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UU Religious Professionals of Color Witness with Youth for Economic Justice

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Group of people outside MA State House in support of economic justice

Photo by Alex Kapitan

On Thursday, March 13, participants in the Finding Our Way Home retreat joined leaders of Boston Mobilization in collaboration with Youth of Massachusetts Organizing for a Reformed Economy (YMORE) and Sub/Urban Justice to witness for economic justice and call for an increase in the minimum wage.

Finding Our Way Home is an annual retreat for Unitarian Universalist religious professionals of color, hosted by the UUA through the Diversity of Ministry Initiative. This year’s event, held in Boston, was attended by nearly 80 ministers, seminarians, religious educators, directors of music, and church administrators from across North America. In addition to community building, spiritual reflection, and collegial support, the retreat includes a service project—and this year, participants partnered in solidarity with YMORE, a cross-race, cross-class, and cross-neighborhood community of youth, as they shared their stories and demanded policies grounded in equity and justice from their government.

In their invitation to Finding Our Way Home, YMORE explained:

Photo by Alex Kapitan

“As religious professionals from all over the country, your presence reminds the Massachusetts legislature that the nation is watching to see how Massachusetts acts on issues of workers’ rights. As Unitarian Universalists leaders, you remind politicians that these issues are moral ones. YMORE is an interfaith group of teens with shared values. Your presence as religious people will call us back to the truth that the power of love is the ground of all justice work.”

At a joint press conference led by the youth, social justice leaders gave moving testimonials about how minimum wage, sick time, and state policies impact their lives. UUA President Rev. Peter Morales also spoke to the gathering, thanking the youth for their leadership and reiterating his and the UUA’s commitment to addressing escalating inequality and getting the minimum wage raised on the state and federal levels (you can review and sign the joint UUA/UUSC statement).

Ellie Flammia, a YMORE member and local high school student, shared:

A lot of people think that teens hold the majority of minimum wage jobs, but in reality 88% of minimum wage jobs are held by adults. In fact, every year Republican Senators in Massachusetts propose paying teens less than the minimum wage. … We don’t want to encourage businesses to hire teens over adults. We are fighting for EVERYONE to have higher minimum wage pay.

Following the press conference, Finding Our Way Home participants shadowed YMORE representatives to meet with seven state legislators and Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Others joined together in front of the State House with signs, gaining supportive cheers and honks from people driving by.

Getting signs for the witness

Left to right: Sophie Morgan, Aisha Hauser, Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen. Photo by Audra Friend

Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson, minister of the UU Congregation of Central Nassau, NY, said:

“After a terrific 101 Program on Minimum Wage led by Elizabeth Nguyen and Asha Carter, young adult staff of the Boston Mobilization, Rev. Danielle DiBona and I had the honor and privilege of being adult allies who joined the teen social justice leaders as we all walked into the Massachusetts State House to express how important we believe it is to raise the minimum wage. … I felt as if I had truly earned the title of ‘Elder’ because I did not need to do anything except to bear witness as the youth made their points about the critical issue of supporting workers of all ages by supporting the raising of the minimum wage.”

Aisha Hauser, Director of Religious Education at East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, WA, reported:

“One of my passions as a UU religious educator is engaging youth and children in a way that empowers them as agents of change in our world. Being a part of this service project led by youth in favor of not only a raise in the minimum wage, but also against cutting benefits to those who need it most, was a privilege. While it may be cliché to say that the youth are our future, it is a fact and it is encouraging and humbling to see how many youth fully understand the stakes in our political struggles for the underprivileged in our country right now.”

Rev. Dr. Qiyamah Rahman. Photo by Amanda Thomas.

Rev. Dr. Qiyamah Rahman, minister of the UU Fellowship of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and a participant in Finding Our Way Home since the retreat’s beginning, passionately testified to the power of the service component of the gathering, saying that it was the single most powerful addition that had been made to the retreat over the years and really exemplified who UU religious professionals of color are and what they bring forward.

See coverage of the event by local ABC affiliate WCVB, and check out Boston Mobilization’s Facebook page for photos.

