Reflections for Martin Luther King Day

Reflections for Martin Luther King Day

Today we remember the leadership of Martin Luther King in his own chapter of the struggle for racial justice. But we’re living through our own chapter of that struggle today, in which the rise of overt white supremacy and the support it receives from the White House shows us just how far we still have to go.

So I want to remember that along with King and so many others, the real hero of that movement is the simple human virtue of perseverance, lodged in the hearts, minds, and souls of thousands of people we’ve never heard of. We think of leaders like Martin Luther King in the context of pivotal moments, like the huge march on Washington in 1963. It’s only much more dimly that we can glimpse the years and years of hard work that lifted them up, the enormous, relentless labor before the little cracks started to show up in the culture and then to widen into clear and powerful lines of change.  Any real change that has ever happened in our world has come because of countless ordinary people who made their choices and took their risks not in a few electric moments but again and again, over the course of years. 

King once said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” This is a call to imagine our justice efforts in a different way. Instead of envisioning a linear path — in which a campaign or protest or movement will lead to a specific outcome on a predictable timeframe — we need to see our effort as part of a web of relationship. It goes on as long as we live, punctuated with high and low points but never truly over. It’s made up of a kind of solidarity that stays open and observant to all the large and small ways we make a difference. And what it asks of us, above all, is perseverance.

~ Kathleen McTigue

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.

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.

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

 

 

But Have You Cried Together?

But Have You Cried Together?

Mara Iverson is a young adult from the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, VT who recently participated in UUCSJ and the UUA’s GROW Racial Justice 2017 in New Orleans. Mara is a member of Central Vermont SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) and is the co-chair of the diversity and inclusion working group on the university campus where she works.


“Yeah, but have you cried together? Because we have,” a Thrive participant stressed.

I, a Shift participant, responded, “Well, we teared up at one point. So, I guess we white-people-cried.”

I have spent the weeks since our time in New Orleans this June thinking hard about the importance of the question “but have you cried together.”

For context, Grow Racial Justice is a program intended to “equip UU young adults of color (Thrive) and white UU young adults (Shift) with the skills, spiritual grounding, and community to engage in racial justice work within and beyond our Unitarian Universalist faith.” In the Shift cohort we dove into understanding the culture of white supremacy that is part of us and that we contribute to.

We started by writing a covenant that was meant to guide us and also acknowledge that we would break our promises. And it was intended to give us the means to come back together in love when that happens. The covenant helped us as we considered hard realities about white supremacy culture. We recognized how we strive for perfection and fear mistakes. We thought about how white supremacy culture lets us make excuses.

I want to draw your attention to words I used: considered, recognized, thought. We spent most of our time together thinking. We dwelled in our heads trying to memorize and practice. That, friends, is so white. It is so white to try to memorize our way to perfect understanding. Sure, we have to have information, but injustice is not just about facts and figures. It is about deep feelings

During an activity from the Beloved Conversations curriculum we explored the values that drive us toward our justice-seeking goals and the values that stop us from reaching those goals. We ended up wading into what secretly terrifies and freezes us. Suddenly we realized our racism is bound up in our own weakest places. From that time on we were differently bonded and open. But we had still only scratched the surface.

There was a painful moment just before the program ended when we had to face that even with our best intentions we sometimes still do harm. So we started again. We read our covenant again and recommitted to it. We shared feelings. Some of us cried. Some of us held hands or leaned against each other. Then with hearts laid open we brought our broken voices together to sing Spirit of Life.

I cannot do the work of racial justice with my mind alone. I cannot just watch documentaries or even just call legislators. I have to grieve that I contain and must unlearn white supremacy. I have to show up with vulnerability. I have to let love crack me open so that when I cry it will not be to weaponize my guilt. It will be to create bonds that hold me accountable to people of color and other allies as I teach my spirit to shift.

Meet the Activate @ GA team!

UUCSJ offers a variety of Activate Youth Justice programs, including at General Assembly. This year, for the first time, we are excited to welcome a team of awesome Activate Youth Leaders who are helping shape, facilitate, and promote our youth justice workshops in New Orleans, in collaboration with the Youth Caucus team. Get to know the Activate Youth Leaders (and a few adults, too) via their bios below and come say “Hello!” if you’ll be in New Orleans in June!


Pablo deVos-Deak is finishing his freshman year of high school and attends the Unitarian Society of New Haven, where he serves as a K1 teacher and is involved with his youth group. Born in Guatemala, he has traveled the world and most recently gone to China for two weeks. Pablo is very passionate about social justice and among other youth leadership experiences, has participated in a youth visit to the College of Social Justice and workshops at the UU-UNO Spring Seminar. Along with being a “sneaker-head” and playing three sports, he also loves trying new foods, playing the the piano, drums and steel pans, and listening to Logic. He looks forward to attending his 7th GA this year!

