Critical Connections in the UU Universe

Critical Connections in the UU Universe

Did you know that there are twenty-two established UU State Action Networks (SANs) and more forming as we speak (find out if your state has a SAN here)? Did you know that there is a Coalition of Unitarian Universalist State Action Networks (CUUSAN) that acts as a central “meeting place” and seeks to support their work?

State Action Networks are an important part of the UU Universe as they do work on the local level and can connect congregations to justice work happening near them. We at UUCSJ, UUSC and the UUA are excited about the many ways we have been working more closely with these passionate advocates for spiritually centered social justice!

This July, leaders from many of the UUSANs came together with staff from UUSC, UUA and UUCSJ to build relationships, learn together and share with each other the work we are doing at all levels: local, national and international. Hear about how two of those leaders felt about the convening below.


The Maine Unitarian Universalist State Advocacy Network begins and ends our bi-monthly in-person statewide meetings with a Chalice Lighting accompanied by opening and closing words. One of my favorites is “Movements are born of critical connections rather than critical mass.” by Grace Lee Boggs.

The recent convening of representatives from most of the Unitarian Universalist State Action Networks in Boston in July lifted up each state’s focused legislative ministry and provided a platform for discovering potential national and regional social justice initiatives. Grateful thanks to UUSC and UUCSJ for bringing together key partners from the national UUA social justice family along with the SANs to build a movement of critical connections.

~ Julie Fitz-Randolph, Co-chair, Maine Unitarian Universalist State Advocacy Network, muusan.org


As the Chair of a SAN operating since 2005, I was eager to meet with other SANs and the UU movement’s advocacy leaders when this summer’s retreat was scheduled, and I was very pleased with the whole program. It is clear that the national UU groups (UUA, UUSC, UUCSJ) now see SANS as critical partners in building the movement, and the UUA has now agreed to include CUUSAN in future General Assemblies and refer attendees to local SANs to further the justice work developed at GAs. I particularly appreciated the clarification we were provided about the national movement’s “advocacy ecosystem” since there are so many UU groups active in promoting a just and sustainable world. We discussed how best to collaborate on shared goals, development/engagement, and national campaigns. Especially important will be our collaboration on 2020 election efforts to preserve and promote democracy.

The gathering also provided some helpful training and workshops on SAN missions & visions, Theory of Change, and Power Analysis – to help us define what we want and how we accomplish our goals. Focus on relationship-centered organizing will be important as we move to center our efforts on people most affected by government policies, especially those that maintain control by the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. We also learned from each other new ways to support members of our community in becoming and staying involved, and how to strengthen these connections.

The gathering would not have been possible for many SANs without the generosity of UUSC in hosting and its grants that made it affordable. This generosity is continuing with partial funding for a session on fundraising for SANs that is scheduled for September. I am truly grateful to those who are providing such needed support for our state-based work, and I look forward to working closely with other states and the national leadership in this sacred work.

~ Steve Buckingham, Chair of the UU Legislative Ministry of Maryland, uulmmd.org/


As one of the staff members present for this gathering, and someone who is moving into the new position of Coordinator for Congregational Activism here at UUCSJ and UUSC, this was an amazing opportunity for me to connect with activist leaders across the country. It was great to hear about the work they are doing, what ways we at the national level can support them, and to be in the same physical space rather than over zoom! I am especially grateful for the time we all took to map out the UU social justice universe. My colleague Abby Crum and I are using that work as the basis for an online tool that we can share more widely, so keep an eye out for that. Lastly, I’m excited about all the ways we will work together to engage Unitarian Universalists in the vital work of creating the beloved community.

~ Heather Vickery

Coordinator for Congregation Activism

Meet our 2019 General Assembly Spark Leaders!

At this summer’s General Assembly, UUCSJ is excited to offer our third annual stipended leadership opportunity to alumni of our programs and related justice and leadership initiatives to support their engagement in social justice education, action, and outreach at GA. Read on to meet the team of awesome young adult justice-makers who will help “spark” connections and inspiration in the broader community of UUs gathered in Spokane, as part of our mission to inspire and sustain spiritually grounded activism for justice. Watch for them at Public Witness, the UUSC booth, at UUSC, Love Resists, and YA@GA workshops and events.


Henry 

My name is Henry Katzman and I’m excited to introduce myself as a Spark Leader. Faithful Social Justice work has been a calling I have delved into these past few years. I have been called to many projects, mostly mental health advocacy and mentorship, but recently have worked with local political protesters, women’s marchers, and immigration justice seekers. I combine this work with participation in Unitarian Universalist programming, having attended Summer Seminary (As a recently bridged youth), Meaning Makers, The Youth Ministry Revival (having participated at a young adult) and local congregational leadership.

I will be attending Lesley University in the Fall, graduating in 2023. I plan to dual major in both Sociology and Social Work, paving a path to some form of ministerial work in the future. In the meantime, before school, I plan on publishing a book (which is almost written) and incorporating a nonprofit (which is also almost done), based around community gardening for marginalized folks. While serving as a Spark Leader, I hope to connect with young adults across the country, networking, listening, and advocating for what the future of social justice work looks like in our faith.

I look forward to meeting people at GA; if you see me feel free to say hi!


Kaitlin 

For a long part of my life I thought that I was alone. I didn’t know that there were other people who looked, thought and shared experiences like me. I couldn’t comprehend that someone could live life as their full authentic self, and that place of isolation was dark. I decided that my life had worth, and so did every single other person’s, and the spark within me was lit. At the time, I didn’t have the words to express the racism and discrimination I felt blatantly and insidiously through micro-aggressions. As my journey continued and the fight for my life and for others’ got stronger and harder, I felt my world blossom and bloom into a full flame when I found Unitarian Universalism. Even beyond that, when I attended UUCSJ’s GROW Racial Justice / THRIVE program, I met friends and family who affirmed me and loved all of me. Now because of that, I am able to be my authentic fat, biracial, pansexual, musical and silly self. Once you’ve seen the brilliance of that fully formed flame, there is no turning back. It is my hope in life to help spark other’s flames and lend some kindling or to fan a flame when times are tough. I am so thankful for this opportunity to serve on UUCSJ’s 2019 GA Spark team! 


KellyAnn

KellyAnn was born and raised in Spokane, WA where she attended the UU Church of Spokane throughout her childhood – she is so excited for this opportunity to once again be UU-ing in her hometown! After being involved in a campus UU group in college and spending a year in the Quaker Voluntary Service, she now lives in Rhode Island with her sweetheart and (too) many tomato plants. She spends her working hours as an Americorps VISTA helping efforts to end childhood lead poisoning, and in her free time, she enjoys reading, reclaiming gossip, trying to learn Spanish, attending free community trainings, singing random snatches of songs, and going to meetings (especially at the First Unitarian Church of Providence, where she is on the Sanctuary Committee).

Lately, her spark has been fueled by the presences and lessons of those who have stayed with the struggle – through difficulties, barriers, heartbreaks, and time.


 

Chloe

Chloe is a 21-year-old member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno-Clovis, California. She’s a senior at CSU Fresno majoring in Strategic Communication, and some of her favorite pastimes include traveling, eating, and writing. As an alum of Luminary Leaders, Activate, Thrive, Grow, and Meaning Makers, she loves having the opportunity to connect and support fellow youth and young adults. Fun Fact! If you give Chloe a sticker, pin, or button, she may just give you a high five. As she enters into her third General Assembly, Chloe’s looking forward to joining others in discussing, supporting, and building the Power of We.

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.