Letter From Susan Frederick-Gray to Religious Professionals

Letter From Susan Frederick-Gray to Religious Professionals

Dear Colleagues,

As we enter a new year, we are more determined than ever to mobilize our UU communities around the core justice values that make our faith so relevant to the current political moment.

Among these core values is our commitment to the worth and dignity of each person, which leads us to resist laws and policies that treat some people as disposable.

Migrants are particularly vulnerable today, not only in border states but all over our country. And one of the best ways I know of for you as a religious leader to galvanize your own ministry toward migrant justice is to travel with the UU College of Social Justice on their Border Witness Journey for ministers and religious educators.

Kathleen McTigue, Susan Frederick-Gray and Religious Professionals Walking the migrant trails

Kathleen McTigue, Susan Frederick-Gray and Religious Professionals Walking the migrant trails

I know the power of this program first hand: I joined the 2014 journey, and found enormous support and benefit for my own ministry through the chance to travel, reflect, pray, and strategize with other religious leaders. The next program runs this coming May 8-12, and I hope you’ll be able to join it!

You can learn more and register by March 1st, 2018 at www.uucsj.org/theologyandmigration/

Thank you.

President of the Unitarian Universalist Association


Answering the Call for Solidarity and Action in Honduras

Answering the Call for Solidarity and Action in Honduras

In early January I received an email that began with these words:

We are writing you on behalf of Padre Melo, the Jesuit priest who has accompanied the Honduran people for more than 20 years. He is appealing to the international community for an emergency delegation: “We need you to organize people who will accompany us, witness what is happening here, and share it with the world”.

The Honduras presidential election last November has widely been condemned as fraudulent. Since then, people throughout the country have poured into the streets in peaceful protests that have often been met with lethal violence from the state.

The hope in sending an international delegation to Honduras is that our presence will shine a spotlight on the struggle and amplify the voices of those who are being ignored and silenced. UUSC has long been a champion of Honduran human rights groups, supporting our grassroots partners financially and working to lift up the stories and urgency behind their struggles. This brief journey of accompaniment is another way for our organization to show the Honduran people that they are not alone.

I decided almost immediately that I would answer Padre Melo’s call and join the emergency delegation, which departs Wednesday, January 24. While I have never been there before, I have heard of Padre Melo and the courageous work he and many other Hondurans are engaged in to advance fundamental human rights. I also know about the decades of financial and military support our own country has sent to the Honduran government, despite their many human rights violations. And, I believe that under the Trump administration, the thousands of people who try to flee the violence in Honduras are even less likely than before to find asylum here in the United States.

My desire to join the delegation is fueled by multiple interests. I’m driven by my commitment to human rights, as well as my sense of moral compromise as a U.S. citizen—knowing my own country has helped foment the violence from which it refuses to shelter those who flee. But I am also compelled by my faith: by the core values of Unitarian Universalism that remind me we are never really separate from one another. Our interdependent web links us to struggles for human rights and dignity, wherever they occur, and pulls us compellingly, relentlessly, to act as we are able to mitigate harm.

I believe in the power of prayer as a way to ground ourselves and to center our awareness on those who live daily in harm’s way. So, I ask you to pray for the people of Honduras, holding them in mind and heart, and to act on your prayers and concern by speaking out for the rights of those most at risk. I will have more to tell you on my return January 30, but for now I hope you will join me on this journey in spirit, by learning more about what is happening and preparing yourselves to answer future calls to support this critical human rights struggle.

For more information about how you can help, please read the press release from the Emergency Interfaith Delegation to Honduras

Post Hurricane Harvey Houston Update

Post Hurricane Harvey Houston Update

In early December, our Director, Kathleen McTigue, and UUSC consultant, Syma Mirza  met with four grassroots groups in Houston, Texas: the Fe y Justicia Worker Justice Center, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), and the Living Hope Wheelchair Association, as well as the local Houston organizer for RAICES. Kathleen also met with members of four area UU congregations.

