Black Lives of UU — UUA General Assembly Session I

remarks delivered by Lena K Gardner & Leslie Mac Thu June 23

Good morning General Assembly 2016! My name is Leslie Mac, I founded the Ferguson Response Network & I am a Black UU from Grand Rapids, MI. Last July with support from the UUA Office of Multicultural Growth & Witness, a group of Black UUs attended the Movement for Black Lives Convening (M4BL) at Cleveland State University. I personally served that weekend as the Convening Co-Coordinator while another Black Lives of UU Organizer, Elandria Williams, led the onsite Safety Team. Over several meals that weekend Black UUs engaged in a series of conversations which planted the seeds that would ultimately become Black Lives of UU.

Our work over the last 10 months as a collective have led to our participation here at General Assembly where we hope to engage with many of you directly. Our 4 session Program Track is designed to be both informational and transformational.

We begin with two sessions: “Black Lives Convening & Explicitly Black Spaces,” and Black Lives in Unitarian Universalist History. Black UUs who attended the M4BL Convening will talk about their experience in the first and Kenny Wiley focuses on the long history of Black UUs making change in our faith & in the world in the second.

Our final two sessions are workshops that include affinity spaces for Black folks, non-Black people of color & white allies. “An Introduction to Anti-Blackness” will delve into the ingrained ways that Black people & Blackness are made to seem ‘less than’. The track ends with a double session, “Our On-Going Work”, which will begin in affinity spaces and transition into a combined space geared to enable attendees to leave General Assembly with concrete ways to move forward. We invite everyone to join us for these sessions, as well as our Black Lives-centered closing worship Sunday afternoon. Together we can transform our faith.

My name is Lena Katherine Gardner, I work at the UU Church of the Larger of the Fellowship, am part of the Black Lives of UU organizing collective and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis chapter.

Last time there was a Black revolutionary movement thousands of Black UUs were so hurt by the actions of some, they permanently left our faith. I want us to learn from our past, and do better in the face of that history. Those events, the injustice of Black slavery, Indigenous genocide and land theft can move us into despair, and hopelessness. We can let guilt and shame paralyze us, or we can do something different. For everyone of us investing in Black-led organizations and leadership is one of the most powerful things we can do to resist white supremacy. We must also be willing to support groups in innovative ways, ways that may be uncomfortable, ways that are different. We must be willing to help people grow in areas they don’t have a lot of experience and trust them to do the work in a new way. Giving money and supporting Black leadership cannot bring back lives lost or continued injustices sustained, but it can be part of our ongoing journey towards justice as UUs.

I believe we can embrace our history and forge a new path toward liberation. When we don’t turn away or diminish our history, we can learn from it. When we listen to the new leaders and make space for new ways of doing things, we can build a new way. Let us journey together into discomfort, let us have courage to take new risks together, let us give as we never have before of our money, our time, and our talents.

The Black Lives of UU organizing collective is deeply rooted in Unitarian Universalism. We are here doing this work because we insist on working toward making the First Principle of this faith a reality. To say “we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person” is a nice place to start, but we — each and every one of us in this faith — have to work to make that true.

Many of you — through hanging church banners and going to protests and so much more — have deepened your commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s going to take all of us. If you are white, we need you to take risks — risk disrupting unjust systems, risk pushing your congregation to do more, to risk pointing out white supremacy when you see it, and to risk trusting people and voices that society tells us have less value. For people of color, our challenge is to lead with care, courage and in solidarity with each other.

The less society says we should trust someone’s voice or experience, the more we need to listen to them. Black Lives of UU is here to move from the margins toward the center, and bring our faith’s great promises — the idea that we are all connected, and that each of us has inherent worth — to fruition.

On Saturday morning, right here in this hall, the assembly will take a special collection on behalf of Black Lives of UU. By itself, money won’t end white supremacy — but it can buy us tools to put some real dents in it. We need one another. May we be the Unitarian Universalists who give fiercely, who love deeply, and who, through not just our words and our banners, but also through our deeds and actions, proclaim that Black Lives Matter!

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