Monday, August 17, 2015

Why Black Lives Matter

-introduction by Natalie Briscoe, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life staff
-post by Southern Region Right Relations Specialist, Lewis Morris, and his wife, Tasha Morris

At General Assembly this past June in Portland, Oregon, the gathered delegates overwhelmingly approved an Action of Immediate Witness entitled, “Support the Black Lives Movement.” An Action of Immediate Witness allows Unitarian Universalists to respond quickly and collectively to issues deemed urgent and imperative. As our awareness and outrage grows concerning the violence perpetrated against People of Color every day, especially by those in law enforcement who would misuse and abuse their power and authority, it is clear that we cannot remain silent. 

And yet, a large part of bringing more justice into this world means examining our own hearts and lives to see if there are any actions, however small, we can do in each moment that give our lives the shape of justice. Many times this can take the form of examining our own privileges and making a real effort to give our own power and authority away to make space for voices of the oppressed and marginalized.   

I recognize that my position as a Congregational Life Staff member of the Unitarian Universalist Association comes with authority and privilege. Even writing this blog is a privilege I don't take lightly, as I know it is disseminated widely. My voice is heard. 

In this blog, therefore, I would like to give up that privilege and remain silent in order to make space for voices which are not heard. Please find below a post written by a Southern Region Right Relations Specialist, Lewis Morris, and his wife, Tasha Morris, regarding the “Support Black Lives” initiative and the Black Lives Matter movement. Lewis and Tasha are members of First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Why Black Lives Matter 
A Brief History

The Black Lives Matter movement is most known for vocal protests against racial discrimination in community policing and the justice system. However, it is not only that.

It is a movement led by people of color, calling for an end of race-based oppression in its many forms and contexts. White allies of the movement are asked to take on supporting roles in order for people of color, who have lived experiences of these forms of oppression, the opportunity to be heard and given a chance to express their needs to a wider community.

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was created following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer in 2013. It gained national attention after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Black Lives Matter has also been at the forefront of drawing attention to other incidents, such as the death of Eric Garner in New York in 2014 and the killing of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old who brandished a toy gun and was shot by police in 2014.

While the Black Lives Matter movement has gained the most attention for protests against police brutality and concerns about the justice system, it is also active in a number of other issues that disproportionally affect communities of color.

Why not say “all lives matter?”

Black Lives Matter was the rallying call of black people. To change this to say “All Lives Matter” co-opts the powerful language of the movement, while simultaneously diminishing the voices of color that have gone unheard for so long. It changes the focus in such a way that the lived experiences of people of color are negated, downplayed and readily ignored. The Black Lives Matter movement has specifically asked allies to not change this language.

Our First Principle says that we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As Kenny Wiley, a Director of Religious Education of color from Colorado, said in an address to the 2015 UUA General Assembly, “This is an unrealized promise.”

The reality lived by people of color in our country is that their lives matter LESS. Decades after the end of the civil rights movement, inequality abounds. There are significant disparities in community policing and in the justice system. Discriminatory housing practices are the norm, and until the recent Supreme Court ruling, considered legal. There is unequal access to quality education due to disparate school funding and overcrowding – schools are more segregated today than immediately following desegregation. On top of all that, there are numerous overt and covert racist behaviors still displayed by individuals. When these issues are disproportionally affecting communities of color, it is hard to see people of color being included in “All Lives” because that is not the lived experience.

The Unitarian Universalist fit

The 2015 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly adopted an Action of Immediate Witness to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. While AIW’s are only binding to the Assembly that adopted them, it bears note.

If, as Unitarian Universalists, we believe in our first principle of each person’s inherent worth and dignity…

If, as Unitarian Universalists, we believe in our second principle, of justice, equality, and compassion in human relation….

Then we must stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement. We also must be willing to listen to those firsthand accounts of oppression. We must not co-opt language in order to make white people a bit more comfortable. Discomfort with the language is nothing compared to the injustices that are finally being discussed.

Monday, August 3, 2015

DIY Leadership Development

by the Rev. Susan M. Smith

Perhaps you are in one of those congregations in which the old “Nominating Committee” has become the new “Leadership Development Committee,” and no one quite knows how to get that started. It’s a question I’ve gotten a few times lately. It’s very like those new “Committees on Ministry” that still operate like the old “Ministerial Relations Committees.” You want to get the benefit of a new and better way of guiding your congregation rather than just put a new label on the same-old-same-old. I think you must start with the leaders you already have to build the leadership you need.

Build a culture of sincere gratitude. Make sure that everyone is being thanked for everything they do every chance you get. If you lead worship, thank the pianist, the choir, the person who arrived early to create a beautiful space. As you arrive, thank the ushers for volunteering today and the Membership Committee folks for greeting. Stick your head in the kitchen and thank whoever is there setting up coffee hour or staying after to wash up. Show appreciation to staff as well. Make sure that every volunteer receives holiday greetings and thanks for their work in the year just past. Give gifts when you can. When the occasion warrants it, give engraved plaques. Expressing gratitude contributes to our mental health, and potential leaders will see that their work will be appreciated.

Encourage your current leaders to always ask someone to help them with their work. This will create low stakes opportunities for those who are not in leadership to test the waters. Ask every current volunteer to think of at least one thing that they do – usher, set up coffee hour, oversee the kids in the playground – with which they can ask someone to help. These are usually best when they are spur of the moment things. Also, encourage current leaders to have special events and projects for which potential leaders can participate for a very limited time rather than an open-ended committee position.

Help your current leaders get to know themselves and one another better. There are many different free and reasonably priced online and remote resources for allowing people to learn more about one another. Whether it’s Myers-Briggs, enneagram, conflict style inventory or intercultural competency, develop a variety of ways that members of boards, teams and committees can share more of who they are. Work a case study. Do a free UUA curriculum for leaders like “Harvest the Power.” Have them consider how the story of the Stone Soup or the Parable of the Sower relates to your congregation at the present time. In short, develop a real appreciation for both difference and commonality. You will be moving away from thinking that any warm body can fill an opening and toward asking people to serve in a position because they are uniquely suited to it.

Help people to move from begrudging work into passionate work. In his landmark book on organizations, Good to Great, Jim Collins writes that the first step toward true greatness is to make sure that the right people are on the bus and that they are in the right seats.  I like to literally put painters tape on the floor to make a few squares and label them as ministries of the congregation (Stewardship, Worship, Justice, etc.) and ask everyone to stand in the square where their current work places them. Then I ask them to move to the square for which they have passion. Unfortunately, I’ve seen groups of committee heads and board members where no one was where they truly wanted to be. Discerning a good fit between a volunteer and a position is key to developing happy and productive new leaders.

Finally, members of the Leadership Development Committee should do just what Committees on Ministry should do, get acquainted with the work of every volunteer in the congregation. That doesn’t usually mean sitting in a committee meeting. It means pruning the hedges to watching the newsletter put together to singing in the choir. You will be asking what would make these positions more effective, more fun and easier to do. You may come back with a list of better supplies or more modern equipment that is needed. You may see a cultural change that needs to be made or a need for a position to have more autonomy. At the very least, you will know enough about what volunteers are doing to speak intelligently about it to potential leaders.

If you start with these things, you will be well on your way to creating a volunteer environment in which people want to be a part. And those volunteers will live deeper and more fulfilling lives because of the opportunities you provide to them.