Love is the greatest justice cause of our time. And love is the greatest spiritual imperative of our time. How are you an evangelist for love?
Not all that long ago, my passion for a better world was fueled by anger. I was angry that injustice existed and I felt hatred for people who perpetuated it. And you know what? Acting from that place was toxic. It left me feeling empty and hopeless.
So I found another way—a path grounded in faith and paved with love. Now my passion for a better world is fueled by the flames of love. Love for all life. A desire for all beings to thrive. And it fills me with purpose and hope.
Love is what makes me a person of faith. When people meet me, I want them to feel that love and sense that I am someone different. That I am a “love person.” That’s my evangelism: inspiring people of all beliefs, backgrounds, and identities to join the cause of love, each in their own way.
I want to be clear: I’m talking about unconditional love. I don’t have to like someone to love them. I don’t have to see eye-to-eye with someone to wish the best for them. It is hard work to access compassionate, unconditional love for people I struggle with (and I don’t always succeed!), but that’s what makes it a spiritual practice.
If every single person believed in, as the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, “projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives,” there could be no war. There could be no inequality. There could be no inhuman treatment. That’s what makes love the greatest justice cause and the greatest spiritual imperative of our time.
So, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Standing on the Side of Love, how do you stand (or sit, or roll) on the side of love? How are you an evangelist for love? Rev. Meg Riley calls her SSL shirt a “working shirt.”
What are you working for?
Join me in being a love evangelist: share how you reach out in love here!
In loving faith,
Congregational Advocacy & Witness Program Coordinator
Unitarian Universalist Association
P.S. At General Assembly 2014, love = justice. Attendees will get the chance to witness for love at this year’s public witness event at WaterFire Providence! Learn more.More >
The stakes are high for committed youth working to make the seemingly simple transition to their home communities. In a climate where economic resources are scarce, racial anxieties are high, and the will to overcome these and other challenges is wavering, our children, particularly children of color, find themselves caught between the desire to achieve endless possibilities and the stark realities that diminish these possibilities for this particular group of bright minds.
Created in November 2009, the mission of Building Bonds, Breaking B.A.R.S. (Barriers Against Reaching Success) is to provide the committed youth population with the resources to overcome many of the racial, structural and systematic barriers they’ll face upon release. The founders, Javonie H., Samuel P., Bo N., and myself see the value that these kids have and the assets they can become to society.
In order to achieve this mission, building bonds becomes an essential part of this work. Though I have not made personal contact with the criminal justice system, I understand that my personal successes is due in large part to the folks along the way that decided to invest their time and resources in me. This is true for many of us. Making this notion a part of our service, we believe that taking the time to learn the personal stories of our students and build relationships with them that transcend present circumstances is imperative. We focus on who they are as individuals, how their experiences can be used as assets in our program, and what they’re long term goals are in life so that we may tailor the sessions to meet their individual and collective needs. Through these bonds and the knowledge we share in the safe spaces we create and occupy, the students become equipped with the necessary tools to confront and deny any external force that suggests or proclaims their inadequacy.
To overcome these barriers against reaching success, it is important to know our rich history and the organizing of our forbearers. In our North Carolina and Washington DC chapters, the overwhelming majority of the students who participate in our program are students of color, with 100 percent of the DC students being male students of color. Understanding the demographics, the history presented is that of the Civil Rights Movement. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (2011) showed that many of our states fail to teach the major events, people, and places of the Civil Rights Movement, therefore producing high school graduates void of a framework to understand why modern efforts at school and residential segregation, voter suppression, and other issues, have a deep and complicated history. In the DC Chapter, every Thursday, Adrian and I discuss racial oppression and political disenfranchisement with a historical foundation that shapes the student’s understanding of contemporary vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow. It is with this critical perspective that our students become equipped with the tools to overcome these barriers and engage the external forces head on.
In order to show the greatest degree of love, we must believe that the success of all our children is inextricably linked with our own. I believe this deeply, and carry James Baldwin’s words with me every day as I continue juvenile justice advocacy and service: “For these are all our children. We will profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.” If we love our children, and truly want the best for them, then we must also care for and tend to those who are most vulnerable. It is never enough to wish our children well; rather we must be active in creating the spaces where success is attainable and where all children can thrive.
As the nation rallies behind the Obama Administration’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, let us not forget our young brothers and sisters who are currently committed in residential detention centers. If we are truly invested in successful rehabilitation, then we must bring the unique needs of these children to the forefront. Failure to so means that we have chosen to fail all of our children. Therefore, let us commit ourselves to building strong, safe, and successful communities where all our children can prosper. This is the greatest act of love that we can do right where we are.
Visit the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to find out how you can contribute in your home state.
In service to our children,
Jeremy MartinMore >
On February 8, 2014, I marched with over a thousand Unitarian Universalists and eighty thousand others in Raleigh, NC to make it clear to the North Carolina legislature that we weren’t going to stand for attacks on voting rights of African Americans and other historically marginalized people. People died, and many others risked death, to secure those rights for all Americans. Fifty years ago this summer, over 1,000 mostly white college students descended on Mississippi to work alongside thousands of mostly black Mississippians, to register people to vote and to set up freedom schools and community centers in black communities.
After the murders of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, a black Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) activist from Mississippi, CORE organizer Michael Schwerner, and summer volunteer Andrew Goodman (both of whom were Jews from New York), eyes from around the nation were on Mississippi. Although the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in July of 1964 didn’t end the violence in Mississippi, that, combined with the efforts of the Mississippi Summer Project volunteers, changed the course of the voting rights movement.