UUs are involved in minimum wage campaigns in many states, as well as at the federal level. Find out more, and please sign the joint UUA/UUSC statement calling for raising the minimum wage closer to a living wage, indexing the minimum wage to inflation, and significantly increasing the minimum wage for employees who receive tips.

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A Call to Building Bridges

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“I love you, be safe.” These words are a reminder of how my Nana waved me off and how I bid my loved ones farewell for 22 years…. I left home each day anxious to do good in our world — to protect my assigned and adopted communities.

But my joy was tempered by the sad reality check that occurred three years ago when I attended an art show at the Brecht Forum in New York City. A skit was being performed and at the end of the skit a police officer was shot and killed. Most of the young adults in the room cheered and clapped. It was at this moment that I recognized how much I was hated and feared by the very community I vowed to protect and serve.

After 22 years of service as a law enforcement officer in New York City, I had been looking forward to retiring on New Year’s Eve. I reported to duty on Christmas Eve feeling light-hearted, knowing this would be my last Christmas Eve serving. I was praying for a quiet evening for myself and for my fellow officers.

However, I was quickly reminded of the sacrifices law enforcement officers make everyday, even on Christmas Eve. A bulletin from the FBI flashed across my computer screen informing me that an officer was shot and killed in Tupelo, Mississippi. Corporal Kevin Gale Stauffer of the Tupelo police department was fatally wounded while attempting to apprehend suspects in a bank robbery. Officer Joseph Maher, his partner, was critically wounded. The suspects were thus far unapprehended. I paused for a moment of silence to honor my fallen brother. Deeply saddened, my thoughts went to his family. I was not really sure if Santa was coming to his home or if the story of the birth of Jesus was going to be told, but I knew for sure that the holidays would forever be different for this family. In addition, I soon found out he had left a wife and two children ages 2 and 6, on Christmas Eve.

While this tragic story was unfolding, a parallel light was emerging in this dark hour. Imagine this! A civilian bystander, who had witnessed this senseless act of violence, approached the two shot officers who lay there on the pavement, and quickly took action. The bystander picked up the officer’s radio and called for help! Help quickly arrived. The mayor proclaimed that this one brave heroic act saved Officer Maher’s life.

There was a profound sense of gratitude that the community and I had for this unidentified bystander. There was also an emergence of love, kindness, and compassion for the officers’ families. I wondered how, as a faith community, we build and sustain this type of powerful oneness of community even in the face of fear, the sense of betrayal, and the possible prejudice of the very people who are here to protect and serve us.

I am hopeful that we can create change by communication and the demonstration of one’s humanity overcoming one’s hatred and fear.

Guided by my spirit and faith I am ready to open up this conversation. I invite my fellow Unitarian Universalists and all other faith communities to join me. I am not asking you to forgive or forget. I am asking you to be open to allow our faith to heal the wounds that exist. I am standing waiting to listen, to be honest, and to share my journey as a law enforcement officer. Let us build this bridge together with love, kindness, compassion, and honesty, so that we can be part of a forever-changing world by creating a united oneness.

SEE YOU ON THE BRIDGE!

In faith,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joey Morelli

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From This House to the World

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Blog Series: From North Carolina to Your Home State

Less than two months ago, on February 8, between 1,000 – 1,500 UUs from across the country joined partners in Raleigh, NC, to witness in solidarity at the Mass Moral March, spearheaded by the North Carolina NAACP. Together, we learned about the many interconnected justice issues at stake in their state and how this has led to a Fusion Coalition to bring North Carolina “Forward Together.” Throughout the coming year, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign will focus on voter suppression—an issue that impacts many people and is at the core of the struggle in North Carolina. In this election year, UUs across the country will be learning more about what we can do ensure all people have voting rights, especially after the Supreme Court gutted key parts of the Voting Rights Act. 

This blog post is the third in a series that will build upon our collective energy after our gathering in Raleigh. Sandy Weir writes about her experience at the Mass Moral March, and shares why witness is such an important opportunity for our community.  She also talks about the emphasis on “Taking it All Back Home” to our families, communities, and world as a way to create change. 

