How UUCSJ Spent Our Summer Vacation

How UUCSJ Spent Our Summer Vacation

Equipping Youth Leaders to Change the World

Activate Boston Participants with Climate Justice Banner They Made

Activate Boston Participants with Climate Justice Banner They Made

In August, UUCSJ wrapped up a full summer of youth programming with Activate Climate Justice, which brought a passionate group of young climate justice leaders together to Boston. Over the course of the week, the group went on a Toxic Tour to build their awareness of environmental racism and community-led resistance, spent a day on the Boston Harbor Islands learning about the impact of rising seas, advocated for sustainable energy policies at the State House, met with local organizers of powerful grassroots groups, and participated in several hands-on projects, including a river clean-up, helping out at a local urban farm, and serving a locally-sourced meal to hundreds of community members.

As with all of our Activate programs, each day also included opportunities for spiritual centering, group worship and reflection, and community-building, culminating in strong connections between participants and a deeper connection to Unitarian Universalist values and practices. As we hear so often from Activate alums, the relationships built, sense of empowerment developed, and values and practices explored through these transformative experiences are what equips these young leaders to go forth and implement the action plans they made in their final days together, taking their next steps on what we hope will be lifelong journeys in social justice activism.

Activate New Orleans Participants and Community Art

Activate New Orleans Participants and Community Art

Earlier in the summer, our partners at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal hosted Activate New Orleans in July, focused on Racial Justice & the Beloved Community, and BorderLinks hosted two youth justice delegations in Tucson, Arizona in June who explored immigration justice and ways to expand sanctuary and solidarity along the U.S./Mexico border. We also piloted our first youth journey to West Virginia, thanks to our newest community partners at Big Creek People in Action and the Southern Appalachia Labor School, as well as the UU Congregation of Charleston and the New River UU Fellowship. UUCSJ’s youth justice curriculum also reached participants in the Goldmine Leadership School in the UUA’s Pacific Western region through a week of immersive learning in Colorado.

We are so grateful to all of our partners, hosting organizations, program leaders, congregational leaders and youth groups, and youth participants for making these experiences so powerful. We also look forward to connecting with many more youth groups and young leaders as a new school year – and new year of Activate youth justice programs – begins! Learn more about our upcoming offerings in Boston, New Orleans, Tucson, Southwest Florida, West Virginia, and Nicaragua, and stay connected with us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more!

Offering Young Adults First Hand Experience with Grassroots Justice

Since 2012, UUCSJ has offered young adults a first-hand experience of grassroots justice work as summer interns at organizations to help them explore potential career paths while enhancing their own spiritual development. This past summer was our largest intern placement yet; UUCSJ placed 15 college-aged interns in eight nonprofit organizations in the US and UK. Some organizations were long-time partners of UUCSJ: RAICES in San Antonio and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR) in New Orleans, and some were first time partners: Minnesota UU Social Justice Alliance in Minneapolis, MN, and the Interfaith Center for Social Justice Renewal in New York, NY.

Every other week, interns were invited to share reflections on their experiences with various justice issues in a private Facebook group, so they could share ideas and learn from one another. One intern describes their internship compared to past work experiences:

My internship with MUUSJA has been a very different from my other work experiences I’ve had in that I’m learning to take a back seat to the leadership of others, especially people of color… I’m learning that, especially as a person of privilege, some of the best things I can do for social justice movements are seemingly small things. That’s something that takes a lot of humility to accept, that isn’t always met with agreement among the people I’m surrounded by, and that might take getting used to. But I think it’s something that’s important to internalize as I plan for potential career options for the years ahead. – MUUSJA intern

Many of their experiences had a profound impact on their career development:

2017 RAICES Interns with Staff

2017 RAICES Interns with Staff

I am so grateful to be where I am at right now… It’s has been a profoundly empowering experience. I will leave this internship feeling more confident about following my passion for immigration justice work… As grim as work can be these people have helped to keep me from feeling too grim or weighed down by it. – RAICES intern

Having the opportunity to experience the important and intentional work that RMM is doing throughout New York has been inspiring. It’s exciting to know that I can finally put down more roots in a place and know that, I won’t be leaving, and instead I’ll be growing and contributing alongside others who are committed to making NY a more equitable and just place for all. – RMM Intern



Answering an Apparently Simple Question – How Was India?

Answering an Apparently Simple Question – How Was India?

Carmen Francesco was one of CSJ’s 2015 Global Justice Summer Interns. Carmen interned at Vidhayak Sansad in Usgaon, Maharashtra India along with another intern Tara Abhasakun. 

