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 (, 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!

Hear About Activate Justice Trainings from Participants

Are you a high school aged youth who is wondering how to engage more fully in social justice work? We at UUCSJ have the program for you this very summer! But don’t take our word for it, hear about Activate Youth Justice Trainings from youth who have not only already participated in one Activate training, but are also choosing to do another this summer!

John Martin Tomlinson
Activate Southwest Borders 2015 and Activate NOLA: Racial Justice and Beloved Community 2017

Activate Tucson 2015 Group Preparing for Arrival Walk

Activate Tucson 2015 Group Preparing for Arrival Walk

“I attended Activate Southwest Borders and it was a life-changing event for me. It was one of the most the meaningful weeks of my life and it changed my path in life. I had never before been surrounded by such great people. I made friends with the most amazing people, and made strong ongoing bonds with several of them. The program motivated me to try to become fluent in Spanish and I have been making strides. I am planning to go back to the border with the Spanish language and first aid skills I have learned. Since that trip, I have been hoping to attend another Activate program so I can learn in only the way an immersive Activate program teaches.

I will have the chance to have another transformative experience and meet more like-minded youth at the UUSCJ Activate program, New Orleans Racial Justice and Beloved Community. Racism is one of the most serious issues facing the United States and the world – it affects every aspect of our society. With our current political climate it is more important than ever that we learn about racial justice work. To maintain our humanity, we must understand the roots of racism, and how to combat it, no matter where it occurs, in Arizona, in New Orleans or in Europe. I am especially interested in how I can tie together what I learn in New Orleans with what I learned at Activate Southwest Borders. This will help me with future immigration justice work.”

Selena Silari
Activate Tucson 2015 and Activate NOLA 2017

“Two Summers ago, I participated in the Activate Southwest Border program. This experience lead to a deeper exploration into immigration justice in my sophomore year of high school. I did a presentation for my school and preached to my congregation about immigration and the issues going on at the border. This experience brought deep awareness and inspired me to continue to gain an understanding of the injustices of the world and how we can help.”

Activate Boston: Climate Justice 2016 Group at the People Over Pipelines March

Activate Boston: Climate Justice 2016 Group at the People Over Pipelines March

Isak Atkins-Pearcy
Activate Boston: Climate Justice 2016 and 2017

“My UUCSJ experience last summer was my favorite week of my entire summer of 2016. Thank you!”






The UU College of Social Justice is offering three Activate Youth Justice immersive learning opportunities in June, July and August. Deadlines are approaching in May and generous financial aid is available! Learn more and register at

Please join us and spread the word. The deadline for all Activate programs is May 31st:

Activate @ GA, 10 am – 3 pm Weds. June 21st, followed by workshops during GA in the Youth Caucus space

Activate New Orleans: Racial Justice, July 16th– 23rd

Activate Boston: Climate Justice, August 6th – 13th


Shift With Us at Grow Racial Justice

Shift With Us at Grow Racial Justice

by Chris Casuccio

“White supremacy is an overwhelming crisis for humanity, one that is making it impossible for any human to evolve in right relationship with the planet and the species. It has not, and will not, be resolved merely by Black and other non-white people fighting for a change – it must be unlearned, relinquished by those who walk with the privileges of whiteness.”  adrienne maree brown

“We need you defecting from White supremacy and changing the narrative of White supremacy by breaking White silence.” – Alicia Garza

“White people will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” – James Baldwin

At a time when everything feels like it is shifting around us, in rapid, terrifying and unpredictable ways, the words of James Baldwin, attracting new prominence with the powerful film “I Am Not Your Negro”, remind us that these shifts are not new, that the crisis of intersecting injustices we currently confront are the continuation of a long and painful history. As this crisis continues to unfold, and as the threats to our humanity (and most especially to communities of color) become more and more violent, how do we respond? How are we called to act now, in this moment?

Since I am white, I will speak for myself, and to other white folks:

adrienne maree brown and Alicia Garza clearly call upon us to unlearn, relinquish, defect from, change the narrative, and break the silence of White supremacy. As the world shifts, we need to shift along with it, and we are urgently called to shift away from White supremacy culture.

What does that look like?

For a start, we must admit that White supremacy culture is deeply embedded in our society. It insidiously finds its way into our hearts, our minds, our relationships, our institutions, into our very ways of being. So the shifts must start with ourselves, with deep introspection and reflection on our very sense of who we are.