Chemical plant from TEJAS Toxic TourVisiting Houston earlier this month was an eye-opening experience for me. Traveling with UUSC consultant Syma Mirza, I met some of the UUSC partner groups in Houston to learn about their post-Harvey work. One of them, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Network (TEJAS), took us on their “toxic tour” so we could see for ourselves how vast and poisonous the industrial complexes on the Gulf really are. These immense industrial campuses that produce (and often release) toxic chemicals are located right next to homes, schools, and playgrounds. Even with the car windows rolled up, the air smells of chemicals. The populations closest to the toxins are, predictably, lower income and often communities of color, including those who are undocumented and live doubly in the shadows.

We also gained insight into a particularly vicious dimension of intersectional oppression. As in so many other cities, Houston’s construction industry relies heavily on undocumented workers, especially in the more dangerous jobs. These workers are routinely subject to wage theft and workplace harassment, and post-Harvey are often sent into clean-up and demolition jobs without the proper protective equipment. When they become ill or are injured, they do not have recourse to the support and protections that most of us assume are available by law. And if they are disabled due to workplace injury, none of the standard support – from counseling to the proper kind of wheelchairs – are within their reach.

The Living Hope Wheelchair Association is a scrappy, grassroots organization working for the rights and dignity of people with spinal cord injuries, especially those who are undocumented.

Long before Harvey struck, Living Hope was providing life-saving services and equipment to its members, and building grassroots power to advocate for housing, employment, and transportation. But in the wake of Harvey’s destruction, and with their constituents profoundly vulnerable to the flood waters, the Association gained sudden new visibility.

We sat in their small office and listened to Board members tell their stories; all of them are living in wheelchairs, all are undocumented, and all devote countless volunteer hours to Living Hope. As I listened, one question kept arising for me: doesn’t their new visibility bring with it a new level of personal danger for these leaders, for arrest and deportation? One Board member responded, “Visibility brings more fear, but it won’t hold us back. To be honest, with Jeff Sessions as Attorney General we know they’ll come for whoever they want. We can’t control that, but we can control our commitment, our solidarity. That’s ours.”

We are proud to support the work of Living Hope through the UUSC disaster relief grants. As we enter the new year, UUCSJ will continue our conversations with these and other UUSC partners to discern when and how volunteers from outside the region might usefully support their work.

Sign up to join the volunteer list if you’re available to travel to Texas or Florida to support relief efforts and would like to hear more detailed information as it becomes available.

Interning at Rural & Migrant Ministries

Interning at Rural & Migrant Ministries

Melissa Rodney was a summer 2017 intern with Rural & Migrant Ministry and is a graduate of American University (Class of 2017). If you are interested in interning with UUCSJ, fill out out 2018 Internship Interest Form.

This summer I had the wonderful privilege to sit down and say, “If I could run a summer program for youth on issues pertaining to social justice, what would that look like?” I don’t think I have ever held a position with so much freedom and creativity and I enjoyed every minute of planning (well-maybe not very minute . . . . I am human) and I certainly enjoyed every minute of being with the students as a counselor and seeing how they reacted to my lesson plans and activities.

Youth Art Project

Youth Art Project

My summer internship was with Rural &  Migrant Ministry in Lyons, New York. Rural & Migrant Ministry is a non profit organization that supports members of the rural farm worker community through advocacy of fair and just labor rights in New York State. They also provide educational services and host a variety of youth empowerment programs throughout the year. The youth empowerment programs at RMM are truly unique. They are designed to challenge a child’s perceptions about the communities they grow up in, to teach students to identify injustices within their community and to come up with solutions they can argue for as youth passionate about improving their community. With this wise doctrine by RMM, I  sought to create a program that would be well rounded offering stories of people addressing injustices from all around the world that could be used as examples for actions the students could take in their own community. For example, in the summer program, our older age group looked at graffiti art and murals used to protest the World Cup held in Rio in 2014 and they learned how the art  in essence captured the frustrations of  Brazilian citizens over the reality of where the wealth was being invested for the world’s most famous game. Our younger age group debated challenging the school system and created quite a few compelling arguments about the importance of teachers having an adequate salary, the importance of having a good education and even the importance of homework. These were just a few topics discussed during the lesson portion of the program

Youth Making Art Project

Youth making art project

While these lessons were incredibly important to me, I also knew that I wanted to give the students a well rounded “camp” experience. Summer camps are not affordable for every child and we wanted to offer a program that students could participate in for free and they could still get that camp experience that is full of fun activities. Some of the more camp like activities included sport challenges, workshops with local artists, daily trivia questionnaires, a designated lesson time called “Reflections”, field trips to the Women’s Rights National Convention and Sodus Bay, a scavenger hunt and even a  talent show!