Since I have returned to the states, I have gotten many questions about my trip. “What did you do?” “What was it like to be in another country?”“How was eating food with your hands?” etc. The most common and seemingly not complex question I hear is, “How was India.”  I am never completely sure how to respond to this question.  Have you ever been asked, “How is the United States?” I understand the question is from a place of simple curiosity, but it has become a point of reflection for me as I contemplate what the appropriate response is to an apparently simple question.

Much of this internship was centered around understanding social justice organizing.  It might be more romantic to think otherwise, but the reality of my job at Vidhayak Sansad consisted more of understanding, observing, and perceiving the organization and its many facets. During my time in India, Tara and I had the privilege of interviewing and composing bios for 230 girls at the Vidhayak Sansad Residential School.  I also had the chance to create a beautiful, fun, and meaningful school garden with the students.  In addition to these main projects, I was able to visit villages, meet local government leaders, participate in important ceremonies, and build lasting relationships with the staff and inhabitants of Vidhayak Sansad.  Through this internship experience I’ve gotten to see reality verses expectation, which I would argue is a huge part of social justice organizing. NGO’s are not immune to the seventh principle of UUism; NGO’s can be a diverse and multifaceted web of interlocking parts.  I was involved with this interlocking world in an eastern country affected by a different dominant religion, a different social structure, a different political realm, and a different set of customs — all of which was set in a living, breathing social justice organization.  I’m sure you are now wondering how this leads back to the question, “How was India?”

I vastly enjoyed my involvement in this organization. I believe the work I did will effectively provide Vidhayak Sansad with the support they desired. My experience solidified my understanding of the not so romantic realism of organizing in an unfamiliar place.  My answer to this question should be as vast and wonderful as my experience working there was, but my true answer will probably be more along the lines of “It was a great experience” or “I really enjoyed my time with the organization.”  So please know that when I respond with one of these appropriately vague phrases, I genuinely want you to keep asking more questions.  One question is not enough for me to describe the complexity of my experience without over generalizing or oversimplifying India and my time spent there.  Until we start asking the deeper questions we will never know “how India is.”  If my time at Vidhayak Sansad has taught me anything, it has trained me to keep asking those deeper and important questions because if not, we can never truly understand reality.

Boundless Justice: Expanding Beloved Community

Boundless Justice: Expanding Beloved Community

This post was written by one of our 2015 interns, Lucy Tucker.

Nineteen years ago my birth announcement said I was born between two parades: Babylon and Hermes.

To most New Orleanians this makes sense. Any baby born during Mardi Gras season simply has to avoid the parade route on their way to the hospital.

I had no idea that when I moved away from this city (to Smith College in Northampton, MA) that I would be asked all sorts of questions about my home. These inquiries were not simply about Mardi Gras and celebration. They were layered with undertones and assumptions about race, class, and violence. I did not really understand how people viewed New Orleans until I left it.

I returned home after my first year at Smith to work at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. CELSJR is a catalyst for promoting social, economic, environmental, and racial justice.

A few weeks ago we co-hosted Activate New Orleans with UUCSJ, a week-long program for high school-aged youth from all over the nation. Throughout the week youth and leaders participated in worship, direct service with our community partners, and dialogues about systemic racism and solidarity, intersectionality, UU history/theology, Hurricane Katrina, and resistance in New Orleans. We even made time for dancing.


The intensity and passion that each Activate member brought to every corner of this place was astounding.

When we talk about beloved community, we are not just talking about Unitarian Universalist community. From learning about Southern environmental justice in a cramped room to organizing items with Unity House for homeless people to swimming at a place called Nirvana, these youth embodied UU values. They looked out for each other, practiced self-care, and worked to be in mutual relationship with the people of my city.

When a group comes to stay with us at CELSJR, we ask them to join us in a dialogue on systemic racism before they participate in direct service. In my first day here, I watched students answer the question: “Who likes helping people?” Hands shot up. When asked: “Who likes asking for help?” hands slowly lowered.

True community engagement means realizing that as people doing direct service, we will learn from and work with those who have asked us to show up. Mutual relationships inspire beloved community.

The questions I got at Smith about New Orleans were from people who I think have not fully explored mutual relationships with people who hold less systemic power than they do—at least not yet.

I am ready to go back to Northampton and spread this idea. I’m excited to have others push me forward in understanding that as seekers of justice—from trans women of color being represented as cis and white in Hollywood films about Stonewall  to the United Houma Nation’s struggle to be recognized by the federal government —we have to look at the core values this country was founded on. We must talk about race. We must listen. We must push back on all the oppressive systems in this country. We must expand our beloved community by moving forward with humanness, with power, with love.