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“From this House” is a joyous, South African-style song by composer Ben Allaway. It evokes the image of people walking out into the world after finding power and a sense of purpose at their house of peace, their community space to celebrate, learn, and work out problems. Unitarian Universalists often chant the lyrics, “from this house, to the world, we will go, hand in hand,” as we emerge from a sanctuary to march for justice. The lessons I’ve learned at my UU “house” are the grounding for my commitment to justice.

The song continues, “Look around you; find your neighbor; share the peace. It’s all about freedom without fear.” In Arizona, I am in community with undocumented immigrants who have found power and purpose together at their own house of peace, and we work together for freedom without fear. As a participant in Building the World We Dream About, a UU Tapestry of Faith program that builds antiracist, multicultural skills, the reflections I shared of my ongoing transformation introduced more UUs to this community. Yet I was still hungry to share more widely and to meet new peers engaged in similar transformative experiences.

Mass Moral March in Raleigh, NC — UUs experience community in a coalition for freedom without fear.

Then, North Carolina UU clergy invited UUs nationwide to join the Mass Moral March in Raleigh on February 8 led by state NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber and supported by a large coalition. The invitation described the movement to restore voting rights. And, it warned:

We know North Carolina is being viewed as a test state to unleash these regressive chains of injustice across the country.

Those words were familiar to Arizonans who had asked others to join us in resistance in 2010, warning: “SB 1070 is a hateful law and other states around the country are copying Arizona and introducing anti-immigrant laws.”

Click here to read the rest of Sandy Weir’s article from the UUA Call and Response blog.

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Standing on the Side of Love at the St. Patrick’s Peace Parade in South Boston

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Many Unitarian Universalists in Massachusetts and around the country have been following the news of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston and its various exclusions.  The traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade (organized by the Allied War Veterans Council) excludes LGBTQ groups from marching openly. The parade’s organizers state that in addition to celebrating St. Patrick and Irish heritage, their parade is meant to honor veterans. In spite of this, and notwithstanding the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the organizers would not allow a group of LGBT veterans to march openly.  The parade organizers have also excluded Veterans For Peace from marching in their parade “for associating the word ‘veteran’ with the word ‘peace’,” in spite of their military service and in spite of St. Patrick’s own words: “Killing cannot be with Christ.”  These exclusions hurt me to my core since I am a US Navy veteran, a member of Veterans For Peace, and a lesbian.

In response to these exclusions, the local Boston chapter of Veterans For Peace (the Smedley D. Butler Brigade of VFP) worked in solidarity with local LGBTQ organizations and progressive activists to create an alternative and inclusive parade: the St. Patrick’s Peace Parade.  This parade, known affectionately as the “second parade”, follows the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Parade along the same route. In past years, street sweepers and more than a mile of distance separated the two parades, but this year – on March 16, 2014 – for the first time the City of Boston did not put street sweepers between the parades, and the distance between the two parades was shortened. This meant that more onlookers than ever saw the messages of love, peace, and inclusion from the St. Patrick’s Peace Parade.

In addition to Veterans For Peace and lots of LGBTQ groups, there were many wonderful people and worthy organizations witnessing for environmental, social, and economic justice and peace.  The “second parade” included a “Religious Division”, with Unitarian Universalists well represented. Many Unitarian Universalist participants marched with banners and signs from their own congregations as well as rainbow flags and messages of full support for LGBTQ inclusion and equality, and many more marched behind a large Standing on the Side of Love banner. Together, we indeed harnessed love’s power to end bigotry and oppression!

Clergy march at the St. Patrick’s Peace Parade. Photo from Lara Hoke.