We must make shifts within the institutions that structure our lives and perpetuate harmful imbalances of power, and within the organizations through which we work for change. It is only with honest and critical evaluation of how they operate that we can begin to do this. We must shift the distribution of leadership, power, and resources; shifting resources away from white and wealthy communities towards those from whom oppression has stolen so much. We must shift who and what is centered in racial justice work and in broader movements for social change. To do this, we must make shifts in the very ways in which we think about and carry out racial justice and anti-racist education.

Racial justice education, especially among white folks, has long been hampered by an inability to create spaces in which we can bravely be with and work through the emotional responses that often lead to defensiveness and paralysis: guilt, blame, shame. Once we open space for our emotional reactions, we can also get stuck in a place of endless processing that never leads to meaningful action. We can’t make shifts within ourselves when we’re clinging to our shame. Shifts occur when we are honest, when we name and accept our emotions, when we support one another, when we lovingly challenge one another, and are challenged, to be real, to be accountable, to be compassionate, and to heal from these toxic emotions and behaviors.

This healing can begin to occur when we acknowledge that we are all harmed, to differing extents, by White supremacy, when we acknowledge that our collective liberation is intimately bound together, when we acknowledge that none of us can be free and loving and fully thriving until we dismantle White supremacy.

These are the kinds of questions we’ll explore together as white folks in the Shift cohort at Grow Racial Justice.

“What is Grow Racial Justice?”, you may be asking, “and is there a cohort for people of color?”

Grow Racial Justice is a partnership between the UUA’s Thrive Leadership Program for Youth & Young Adults of Color, the UU College of Social Justice, Standing on the Side of Love and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. From June 17th-20th, in New Orleans, in the days leading up to UU General Assembly, we’ll gather in two companion programs, Thrive for young adults of color and Shift for white young adults, to explore our racial and ethnic identities, worship, and build transformative relationships. The cohorts will come together to learn community organizing skills from bold, grounded leaders, and to craft a strategic vision for our anti-racism work in the coming year. To get a sense of what we did together last year, click here for reflections from a participant in the Thrive cohort, and here for an article by UUCSJ.


We invite ALL young adults of faith and conscience to join us in this crucial work of shifting and thriving. Click here to register now and join us this summer! The deadline to register is April 1, 2017.

Losing Our Chains

Losing Our Chains

Losing Our Chains has been reposted with permission from Blue Boat. You can find the original posting here.

Aisha Ansano is a candidate for Unitarian Universalist ministry, and serves as a ministerial intern at First Church in BostonMA. Aisha is passionate about food as ministry, singing, and ways of building community.

Aisha participated in this summer’s Thrive Young Adult leadership school for Unitarian Universalistyoung adults of color. – ed.


Altar with ancestor objects in our chapel.

The five days I spent with my Thrive Young Adult cohort were vibrant and life-giving. So many parts of it stand out, moments that were uplifting, and challenging, and heart-breaking. New friends who I knew would be beside me every step of the way as I moved forward in my life. And new practices that I could engage with to deepen my own life. Every morning, a different member of our cohort led us in a short spiritual practice. It was the best way to start the day: all gathered in the chapel, bellies full of breakfast, sharing a sacred moment together before diving deep into our training and sharing.

One morning, Sara gathered us in a circle and told us that she would lead us in the Assata chant. I didn’t know what that meant, but when she recited it to us, I recognized it. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

I couldn’t remember where I had heard it before. I knew that Assata was Assata Shakur, but I didn’t know anything about her. But I was open to trying something new.

Sara asked us to repeat the chant after her, line by line. We did. She asked us to do it again. We did. Again, and again, and again, and again, louder and louder each time, until the chapel rang out with the sounds of us all shouting at the top of our lungs: “IT IS OUR DUTY TO FIGHT FOR OUR FREEDOM! IT IS OUR DUTY TO WIN! WE MUST LOVE AND SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER! WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS.” I had goosebumps all over my body, tears gathering in my eyes. I looked around the room at our cohort as we chanted over and over and over again. I wasn’t just saying those words any more. I believed them with every fiber of my being, and believed that the people in that room were going to be flanking me every step of the way to freedom. It was not just my duty to fight for freedom and to win. It was OUR duty, together.

Sara stopped, suddenly, and we all stopped with her. The chapel filled with silence as our echoes faded away. We stood in that silence, looking at one another, soaking up what had just happened. I felt blessed, not in the hashtag-y way, but in the way that made my whole self feel alive and loved.


Aisha shares at Thrive Young Adult.