Transition and Transformation at Bethany House in Boston

Transition and Transformation at Bethany House in Boston

This post was written by one of our 2015 interns, Ruth Hanna.

Bethany Union for young women

A page from a brochure for the Bethany Union for Young Women (not dated, but probably pre-1950). Courtesy of the Andover Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School.

I came across this brochure while sifting through a mass of old documents about Bethany House in the archives of the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. Reading some of the old rules — “all lights in rooms must be put out at 11 o’clock PM” — was a humorous reminder of how much Bethany House has changed since its founding in the late 1800s. Yet despite changes in rules, location, and ownership — Bethany is now a program of the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry — the mission has remained constant: to provide safe and affordable housing to women in transitional and transformational periods of their lives.

This focus on transition and transformation was part of what attracted me to Bethany. Having just reached the halfway mark of my college career, the prospect of a summer exploring my interest in affordable housing, living in downtown Boston, and reconnecting with my Unitarian Universalist roots was refreshing. Although I grew up attending First Parish in Bedford, a UU congregation outside of Boston, and still identify as a UU, I hadn’t actively engaged with UU communities in years.

In mid-June, I moved into my room at Bethany, where I would stay during my internship. Quickly, my fourth-floor room overlooking Newbury Street – one of the most beautiful streets in the city – felt comfortable. Living in the house turned out to be essential to my experience at Bethany. Although my family lives in Boston as well, it was through my role as a resident that I started to get a feel for the rhythm of the house, where forty-five women share meals, rooms, and friendships.

As a UU College of Social Justice intern, one of my main projects was finding ways to incorporate the Unitarian Universalist principles into the Bethany House community. To this end, I created a series of discussions about the UU principles, the UU Urban Ministry, and Bethany House.

Seven Principles

One of the slides from my presentation, explaining the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism. They appear in full on the left (in rainbow) and in a simpler form on the right.

Spending so many hours pondering and discussing the UU principles pushed me to consider how I live out these principles in my own life. The first and last principles — the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and respect for the interdependent web of all creation of which we are a part — have always been my favorite principles. They pair together so well: in the first principle, the focus is on the deep and inherent value of each person, while the last principle reminds us that we are each just a small part of a vast interdependent web of life.

Yet over the summer, I also came to appreciate some of the principles that I had previously overlooked. In particular, the fourth principle — a free and responsible search for truth and meaning — spoke to me, as I often felt that my summer was a summer of seeking and listening. My internship duties called me to seek out ways to further the mission of Bethany House and the UUUM. But beyond that, living at Bethany meant talking with other residents over dinner, diving into an endless pile of books from the Boston Public Library, biking along the Esplanade, and hanging out with my roommate on hot summer nights. All these experiences, though outside of the formal duties of my internship, have pointed me towards that search for truth and meaning, making this summer truly transformational.

A Summer of Standing on the Side of Love: My Story

A Summer of Standing on the Side of Love: My Story

This post was written by one of our 2015 interns, Carter Smith, and was originally published on Standing on the Side of Love’s website here.

Unitarian Universalism is in my blood. I am here today because my parents met at the UU church in Birmingham, Alabama many years ago when they were seeking spiritual community in young adulthood. Despite growing up within UUism, I feel like my faith is very deliberate and was truly formed by my involvement in my home church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina throughout high school. One day my minister mentioned to me a program for youth involved in social justice in Boston. This would turn out to be the inaugural Activate Justice Training of the UU College of Social Justice. So, I went to Boston and was exposed to this faith organization on a national level for the first time while I solidified my commitment to social justice. Also, I met an intern they were hosting and I made a note in the back of my head to remember that as an option when I became a college student. Three years later, after my first year studying religion and political science at UNC Asheville, it seemed like the perfect fit, so I applied and was placed with our Standing on the Side of Love campaign in the UUA’s Washington DC office.

Before I began the application process, I had a personal connection with Standing on the Side of Love, as my home church had been very involved in the campaign. In 2012, North Carolina had an initiative on our primary ballot that supported adding an amendment declaring the already banned same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Our Standing on the Side of Love committee organized phone banks multiple times a week, where I was able to help coordinate and train volunteers. While the initiative did pass, I grew my passion for love activism and learned the power of a group of people acting for justice.  Standing on the side of love became a truly radical idea.

It only seemed fitting that the US Supreme Court would make the landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states while I was a staffer at Standing on the Side of Love. I had the opportunity to celebrate this decision alongside thousands of other Unitarian Universalists at this year’s General Assembly. While reveling in this victory, we also created space to grieve the massacre at the Emmanuel AME church and the continuing personal and structural violence towards people based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation and immigration status. And we must respond, by standing in solidarity with communities that fighting for their human rights to be respected. When I traveled to Winston Salem, North Carolina for the Mass Moral Voting Rights March, I became acutely aware of this tipping point in history that I have the opportunity to be a force for good in. These specific events during my time in this internship have made it so clear to me that there is no place to be except for on the side of love.

