Insights from our RAICES Interns

Insights from our RAICES Interns

This summer, two of our Global Justice Interns are working with RAICES. In the past few weeks, RAICES has been in the national spotlight for the work they have been doing to help reunite separated families. Thanks to a viral Facebook fundraiser, they have raised more than $20 million dollars to continue fighting for immigration justice. We reached out to our interns to see how they are feeling about working with such an important organization at such a critical time. Here is what they had to say:

“The opportunity to work for RAICES when they are essentially on the front line of many immigration issues has been an extremely humbling experience. On a daily basis we interact with moms fighting for their children’s right to a better future. I feel blessed to be able to help these families in any way possible. The work we do is hard, but it is essential. Immigrant rights are human rights and we must always fight for humanity. La lucha siegue!” – Diana

“As someone who is already passionate about immigration rights and the immigration movement; I was blown away when I arrived at RAICES. The attorneys, legal assistants, and others are equally as passionate. They commit to long hours, and work through nights if something needs to get done. It’s amazing to see a group of people equally committed to making a difference. It just fueled me to run with what I love – the immigration movement. When I arrived at Karnes Detention Center, I was nervous. However, I was greeted by women and children who are grateful for our work. It’s difficult to listen to their stories, however these women symbolize the every parent. Every parent would do anything to give their child love, security, and a future. It’s incredible to see these women and their resilience. The children are also so kind and joyful, despite it feeling like the world is against them. Like Diana said, the work we do is hard, but it needs to be done. Immigration is about family and it always will be, and I am grateful to be in the front lines of this movement. Let’s fight the good fight!” – Jamie

 

Diana (center) poses with two other RAICES interns at the San Antonio Families Belong Together Rally on June 30.

The Path To Sanctuary

Norman Allen is the intern minister at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda Maryland. In October 2016, Norman and 14 others from the Bethesda area and beyond, travelled with UUCSJ to Tucson to learn more about immigration justice through immersion. Read his reflection below on how that journey motivated the congregation around immigration justice.


Walking the Migrant Paths in the Desert

The pilgrimage to Tucson and our stay at Borderlinks was a life-changing event for the congregants who took part, and it became a community-changing event when those congregants brought their experiences back to the Cedar Lane.

Since our trip last October, the ripples have extended far and wide. Participants have given formal presentations across multiple venues, shared their reflections during worship services, launched books groups on the subject, and inspired a growing number of Cedar Lane members to take part in marches and protests.

 

Cedar Lane members demonstrating alongside DACA students

Demonstrating alongside DACA students

Most important, a period of deep discernment, followed by an education campaign, and a series of formal conversations led to a near-unanimous congregational vote to become a Sanctuary church and to provide physical sanctuary to an immigrant in need.

All of this hard, inspiring work has its genesis in our days along the Arizona-Mexico border, under the expert guidance of our friends at BorderLinks and CSJ. We look forward to a return visit this fall, with a new group of congregants and new work to unfold!

 

 


Senior Minister Abhi Janamanchi, was one of the driving forces of Cedar Lane’s journey in October. He participated in an earlier Religious Professionals Border Witness journey with CSJ and used his experiences there to inspire Cedar Lane members to start their own journey.

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.