 



Adele Gelperin
is a rising junior at Mount Holyoke College, where they study religion and education. They grew up in the Unitarian Society of New Haven and now call Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence a second home.  Adele is a handbell enthusiast, a bookworm, and an aspiring elementary school teacher, who can often be found singing songs from Moana, arguing about philosophy, and tromping through the woods. They are an alum of Activate Boston (when it was known as National Youth Justice Training) and are thrilled to join the UUCSJ team and meet even more UUs at GA this year.



Liam McAlpin is a rising high school sophomore from Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tahlequah and attends Sequoyah High School, an all Native tribal school run by Cherokee Nation, where he is a member of his school’s student council and strives to make his school and community a safe and better place for all. Liam also attends Squirrel Ridge, one of the last remaining traditional Cherokee ceremonial grounds, where he is a proud member of the ground’s leadership and helps keep his Cherokee culture and spirituality alive. When Liam has free time, which isn’t that common, he enjoys making and listening to music, writing poetry and short stories, and spending time with his family and friends.



Chloe Ockey
attends the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno in Fresno, California. She is currently a college sophomore majoring in Communication Studies, who wishes to pursue a career in Public Relations. Some of her many hobbies include music composition, writing, and travel. As an alum of Luminary Leaders, Activate Boston, and Thrive West, she has participated in a variety of opportunities related to UU youth leadership and social justice. She can’t wait to meet all of you at General Assembly this year!

 



Abiy Welch
is a first-year student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. Her hometown is Hillsboro, Oregon and she attends both West Hills UU Fellowship and the UU Church of Eugene. She is a ‘13 GoldMine alumni, ’15 Summer Seminary alumni, is a member of the PWR GoldMine staff and is a peer chaplain. In 2016, she went to New Orleans for UUCSJ Activate Racial Justice! In her free time, she loves to sing hymns and read children’s books to others. The biggest thing that she took away from her Activate! trip was to find something you are passionate about, find that community, and stick to it. Join Abiy at GA for some food, coffee, or just a chat about anything and everything! She says, “Remember: Always. Believe. In. Yourself!”



Kristin Famula
has been a religious educator for the past decade, currently serving as the Acting Director of Religious Education at the UU Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley, CA, and previously as Director of Religious Education at Prairie UU Church in Colorado. As an educator and a life-long UU, she works to create and offer opportunities for people of all ages to deepen their commitment to transforming systems of oppression through reflection, learning and relationships. Kristin also serves as President of the National Peace Academy (nationalpeaceacademy.us), an educational institute dedicated to holistic peace-building. The National Peace Academy focuses on developing and offering learning opportunities for bringing forth the peace-builder in all of us, including through international opportunities for youth leadership and cultural exchange. As a UUCSJ Program Leader, Kristin has led several immersion learning journeys, including last year’s Activate New Orleans and a recent youth journey to the US/Mexico border.


Marissa Gutierrez-Vicario is a UUCSJ Program Leader and the Founder and Executive Director of Art and Resistance Through Education (ARTE). As a committed human rights activist, artist, educator, and advocate for youth, Marissa launched ARTE in 2013 to help young people amplify their voices and organize for human rights and social change in their communities through the arts. Since early childhood, Marissa became interested in the arts and its potential for bringing attention to important social issues within her community. At an early age, Marissa also developed the propensity to lead as a student activist and public servant through her involvement in several non-profit organizations, including: United Students Against Sweatshops, the Advocacy Lab, Public Allies New York, Global Kids, and the UUA. In all of these experiences, Marissa realized the need to support young people in their development as organizers to help cultivate the next generation of social justice leaders. She has recently supported UUCSJ’s expansion of new initiatives in Nicaragua and new training collaborations such as the UNO Spring Seminar.



Angela Kelly is SO grateful to be working with this amazing Activate@GA team and in collaboration with the awesome Youth Caucus staff! As Senior Associate for Justice Education at UUCSJ, her work focuses on developing opportunities to integrate activism, popular education, and spiritual practice. As a teen, immersion learning journeys fueled her own passion for human rights and social justice and in the years since, supporting youth leadership has remained an energizing component of her work, which has included 15 years of organizing in various contexts for peace, community empowerment, health equity, refugee solidarity, and racial justice. These days, being rooted in her neighborhood, running in nature, circling up with kindred spirits, painting and scattering #KindnessRocks, and hanging out in child’s pose renew and sustain her ability to “rejoice & resist”.


We all look forward to seeing you soon!