In truth, most of my time here has been spent in a cozy office, sending emails, editing blog posts and attending conference calls. These have not been the most riveting assignments of my internship, but I can say that I have grown an immense appreciation for the day to day tasks of running a justice campaign. When hundreds of Unitarian Universalists show up at a march, or churches across the country come together to offer a weekend of same-sex marriages, it is a direct result of hard work and organizing done at a desk. Standing on the Side of Love is strong because of the great leaders at the Unitarian Universalist Association who offer their justice and creative expertise. I am so grateful that I have gotten a glimpse of the insight and skills that it takes to do the behind the scenes work that make powerful justice events possible. Whatever I may go on to do with my life, I will carry with me a stronger commitment to justice as well as the tools to respond to those issues surrounding our lives.

The most valuable education I feel that I’ve gotten has been on the specific issues that we face in the justice community. Working at Standing on the Side of Love has renewed my commitment to pursuing justice- I see that I have the power to start conversations and organize in my own communities. And, I invite you to do the same. Take the leap from conviction to action; find out about organizations to get involved with in your area and be part of the conversation. As I wind down this internship experience, I have one request for you: find the ways to deepen your commitment to social justice and your faith. One immediate way to show up for love is to join with other UUs in Ferguson this weekend to commemorate the anniversary of Michael Brown’s extrajudicial killing. History is happening now and we can be a force for good by speaking up and showing up on the side of love.

In Faith,

Carter Smith

Standing on the Side of Love/UU College of Social Justice Summer Intern

Student, University of North Carolina Asheville

Seizing my Future

Seizing my Future

This post was written by Eleanor Brow, a participant in the Global Justice Summer Internships.

Coming out of my freshman year of college in May 2014, I felt even more confused about what I wanted to do with my life than when I began college back in August. I had gone to many events and participated in a lot of clubs throughout the year, but choosing one career or subject and then following that forever seemed so daunting and scary. I go to American University (AU) in Washington, DC where life is very different compared to my small hometown in North Carolina. Everyone at AU wants to change the world or be the President one day. These goals are amazing and people should strive for them, but are they right for me? What do I want to do? How will I seize my future? These were new questions that I now had to deal with.

I knew jumping into an internship would be very beneficial to me. I hoped learning professional skills would help for my future and help me solidify what type of work I wanted to be apart of when I did graduate. I was raised Unitarian Universalist and always loved connecting with UU’s when I was in high school. Through the UU College of Social Justice, I found an internship with Standing on the Side of Love. I felt interning here for the summer would be the perfect opportunity for me in my current state of limbo. Working in an office on social justice issues definitely seemed like the place that would help me answer some of the questions I currently faced.

As I reflect on my summer internship at Standing on the Side of Love, I am confident I have learned important skills in which I will use in my future endeavors. This internship was a very rewarding experience in which I received firsthand experience at how a public advocacy campaign actually functions. I worked professionally with my supervisors on outreach to the general public and UU communities on topics such as gay rights, immigration reform, and religious rights. I have become skilled in many social media platforms, WordPress, and SalsaLabs, and basic HTML coding.

My internship was not exclusively just in the UUA DC office. A lot of my work took place out in the city of DC as well as in Boston and Providence. These tasks included advocating for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, attending panels on the Transgender rights movement, participating in the Multicultural Growth and Witness Retreat, rallying for immigrant right at the White House, and staffing General Assembly 2014 in Providence, RI.

Being a part of General Assembly was definitely the most rewarding part of my internship. Preparing for GA was very stressful since we had a lot to do for Standing on the Side of Love’s 5th year Anniversary at this year’s GA. We all put so much work into preparation and then seeing all our work pay off in successful events at GA was amazing for me to see.

This internship has dramatically altered my views for my future and I am so thankful for the lessons it has taught me. I’ve learned so much in an incredibly short time. This internship gave me the opportunity to see what being a real working human being is like and how to maintain a countrywide movement around the amazing concept of love. I have become more aware and educated about social justice issues. I now feel so inspired to pursue social justice work at other organizations in Washington, D.C. and will continue to be involved and fight for people’s basic human rights. I also feel recommitted to Unitarian Universalism and want to continue attending All Souls Church in DC and stay connected with local UU individuals. I am thankful to my supervisors and colleagues in the DC office along with the amazing staff I have encountered in Boston. It has been an amazing summer and I look forward to the future.