Equality is about sameness; it suggests fairness and justice can be achieved by giving everyone the same support. But it is only effective if everyone starts from the same place, in this example equality only works if everyone is the same height. Equity is about fairness, it’s about making sure people get access to the same opportunities. Sometimes our differences and/or history—our national history with slavery and Jim Crow and so many other things and our personal history in interacting with people different from us--can create barriers to participation, so we must first ensure equity before we can all enjoy equality. Notice in this slide how height is dealt with in the equity image. The shortest person is given the most assistance. And the tallest person is given no assistance. Most of us are metaphorically the tallest person in this image. I believe it is hard for the metaphorically tallest people to know what the metaphorically shortest people need to achieve equity without their participation in the discussion.
This image graphically represents what we here at DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church hope to accomplish as part of our congregation-wide social justice initiative. Equality cannot happen without equity happening first. We have to work for equity. Our task now, having taken up the cause of social justice, is to understand what people of color need to experience equity in this country.
Becky Trombley-Freytag sang Wade in the water for us this morning. This is an African American Spiritual. What is the meaning of this song? You might just think we wanted it as part of the service because it has an African American connection. But including it without understanding its context would be a form of tokenism. The lyrics have roots in both the Old and New Testaments. The words are about the Israelites' escape out of Egypt as found in Exodus 14. And the hymn refers to John 5:4, "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had." In both of these bible passages, there is an intersession to help those who are suffering, in slavery or illness. We here at DuPage UU Church have decided to “trouble the water”, to disrupt the status quo of systemic racism, so that people of color who have been suffering prejudice and injustice “can be made whole” of the disease of inequity and inequality. But we’re no angels. We cannot make things happen miraculously and instantaneously. Our work of intersession as white people is complicated, difficult to discern, and will take a long time. We may not even be able to tell if what we are doing is making a difference sometimes. We have good hearts and good intentions, but we do not know exactly what will make a difference, what will relieve the suffering, what will change our culture and our laws so that all people can be not only treated equally, but equitably.
About 30 members of this congregation have been working on our social justice initiative for the past 5 months, trying to discern how we can be effective agents of change. They have been developing relationships with the Community Renewal Society—a grass-roots organizing group, with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP, with the Lisle African Methodist Episcopal Church, with principals of local high schools, with local and state politicians, and with Unitarian Universalists from churches in Chicago and Illinois. Our social justice committee is also offering opportunities for all of us to learn more about the struggles of people of color. They are starting a book study, that you can sign up for in Kreves Hall after the service, reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (tana hah see). This book is an extended letter written by a black man to his son about racism and how it will impact his son’s life. And the social justice committee has attended a presentation by one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, again trying to understand the issues of today’s people of color. We are starting today a curriculum for the children of the church to learn more about racial inequality. You’re invited to attend adult forums on the second and fourth Sundays of this month at 9:30 AM to see the films and learn more about what the children are doing in their classrooms regarding this issue.
The Social Justice Committee took on this initiative in direct response to a congregation-wide discernment process. The Social Justice Committee held one-on-one conversations with over a third of the congregation and convened a discernment meeting with many of our members in attendance in October of last year to vote on one of three social justice initiatives—climate change, income inequality, and racial inequality. “Congregation-wide” means we, as a congregation, have voted on and agreed that racial inequality is what we want to put our energy and resources toward. To that end after each of the services today, the various subgroups of the Social Justice Committee will have tables set up so you can talk with them and sign up to join subcommittees, sign up for a book study, sign up to teach our children about racial inequality during March. You will learn more about opportunities to get involved, and learn more about how racism affects all of us. This is the initiative that you as a congregation chose. I hope each and every one of you will talk with the people manning these tables and sign up for something. And if you have more ideas of what we can do, don’t hold it inside; let one of our social justice folks know.
