A Dream Deferred-Still!

“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a rain in the sun?
Or fester like a sore – and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”

It has been almost 70 years since Langston Hughes wrote that iconic poem, which he entitled “Harlem.” And still we in America – or more specifically we whites in America – have yet to learn its lesson. The poem has a specific reference from Hughes lifetime – the Harlem conflicts of the 1930s – but it has echoed many times in the years since, through the Civil Rights disruptions of the 1960s to any of the more recent “explosions” that we have known in response to unjust police actions against black men and women.

Year after year the roll call grows. Some of the more famous cases more recently involve people like Rodney King, Malice Wayne Green, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando CastileAhmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd. And even that roll call omits the thousands of others who die year after year in racist killings or are injured in racist incidents. Add to that the legacy of centuries of racism that has caused black hopes and aspirations to dry up like the raisins in Langston Hughes poem: side-tracked into inadequate housing, first to be laid off or evicted in a shattered economy, deprived of a decent education, suffering and dying early in a failed healthcare system. Is it any wonder that black Americans are most likely to be killed by the COVID pandemic, losing out on unemployment benefits and now murdered in the streets by public safety officers?

Explode? Yes, explode! Isn’t it time that we paid heed to the tragedy African-Americans have endured and which we whites are complicit in creating by prospering to their detriment? So, while we hate to see the damage done downtown and are discomfited by the angry protests, we should not pretend that we don’t understand why it has come. It has been building like a magma chamber of a volcano, and an explosion was to be expected. Our greatest hope now is that the white majority in this country and the power structure that serves them will finally listen and take concrete action to address generations of inequality and oppression.

And please note the sequence of what I argue is required of us: listen first, then take action. We whites, even when we’re sympathetic to the oppression that our African-American neighbors experience, have the unfortunate habit of rushing off with some half-cocked idea of a solution without ever asking them.

We remember that when Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative spoke at UNC-A last year he told us that the first step in being of service to others is, in his words, “to get proximate.” For our justice work to be effective, we need to know and understand the people we are working with. And that doesn’t happen right away. It takes time to build relationships and come to know communities.

So while we need to be advocates for political change and systemic restructuring, we also need to be about the hard work of listening, of putting ourselves in places where we can hear the stories of people’s lives and learn to lament and grieve with them the losses so many have suffered. And sooner or later we will need to acknowledge our own complicity in the system of white supremacy, the ways in which the racism marbled throughout our culture offers us gains which come on the backs of others.

Then, once we understand at least a little better we will be in a position to act, to use our wealth, our connections, our privilege to bring about real change, to access the levers of power to bring about true equity and justice.

The protests underway around the country, and here in Asheville, can feel impressive, consequential, but they are no more than flashes in the pan if they do nothing to change the way that systems work, whether they be policing, schools, employment and more. Let us be among the allies and partners who help make that happen.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

 

Justice Requires Us to ACT!

A Letter From Rev. Claudia and Rev. Mark
Last week Mark and I discussed reaching out to the Justice Ministry Council inviting them to jointly issue a statement of solidarity with the Black community. Our goal was to speak up about the disrespect of Black bodies, the ingrained institutional disregard for Black humanity, witnessed yet again with a tragic death, the flagrant murder of George Floyd even as COVID-19 is disproportionately afflicting the marginalized communities already vulnerable as a result of societal imbalance.
 
We are called as a religious community to affirm and promote the worth and dignity of all. It is a core belief we must act upon and not just discuss. We feel that this moment calls every one of us to consider the work we must do to disrupt white supremacy in ourselves and our institutions.
 
As the Council discussed making a statement, it became apparent to us that we do not have a relationship with the Black community in Asheville that gives us a ground from which to make this statement. Despite our concern, we as a congregation have yet to get proximate with people in that community beyond our comfortable social circles. We concluded that we as a congregation are in no place to speak with authenticity in this moment. We have work to do.
 
The Justice Ministry Council has created this congregational letter as a first step to share ideas and encourage each of us to begin this work. It is individual work that requires commitment, deep reflection, humility, and consistency in understanding how white supremacy culture has shaped our lives. It also requires us to reach out beyond our congregation to advocates and allies in our community and beyond. These times demand it. Reach out to Council members, or one of us. We are all on different stages on the journey of showing up for justice for our Black siblings.
 
We invite you to join us if you are able tomorrow at the Prayer In Action: A Gathering of Solidarity for Peace and Justice organized by a group of local clergy.
When?  Tomorrow, Thursday, June 4 at noon. 
Where? The event will be on Church Street, which will be closed to vehicular traffic. 
Speakers: Rev. John Grant will open with comments and prayer, with L.C. Ray, Herbert Grant, Tyrone Greenlee and the pastors at Central United Methodist, First Presbyterian and Trinity Episcopal also being involved (plus others). 
Attendees are asked to social distance and wear masks.
   
