Monday, October 17, 2016

History Made in Our Own Time: Our UUA and Black Lives of UU

by Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

The Board of Trustees of our Unitarian Universalist Association made history last Friday, and I had the privilege of being part of it.

My fellow Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) Organizing Collective member Leslie Mac and I made a presentation to the UUA Board in which we invited the members to invest in "Black leadership within the broader context of an interdependent web that can hold us all." There were specific financial asks attached to the invitation: A short term ask of $300,000 for BLUU organizing activities through the end of this fiscal year, including our BLUU Convening March 9-12, 2017, and a long-term ask of $5 million to "create real change in our faith and to fully realize the potential of organizing ALL UUs for justice in the world."

The Board Secretary, Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, put forward a motion that included the Board's commitment to the funding requested. Board member Rev. Andy Burnette seconded. After an intense and thoughtful conversation, the Board affirmed its support and accepted our invitation, including the $5.3 million commitment. We broke for lunch, and Rev. Andy offered a blessing outside on the beautiful grounds of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, New York -- a prayer for the work of Black Lives of UU going forward. You can find the article published in UU World here, and the statement from Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective here.

As many of you know, I have been involved in Black Lives of UU since its inception 14 months ago. It emerged at mealtime gatherings of Black Unitarian Universalists at the Movement for Black Lives Covening (M4BL) at Cleveland State University in July 2015 and has become a powerful force for renewal within our larger UUA. You can learn more about BLUU at We are overwhelmed with appreciation for the the confidence the UUA Board has placed in our leadership, and we look forward to ongoing collaboration with them.

In our presentation, Leslie and I lifted up some of our courageous forebears in the faith: Egbert Ethelred Brown, Susan B. Anthony, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Martha and Waitstill Sharp, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo. We reflected on the legacy of the Black Empowerment Controversy of the late 1960s, and the places where Unitarian Universalists have not lived out our principles.

Through its action last Friday, the current UUA Board has gone a long way in manifesting its commitment to compassion, boldness and reverence. The BLUU Organizing Collective now has resources to build a platform for Black people to find their way inside our faith, as well as for better support for and service to current Black UUs. We look forward to our continuing work with non-Black people of color and white allies as we discern how to lift each other up and thrive together. Ultimately, we are working toward a world where we no longer need Black Lives of UU, because people within our UUA and beyond will affirm and agree that #blacklivesmatter. 

I offer thanks and appreciation to my extraordinary colleagues on the Southern Region Congregational Life Staff: Regional Lead Rev. Kenn Hurto, Connie Goodbread, Kathy McGowan, Natalie Briscoe, Christine Purcell, Kathy Charles, Jessica Curren and Maggie Lovins (on leave). Each of you, in ways large and small, have offered and provided support that allowed me to dive deep into the BLUU work when I needed to. That Black Lives of UU has had such momentum has a lot to do with how faithful you have been as teammates. I'm so grateful.

To my phenomenal Black Lives of UU colleagues -- Leslie Mac, Elandria Williams, Lena K. Gardner, Kenny Wiley, Royce James and Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin: What a journey it has been, and so much more yet to come! Dreaming and creating with you has given me so much life. You continually renew my faith in the traditions we share.

And to all friends and allies throughout the Southern Region: Thank you for your support and encouragement along the way! It's made such a difference, especially when things have been difficult.

You many be wondering what you could do to support Black Lives of UU's work. There are several ways, but the most significant way in the short-run is to sponsor a Black member of your congregation/your community to attend the BLUU Convening, March 9-12. I am happy to connect with you about this at We know that the economic legacies of slavery, segregation, wage theft, educational inequality, employment discrimination and the like make attending such events far more unaffordable for Black people. 

You might also choose to support the #ReviveLove Tour with Rev. Sekou & The Holy Ghost which we co-sponsored. Here is that link:

Keep an eye out for specific additional invitations to engage!

When the four districts of the Southern Region dissolved last year, our UUA Board became the Southern Region's Board. Our UUA's ends became the Southern Region's ends. So, in a very real way, the affirmation of Black Lives of UU's work by our UUA's Board is the affirmation of the Southern Region -- percentage-wise, the Blackest of all five UUA regions. I hope you will celebrate with me this moment of grace that has been generations in the making.

In faith,