Your social justice committee has been working hard to educate themselves and this congregation on the issues facing the black community. In this process of education and seeking advice from others doing this work, we have heard that we need to let the African American community take the lead in guiding our next steps. But here is my conundrum: there is not just one African American community and there are many racial inequality issues that our congregation could get involved in. Recently I asked Patrisse Cullors, another co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, what we should do to make a difference. In essence she said, walk with those out there who are protesting and holding rallies, be partners who are present in this movement. I’ve been in ongoing conversations with the local AME church for the past 6 months, seeking effective ways our congregations can partner together in shared social justice work. This church is working on diversity training and wants us to be part of that work at the appropriate time. In February I talked to Jim Wallis, the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine; he said just go out there and do something, don’t study it, don’t think about it, just act in the world with our black brothers and sisters. In our research on the NAACP, we learned more about the organization’s work on many issues including supporting black youth by developing mentor communities and individuals, providing social and academic support. The NAACP’s stated goals are to help establish political, social, economic, and political equality for all citizens, to eliminate racial prejudice, and to educate people on their constitutional rights. Perhaps they are who we should ally with in this work. When I asked other Unitarian Universalists who are leaders in racial equity work to share their insights about how we here at DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church can make a tangible difference. Some encouraged us to develop partners in the black community and be open to the process; to trust the process that unfolds. Other Unitarian Universalists recommended getting involved with prison ministries to help rehabilitate young black men who are incarcerated, and to work on prison reform, supporting alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent crimes and ending the war on drugs. Another Unitarian Universalist, who spoke here a couple of weeks ago, Dr. Finley Campbell, believes we should work collaboratively with people of all races to end police brutality. Finley also believes we must fight the reality of institutional racism by working together as part of a multi-racial movement. He feels that we must honor our Unitarian Universalist principles and follow our long-standing Unitarian Universalist history of working for the beloved community.
So there are a lot of processes to be trusting in, to be open to as they unfold. I am here to be with you in this work and in this decision-making, but I cannot tell you which direction to take, which path feels right to you. I can tell you that we need to continue educating ourselves, we need to continue talking to our black allies and our Unitarian Universalist brothers and sisters about racial injustice, and we need to “partners who are present” when there is an opportunity here in DuPage County, perhaps even Chicago, and certainly in Springfield. We need to keep our eyes open for legislation that might help people of color achieve some level of equity, so we can support it. I believe we need to take some of the opportunities to march with people of color. Right now you can choose to join with young adult Unitarian Universalists in Chicago who re holding protests against police brutality. And we need to continue trying to understand how we, each of us, contribute to institutional racism in this country.
Last week, our church was invited to participate in a new program that has been developed by members of Meadville-Lombard Unitarian Universalist Seminary. This program is called Beloved Conversations. This program, which many Chicago-area Unitarian Universalist congregations are getting involved in, as well as UU congregations around the country, focuses on our church communities having the very difficult conversations around our own prejudices and racially based micro-aggressions. This program isn’t about guilt-tripping is not to make us for past behaviors or attitudes. Beloved Conversations seeks to open our awareness of how we are impacting those around us, so that we can be more effective in the racial injustice work we are doing with people of color, and so we can recognize and stop some of our behaviors that are contributing to institutional racism. Here is the description of the program from the Meadville site: “Beloved Conversations is an experiential curriculum that provides a space to re-form/fuse the brokenness of racism into new patterns of thought and behavior ushering in social and spiritual healing. New ways of being are learned through the actions of conversation and probing dialogue. The program consists of a 1.5 day retreat that launches the curriculum, followed by 8 weeks of guided dialogue/experiential exercises.” I want you to do this. I need you to do this. And I am going to this program.
Last week, I met with the Chicagoland Unitarian Universalist ministers here at our church. We talked about what keeps up going as we do this difficult and challenging anti-racism/anti-oppression work. I don’t think I’m breaking any confidentiality by sharing some of their thoughts on this. Many of our ministers find the passion to start this work by seeing and hearing about the injustice around them. But what keeps them going, what fills them with the motivation, the energy, the resources to keep going is relationships, the people who join them in this work. The people in our churches and the people outside these walls, people of color, people of other faiths, people in the Black Lives Matter movement, in the NAACP, all these people and all the people who support us in “troubling the waters”—our family and friends—who might not get out there in the streets with signs, but who say to us “thank you.” “Thank you for trying to make us whole from the disease of institutional racism.” This work would be difficult to sustain if it weren’t for those people who support us and those people who stand side-by-side with us, getting wet right along with us, holding us up when we are shaky, scared, faltering, tired. We did it when we fought for marital equality and we’re going to do it now for racial equity. We are taking on a system, folks. This is not work that will be done quickly; it might not even be completed in our lifetime. But you and I are the ones who must trouble the waters and keep troubling them, keep making difference after difference. We are the hope for the future, a future we might not live to see. We are, as Ysaye Barnwell writes, “the mothers of courage and fathers of time, we’re sisters of mercy and brothers of love. We are builders of nations and seekers of truth. We are makers of peace and the wisdom of ages.”
Get involved. Help us discern where we can best make a difference, and help those in this congregation who do this work. This is the work of the world, it is as common as mud, and someone must do it. And friends, that’s us.
I leave with this quote from Between the World and Me: “But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” I say to you today: do not refuse to do the something you can do. So may it be.