unlike the MLK "march" with its veneer of politeness, and its cliqueishness. This was heart-to-heart. This was people unafraid to show their children both the worst and the best of humanity. I was awed.
And the New Dream.. The Black Lives Matter and beyond dream, is so much more inclusive than the church-driven Civil Rights era dream. And yet, it is deeply spiritual, for it reaches out to encompass all of humanity, young, old & in-between; it honors the stories and the rituals of the ancestors; it lifts up the poetry and the art of the core traditions of the people; it brings a deeper and wider significance to the words justice, freedom, love, equality, peace, and humanity, than we have been willing to give them heretofore.It will take us into the coming decades with a wholistic way of being which we have only begun to understand. I am so joyful, so appreciative, and so hopeful for the future in these young people's hands.