This was only 15 minutes in the midst of 5 full days, during which I felt blessed again and again. I left Thrive feeling the presence of my cohort alongside me as I began to work on the sermon I was giving that week, entitled “Leaning to Build Community.” As a minister in formation, I had guest preached a lot, but usually shied away from talk about race. As a minister of color in this predominantly white denomination, I struggled with how to talk about race from the pulpit as a way that felt authentic to my life experiences. I wanted to challenge people, but not stir the pot too much—what if people were angered by what I had to say? But after participating in the Assata chant, and after all the other experiences I had at Thrive, I wasn’t scared to speak up.

In my sermon that Sunday, I told the congregation about Thrive, and how formative my experience there had been, how amazing that community had been despite only spending 5 days together. I talked about being at a rally where a Black Boston city councilor claimed her right to be angry in the face of what is happening in the world, her responsibility to be angry, and how striking that was to me. I reminded them so many people, especially people of color, are silenced when it comes to having particular emotions. I told them about how a former coworker had told me he was scared of me, because I showed my anger and frustration about our difficult job, and I told them how self-conscious that made me, to be cast as an angry Black woman who should be feared.

I talked about race in that sermon, and I talked about it personally, not quoting books and articles, but telling them my own experiences. I stood in the pulpit in front of a group of mostly white people and I told them what my life was like as a young woman of color. It was liberating. I don’t think it would have happened without Thrive.

In September, I was invited to guest preach in Kennebunk, ME. I chose the topic of darkness, once that I had given short reflections on before. The last time I had given a homily on darkness, I had touched a bit on the question of how our metaphors of darkness and light reflect and inform our societal ideas about race, using excerpts from a beautiful sermon by Jacqui James, a UU religious educator. I used it again, this time not just to the small group of 20 who had gathered at the service where I had last reflected on darkness. This was to a whole congregation, one I didn’t know, in a place I assumed might be even less diverse than churches in the Boston area (which may or may not actually be true). In the week leading up to my sermon, we learned about the murders of Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher. My sermon talked about race even more than it previously had.

I spent the days before my drive up to Maine pretty anxious. What was the receiving line going to look like? Were congregants going to be angered by my discussion of implicit bias, and my calling out of the much-used and often well-loved metaphors of dark and light? I was worried that I might actually feel unsafe after giving that sermon.


The women and non binary folks of color at Thrive Young Adult take a selfie!

But through all this anxiety, I never once questioned whether I should give that sermon. My anxieties about people’s reactions never even changed the words I was writing. Despite my very intense stress about what my words might provoke, it honestly never occurred to me that I could just write something else. Because really, I couldn’t. That was the sermon I needed to give.

In the midst of my anxiety, I reached out to my Thrive cohort to let them know how I was feeling. They responded with such love. I carried them with me that morning, envisioning them sitting in the pews and standing next to me in the pulpit

I might have preached a sermon like that one before Thrive. Earlier in the summer, in the wake of the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, I had preached at my home church about my own self-care in the wake of that news. But that was my home church. People I knew, and who I knew would be on my side, were physically present in the room, and I could look them in the eye as I spoke, seeing their encouragement and love radiating outward. In Kennebunk, it was just me. But I felt love and encouragement radiating towards me anyway, from my cohort around the country, and from myself.

Thrive gave me a cohort of new friends who I could talk to about race and racial justice. Beyond that, it gave me more confidence in myself, confidence to trust my own experiences and that they needed to be heard. I have nothing to lose but my chains. Our denomination has nothing to lose but its chains. Thrive gave me the strength to learn to fight for freedom, and people to do it with.

To learn more about GROW Racial Justice and to apply for the June 2017 iteration, visit

Let’s Get Ready: Resources for Finding Our Way Forward

by Chris Casuccio and Angela Kelly

We’re a month in and a month out.

Golden Woods

It’s been a little over a month since the election, and we have a little more than a month to go before the inauguration. As we attempt to find our bearings and head towards the first 100 days of the new Administration and all the threats to social justice that confront us, we recognize how much we need each other right now. With that in mind, this blog post, and the ones that will follow in the coming weeks, are intended to help us get ready: grounded in our analysis, nurtured in our spirits, and prepared to step into action.

This week, members of the UUCSJ community, including staff and Program Leaders, gathered on a video call to discuss how and what we have been doing since the election. It became clear that we, like many people across the country and world, are experiencing a wide range of reactions and feelings, and are finding solace and power in a variety of practices, actions, and communities.

In the face of the daunting tasks ahead of us, and the weight of this historical moment, many of us are struggling to balance the accompanying despair and fear with the need for hope and determination. While many of us are united in our distress about what will happen in the months to come, we also recognize that the specific ways in which we are likely to be directly impacted by the incoming Administration are largely influenced by our identities, our backgrounds, and our relationships to privilege and power. While some of us will face very direct threats to our safety, and to the safety of those we love, others of us will be called in new ways to consider how we can deepen and sustain concrete practices of solidarity.