One of the central St. Patrick’s Peace Parade organizers was Pat Scanlon, the Coordinator of the local Boston chapter of Veterans For Peace, a Unitarian Universalist himself (a member of North Parish in North Andover). The Arlington Street Church in Boston played a special role, too, in providing rent-free space for peace parade organizational meetings.  I’m so pleased that my own congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover, participated with enthusiasm.  Other UU congregations that stood on the side of love, represented by parishioners and/or their ministers, were Community Church of Boston; First Church in Boston; First Parish Church, Billerica; First Unitarian Society, Newton; Harvard Unitarian Universalist Church; Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead; Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield; and Unitarian Universalist Church of Weymouth. Mid-route, some parade-watchers from South Church, UU, Portsmouth, NH joined in with us! In addition to UUs standing on the side of love, other faith groups were a part of the parade, including organizations and congregations from the Catholic, Jewish, United Church of Christ, Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) traditions and more.

It was a big step in the right direction that there were no street sweepers between parades this year, and less distance between the two parades than ever. How wonderful that more parade watchers than ever saw the “second parade” and its messages! But we will continue to stand on the side of love with a second, alternative, inclusive St. Patrick’s Peace Parade until the day that there is one, unified, inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston. Says Pat Scanlon, “Our Peace Parade is not going away until we have one welcoming inclusive parade for all without censorship.”

In faith,
Rev. M. Lara Hoke
Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover
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Lives in Limbo: A Visit to the Glades County Detention Center

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Last month I joined immigrant rights partners in Southwest Florida to visit our immigrant neighbors being held at the Glades County Detention Center. We could not bring any cameras inside. All I could do was draw and take notes of what I saw and experienced. When we entered the facility – run by the County Sheriff, who gets federal funding to collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a detention center— I found myself smiling to the staff, trying to beam love wherever I went to the county officers, the detention officer, the ICE officials, everyone. The tour of the building still felt abstract- cinderblock walls, fluorescent lights, that really awful processed-food cafeteria grey water smell coming from the kitchen, the glorified sandbox that baked in the Florida sun that provided one hour of outside fresh air for detainees. That sweet, make-nice part of me wanted to believe that this wasn’t so bad.

Then we went up to the control room. Like a Foucaultian nightmare, we saw all the detainees in their “pods.” I turned my head to hide my tears from the ICE and County Officers. Who was I to be up in this room with the freedom to leave at any time when these men and women were trapped in a multi-use space where you ate, slept, used the bathroom and tried to pass the time each day?

Deshawnda Chapparro, Rev Allison Farnum, and Grey Torrico of FL Immigrant Coalition

We were able to sit down with a group of men and listen to their stories and experiences. All of the men were people of color, detained anywhere from 2-4 months. One man corrected us and said, “C’mon, man, we’re not detainees, we are inmates.” The injustice and despair of the men was palpable. All of them were waiting: waiting for a court date; for communication from their lawyers; to discover if their fate would be to be deported to a nation where they never even lived; waiting to be reunited with their spouses and kids. Some came over to the US when they were toddlers. Quite a few were picked up for not coming to a court date as Legal Permanent Residents. They say they never received any notification of the court date. The harassments all men received from county officers each day ranged from having their daily-use cup swiped from them (to replace was $1) to taunting lines like, “Go tell ICE about your human rights!” when detainees would dare complain. Complaints could result in threats of physical harassment. One man said he was living a half-life and that the county officers treated them all like dogs. All the men agreed; they were in limbo.

The officers came into the multi-purpose room where we were talking. After two hours, our time was up. We were supposed to also meet with the women, but for a vague reason the ICE officials told us they did not want to meet with us since we were not legal aid. We wondered what the women might have shared with us. And then, we shook hands with all the detained men and left. I walked out into sunshine and freedom and they walked back into the nightmare of Limbo, waiting.

Set up a tour. Contact your local immigrant ally group. It’s not fun or easy. But it is the right thing to do. The oppression I witnessed is happening in my backyard, a little over an hour from my house. My faith dictates that I shall not ignore it forget it. I am on the side of Love.

In faith,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rev. Allison Farnum
Minister, UU Church of Ft. Myers

In community and denominational life, Allison currently serves on the board of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida, an ally organization of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.  Rev. Allison is also co-president of the interfaith congregation-based community organizing group, Lee Interfaith for Empowerment (LIFE).

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