Visiting Across Borders

Visiting Across Borders

Gina Collignon is UUCSJ’s Senior Associate for Immersion Learning. She recently led a group from the Bethesda, MD/Washington DC area (that included members from the Cedar Lane, All Souls Unitarian in DC, and Davies Memorial UU churches) to the Arizona/Mexico Border.

Manual at the Border Wall

Manual at the Border Wall

“People used to visit here,” Manuel told us. “They would set up chairs and talk. Sometimes they would bring food and pass it through to each other.” We all stood on the U.S. side of the U.S./Mexico border. Rust iron slats rose high into the air, creating a physical barrier between us and the land that looked not that different mere feet away. Forces of the state had recently put up mesh wiring across the slats, effectively negating what little physical space remained open between the two neighboring lands. “Why would they do that?”  Manuel continued. “Drugs didn’t come through there. They are too tiny of spaces. Families would come to be together, to spend time, to share things. Now, the fence blocks even that.”

The image stayed trapped in my head: family members bringing foldout chairs merely to be close to the physical presence of those they loved; friends coming to chat, state-sponsored separation notwithstanding. As we walked away, I fell into conversation with a fellow delegation member. “These borders are in our mind. It’s just a physical manifestation of our own fears.” She looked at me as if I had said the most obvious thing ever. “Yeah.”

Returning to Borderlinks with a church that had already decided to become a sanctuary church was an eye- and heart-opening experience. As we chatted (a group of adults already committed to justice and yet still learning what that means), someone realized that even though they had committed to being a sanctuary church, they lived in a city divided by race. A river acted as a border separating the two sides. This realization brought us to a deeper questioning of the word “sanctuary.” Is our church really a sanctuary? Who defines sanctuary? How do we know when we’ve achieved that status? As the week progressed, we practiced the act of meeting across borders through visiting with detainees, meeting with people at the forefront of working for immigration justice, through daring to sit with our own messy emotions and identities.

Two Way Traffic SignAs I watched Borderlinks magnificently guide us through our itinerary, again and again I thought, “These borders are in our mind.” And privilege means that our emotive borders become physical borders. Privilege means that unjust borders can be something that we’re blind to. Privilege means sometimes not seeing the socio-economic, race-based, gender-based, body-based, culture-based (and so many more) borders that surround us constantly. “People used to visit here,” Manuel had told us. “They would set up chairs and talk.” Maybe that is one of the first steps we have to do to deconstruct the internalized borders we all carry within us. Set up a chair and talk to the person across. This might be part of the movement that then carries us through the work of dismantling and opposing the physical and legal borders being legally enacted around us. Only when the borders come down can people truly meet.

UUCSJ By The Numbers

UUCSJ By The Numbers

The UU College of Social Justice was jointly founded in the summer of 2012 by the UUA and UUSC, so this year we are celebrating a big anniversary. We are grateful for all of our alumni and supporters who have made our work possible!

In honor of of all of you and our anniversary, here is CSJ by the numbers (as of October 2017).



UUCSJ has been inspiring and sustaining faith based action for social justice for 5 years!


During our 5 years, we have run 39 immersion journeys for adults, with a total of 470 participants (78 of whom were ministers, DREs or seminary students).


Through 18 week-long youth focused immersion learning journeys and training programs as well as three one-day offerings during General Assembly, 392 youth have experienced how Unitarian Universalism can inform their work for justice.


We have placed 65 interns in summer-long immersion internships in over 15 different grassroots justice organizations.


We have sent 53 skilled volunteers to placements with partner organizations for between one to 8 weeks. Most of those placements were lawyers and Spanish speakers working with RAICES in San Antonio Texas to help the women and children detained in Karnes.


Total participants across our programs totals 1,063. This number does not include collaborative training programs like the UU-UNO Spring Seminar and the Goldmine Youth Leadership program which extend our reach even further!


Of the participants who have completed an impact assessment form, 88% said that, as a result of their journey, they have a deeper sense of the connection between their faith and the role it can play in social justice.


Participants – both those who came as individuals and those traveling in a congregational delegation – came from 260 congregations representing nearly every state in the country.