Regardless of who we are, and how we are feeling in this moment, there is a growing consensus that these times demand something new of us all, and that we need to continue turning to one another for wisdom, guidance, and collective strength. In that spirit, we want to lift up a collection of articles and resources we’ve been compiling since the election, as well as offer a framework for checking in with how and what we are doing, on multiple levels: the head, the heart, and the hands.


Questions: What are we thinking about and how do we go about analyzing and understanding the current moment? How does intellectual analysis orient us during a moment like this which can provoke confusion and disorientation?

Resources: There has been an explosion of critical thought and debate in the past month, ranging from historical and structural analyses of our current moment to suggested frameworks and strategies for how we forge our way ahead as a movement. As we have sifted through the post-election analyses, we are reminded that it is always powerful to hear what these public intellectuals have to say: Naomi Klein, Cornel West, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison and Noam Chomsky. There is no shortage of excellent analysis by other public figures, such as these recent articles by Charles Eisenstein, Robin DG Kelley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Christian Parenti, Pankaj Mishra, Van Jones and Immanuel Wallerstein.

If you’re wanting to dive even deeper, there have been a handful of reading lists compiled for understanding the election results (another here), preparing to stop Trump, navigating the times ahead, understanding neoliberalism, and some general post-election theological readings for religious progressives. Don’t forget that some of the most relevant analysis and deepest understanding is achieved offline: by delving into long discussions with trusted friends and family, asking people we don’t ordinarily interact with what they think about the times we are entering, attending forums, classes, and teach-ins, and going for long walks to process one’s thoughts!

Questions: What are we feeling, and how are we attending to our emotional and spiritual lives in these challenging times? Where are we finding sustenance and how are we cultivating communities that foster collective care and connect us to practices that restore and energize us to do what must be done?

Resources: Our friends and colleagues across the UUA have compiled a number of helpful salves for our hearts and spirits. You may find solace and spiritual grounding in these worship resources, a webinar on managing post-election stress response, another on resistance and resilience, or in this collection of practical suggestions for attending to the range of emotional reactions you and those around you may be experiencing. Weekly Braver Wiser offerings help us find courage and compassion and Standing on the Side of Love’s podcasts offer spiritual fortification for our organizing.

For insights into grappling with heightened fear and despair, recent pieces by Alice Walker, Parker Palmer, and adrienne maree brown may offer comfort. Rabbi Michael Adam Latz shares lessons in spiritual resistance for the times we face, Courtney Martin reflects on where to turn to be comforted and challenged, and Sandra Kim offers 20+ resources to help you process post-election. Edgar Rivera Colon reminds us that this is a time to slow down and discern, while several women of color answered Collier Myerson’s call to share self-care strategies for the times ahead.

Of course, many of the most powerful tools for our spiritual and emotional sustenance are also found offline: in the rhythm of our breath, in quiet moments of prayer, in stretching, moving, and nourishing our bodies, in joining others in worship, in making art, music, or good food, and in spending time in nature, in community, in the presence of beauty, the sacred, and with those we love.

Questions: How are we taking action? What are we doing that is tangible and concrete to resist and transform the current injustices facing our communities and the worsening crises to come?

Resources: A recent piece in Mother Jones reminds us that, with all hands on deck, it’s Time to Fight Like Hell. Our friends and colleagues in the UU world offer many helpful places to start. Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President, provides pastoral guidance for the work ahead, outlining an emerging campaign to provide sanctuary and resistance, in which UUCSJ is committed to actively collaborating and welcomes your involvement as it develops. Caitlin Breedlove, Director of Standing on the Side of Love, calls upon white progressives to do more than form opinions, and instead become transformers. The UUA’s Show Love Resource page offers a number of ways that your congregation can take action, lifting up powerful examples from across the country.

While there is no clear roadmap for confronting the multiple, interconnected, escalating, and yet-to-be-determined injustices facing us, several longtime organizers and movement analysts offer us pathways to consider, such as: On Pivoting: Ideas on Organizing During a Trump Administration, Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Era, Building Coalitions that Can Win, and America Needs a Network of Rebel Cities to Stand Up to Trump. Opal Tometi, a leader of the Movement for Black Lives shares this video about 5 Things We Can Do in the Wake of Trump’s Victory, while offers a new toolkit on moving from Actor to Ally to Accomplice. Weekly Actions to Resist Trump is a new website that invites us to take a timely and concrete action each week and the new Safety Pin Box subscription program, co-created by Black Lives of UU lead organizer Leslie Mac, provides an opportunity for white allies to get a monthly “box” full of ways to take accountable action while helping invest in organizing for liberation led by Black women.