Rev. Claudia and Rev. Mark
A Letter from the Justice Ministry Council: Moving from Outrage and Grief to Action

UUCA Justice Ministry Council members are Eleanor Lane, Nancy Bragg, Deborah Holder, Joyce Birkenholz-Wallin, Linda Kooiker, Martha Kiger,  MaryAnn Somervill, Melissa Murphy, Elizabeth Schell, Wink Zachritz.

“People of faith, particularly those of us who are white progressives, need to combat the systems of criminalization in our country. Systems of policing and criminalization in this country are inherently violent, steeped in and created to reinforce white supremacy, anti-blackness and radicalized control.”~Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, President of the UUA.

In a recent UU denominational Call to Action letter, we are reminded that “as the pain and grief of centuries of violence without justice find their expression, let us remember the Rev. Dr. King’s words: ‘America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?’”  We invite you to read the rest of this powerful call to action (at the link above).

But what shall we do as a congregation? As individuals within a faith community that lifts up the “inherent worth and dignity of all people” as our first principle? The inherent worth and dignity of our Black and Brown siblings is not being respected, but instead seen as expendable. This is not a new thing. But perhaps in this pandemic moment where much of our “normal” is on pause, we are better able as White people to SEE and HEAR the distress of our Black and Brown siblings. But what shall we do with what we are seeing and hearing? And what shall we do with the feelings that come with all of it?

We must not turn away. We must not be silent. But how we witness and how we speak up, show up, participate in much needed resistance and transformation in these times will look different for each of us. Below are some ways to “take action” (in many different forms) in these troubling times: 

Take action by joining UUCA’s learning and action groups now:
Join UUCA’s Dismantling White Supremacy group on the first Friday of each month for deep personal reflection; contact Joy McConnell  

Join UUCA’s Anti-Racism and Immigration Justice Action Group (formerly ReCommitting to Black Lives Matter); contact Eleanor Lane

Take action by joining with others for action items our partners have called upon us to do:
Join with other UUs from our congregation and around the state for Friday Action Hour with Forward Together, the UU Justice Ministry of North Carolina; to get the Zoom link and the action items you can follow this link. 

Subscribe to Ron Katz’ newsletter, Social Justice Opportunities, with timely ways you can take action.

Take action by studying the issues:
Read and reflect on Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”Read and reflect on this work by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun from 2001: “White Supremacy Culture” (From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups). A more easily-printable pdf version can be found here.

Read and reflect on “Tips for White Folks” blog post by Ashley Cooper with advice/reflections from Jessica Norwood: https://ashleypcooper.com/2020/06/03/999/

Read and reflect on (these can be future book study opportunities)  Racial Purity and Dangerous Bodies by Rima Vesely-Flad, Professor of Religious Studies at Warren Wilson College OR Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Jason Reynold and Ibram X. Kendi. This is the abridged, young adult version of Stamped from the Beginning OR Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin.

Take action by focusing on topics and activities relevant for parents, guardians and educators: Engage with your family using Colorful Pages (local) Listen to online conversations webinars and read articles focused on raising children who are thoughtful, informed and brave about race: Embrace Race

Take action by supporting  local community groups and Black businesses with your treasure:
Support Black businessesColor of Asheville website:  and see the Black-Owned Business and Community Directory. Also check out the  Hood Huggers International Green Book for more business listings. 

Support local youth organizations:  My Daddy Taught Me That My Sistah Taught Me That Dewana Little’s Positive Changes Youth Ministries Support local justice organizations: Just Economics BeLoved Asheville Homeward Bound Pisgah Legal

Join or contribute money to CoThinkk, a local giving collective led by People of Color that funds grassroots Black and Latinx leaders and their work in the community.

Support Northside Achievement Zone working with parents, students and local partners to drive a culture shift in predominantly black North Minneapolis.
           
UUCA Justice Ministry Council:
Eleanor Lane, Nancy Bragg, Deborah Holder, Joyce Birkenholz-Wallin, Linda Kooiker, Martha Kiger, MaryAnn Somervill, Melissa Murphy, Elizabeth Schell, Wink Zachritz.

Prayer In Action: A Gathering of Solidarity for Peace and Justice-TODAY!

TODAY!! At noon!!!
The event will be on Church Street, which will be closed to vehicular traffic.
Speakers: Rev. John Grant will open with comments and prayer, with L.C. Ray, Herbert Grant, Tyrone Greenlee and the pastors at Central United Methodist, First Presbyterian and Trinity Episcopal also being involved (plus others).

Attendees are asked to social distance and wear masks.