There is also a lot we can do at the interpersonal level, starting with talking with our families, as well as equipping ourselves to offer immediate support to those who may be facing harassment and to de-escalate incidences of injustice we witness and confront. And when we feel too daunted or overwhelmed by the work to be done, we can begin by considering our own spheres of influence and beginning there, resolving to remain engaged and undaunted.

These are some starting points for work that is unfinished, still emerging, and will be ongoing.

Our hope is that these articles and resources can encourage and nurture us on all three of these levels — the head, the heart, and the hands — so that we can continue to support and protect one another, resist the threats of increased oppression, and move forward in fulfilling our commitments to transforming ourselves and our society, with clarity, spirit, love, and community.

We welcome your stories, action ideas, and guiding wisdom, as well, and look forward to sharing more with you in the weeks ahead, as we continue to get ready to find our ways forward together. Please send us your thoughts!

Creating Space to Grow Racial Justice

It had happened again. Another black man had been shot dead by police, another life lost to the brutality of racism, another painful reminder of the urgency of the Movement for Black Lives. News of Philando Castile’s death in Minnesota came less than a day after the police shot Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. They weren’t the last to die; in recent weeks, other men, women, and transgender people of color have been killed just for being themselves – and not just by police. These tragedies, and the long-standing systems of oppression behind them, weigh heavily on all who seek to defy hate.

A few days later, 30 young adults gathered in the sanctuary of the First UU Church of New Orleans for the opening worship of Grow Racial Justice. They sat in a circle around the steady flame of a chalice, and to the rhythm of a beating drum, spoke their intentions in turn: Healing. Courage. Compassion. Humility. Rigor. Accountability. Resistance. Community. Clarity. Love.

For the next five days, Grow Racial Justice offered participants the tools, resources, and relationships to support their racial justice leadership. The UU College of Social Justice and the UUA’s Thrive Program for Youth & Young Adults of Color organized the retreat and training, in in collaboration with two other groups: Standing on the Side of Love, and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. As the struggle for racial justice lives on in our streets and courtrooms, congregations and communities, it was a timely opportunity for young activists to deepen their faith, lift their spirits, build community, and develop skills for organizing within and beyond Unitarian Universalism.

In two uniquely tailored, parallel programs, young adults of color and white young adults explored their racial and ethnic identities, reflected on the effects of internalized racism, and considered how their own experiences compel them to action. They shared stories, struggles, songs, and practices of resistance and resilience. The two groups then came together to learn skills in anti-racist facilitation and grassroots organizing from long-time movement leaders Aesha Rasheed and Caitlin Breedlove. They left with a shared commitment to lead the work required to advance racial justice in their home communities and within themselves.

Participants echoed one another in reflecting on the value of the program. One young adult of color shared, “My time at Grow helped me form a deep, action-oriented commitment to racial justice. I’ve been inspired to preach sermons that speak the truth about racial (in)justice and my own experiences, to volunteer with my local Black Lives Matter chapter, and to be public with my own actions, thoughts, and struggles in the fight for racial justice. I can do all of this because I know there is a community of support, helping me move forward.”

Grow Racial JusticeAnother participant from the white cohort added, “I believe Grow transformed my work from ‘facebook activism’ into true action. I better understand how organizing for change means matching commitment with a plan for how to do it… If we truly want to show up for the world in the ways our principles commit us to, we need to do white-on-white work to dismantle white supremacy.”

A third, who participated in the Thrive cohort, said, “This was a life-changing experience – physically, mentally, and most important, spiritually. I can’t wait to create movements with these people.”

Shortly after Grow Racial Justice concluded, the UU College of Social Justice brought together 15 teenagers for Activate New Orleans: Racial Justice and the Beloved Community, also hosted by the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. Like the participants in Grow, the youth left this training with new bonds of friendship, a deeper understanding of systemic racism, and a stronger commitment to taking the next steps in their social justice journeys.

Too much hateful rhetoric has filled the airwaves this year. Unrelenting acts of racist aggression continue to distress and dishearten us. Still, the voices of the young leaders who joined us at Grow and Activate Racial Justice offer hope. They remind us that joining together to defy hate through personal transformation and strengthened activism can help us undo racism and foster our collective liberation.

This article initially appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Rights Now, published by UUSC.