From July 5-12, 2014, you have the opportunity to explore the impact of the Mississippi Summer Project with first hand accounts of those who were there. The Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice and the Living Legacy Project are honoring the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer with the multi-generational Mississippi Civil Rights Journey. Ignite your commitment to assuring legislators, like those in North Carolina, don’t reverse the rights that people in Mississippi and other Southern states fought so hard to secure fifty years ago. Learn how the strategies and tactics employed by civil rights workers in 1964 still have relevance today. You have only a few more days to register for the Mississippi Civil Rights Journey (Registration deadline is May 19, 2014). Click here to register today!
Yes, it will be hot! Mississippi in the summer is always hot. But unlike those intrepid volunteers from so many years ago, you’ll go from an air-conditioned bus to air-conditioned restaurants, hotels, and meeting places. Don’t pass up this opportunity to expose yourself, your children, and your grandchildren to this important part of our history.
Learning the stories of Mississippi Freedom Summer has inspired me to work for justice in my state of Virginia and to fight against voter suppression wherever I see it happening. I hope you’ll seize this opportunity to feed yourself so that you can be fortified and renewed in your work for justice in our time.
LGBTQ and Multicultural Programs Director, Unitarian Universalist Association and member of the Living Legacy Project Board of DirectorsMore >
I just returned from the Interreligious Organizing Initiative’s Summit on the Intersection of Criminalization and Race. The event brought together people who were formerly incarcerated, congregation-based community organizations (CBCOs), congregational representatives, policy experts, and funders. Throughout the summit, we shared stories and statistics, brainstormed about strategies and made commitments.
We heard stories from people directly impacted by the mass incarceration crisis. One speaker in prison for 28 years, including 20 years on death row, for a murder he didn’t commit. He was finally exonerated by the Innocence Project. Another speaker, an Iraq War veteran, is the mother of two teenage sons in jail who received a combined 200+ year sentences for reporting a violent crime. Because witnesses placed them at the scene! Story after story was told of communities and families under duress from systemic violence and policing, non-violent drug offenses and harsh prison sentences, and lack of re-entry options for people coming out of prison.
We heard about facets of the crisis including:
The Business of Prisons
Prisons have expanded at unprecedented rates in recent decades. This is, in part, due to the monetary gains to corporations involved in the prison industrial complex. Attendees talked about the connection between private prisons, big business and low-wage labor for prisoners coupled with the systemic employment discrimination people face when they return home.
Human rights violations surrounding the prison industrial complex including policing, detention and incarceration were discussed as pressing issues for advocates to address. The U.S. has one of the largest numbers of people in solitary confinement, considered torture after 15 days by the United Nations, in the world.
As prisoners are moved within their home state and nationally, census numbers shift. Though prisoners cannot vote while incarcerated, and many states have laws barring formerly incarcerated people from voting, they count as residents in the creation of voting districts.
And we brainstormed solutions:
I’m grateful for the folks who shared their stories throughout the weekend pushing attendees to ask questions about leadership. Countless speakers emphasized the need for efforts to end mass incarceration that are led by formerly incarcerated people. Their experiences, coupled with their visions for the future, will transform how we build new organizations and institutions.
Leading with Who We Are
Aptly titled a Summit on the Intersection of Criminalization and Race, the convening was centered in an analysis and guiding principle that racism and white supremacy in the U.S. have been a primary cause of our current “carceral state.” From policing and detention to incarceration and return our identities (including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, language, and ability) impact our experiences with the criminal justice system. Our organizing must recognize the centrality of that reality.
Faith in Action
Faith, religion and spirituality were central to each activity of the convening. The moral imperative to understand and take action on the issue was made clear by the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton’s opening convocation about putting faith to work because as he reminded us, “Faith without work, is dead.”
What You Can Do
• Support the Smarter Sentencing Act – Join UUA President Rev. Peter Morales on this Clergy Sign-On
• Lay Leaders can sign this petition from Families Against Mandatory Minimums:
• Join the Facebook Group UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration
• Read the UUA Statement of Conscience on Criminal Justice and Prison Reform and find out how your congregation is already working on these issues
• Check out resources on the UUA website about work already happening to end mass incarceration
• Learn more about efforts to end mass incarceration led by formerly and currently incarcerated people with Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement, All of Us or None, and Black and Pink, among many organizations.
• Research folks working on mass incarceration, prison reform and abolition in your community
Join us as we continue to explore and support efforts to end mass incarceration.
Standing on the Side of Love
Last Friday I had the privilege of meeting with President Barack Obama.
I was invited to the White House as part of a small group of Asian American-Pacific Islander (AAPI) business, community, and religious leaders. The meeting coincided with the beginning of AAPI Heritage month, an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the contributions of AAPI people to our nation.
The President had called the meeting to discuss the importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform. He and members of the White House Senior Staff noted that the legislation that had passed the Senate last year would be the most significant legislation that the House could pass in the next few months to revitalize the economy, rejuvenate the workforce, and strengthen the solvency of the Social Security Fund.
The President was clear-cut and forthright with us. He said, “Immigration reform is my highest priority”. He noted that the political landscape around immigration had significantly shifted in the last few weeks. Several Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), had come out publicly in favor of immigration reform and there being potential Republican votes in the House on individual immigration reform bills. The President sought our help for what he described as a “two month sprint” to pass immigration reform in the House of Representatives.
We also heard from the President about providing administrative relief from the ongoing impact of detention and deportation that are tearing families apart. His staff shared that a review of immigration enforcement policies was underway in the Department of Homeland Security.
When I got a turn to speak, I thanked the President for his strong commitment to immigration reform and said we’re ready. I shared that Unitarian Universalists have been working with other progressive, interfaith, and immigrant justice partners for many years for comprehensive immigration reform; that Standing on the Side of Love’s “have a heart” and “keeping families together” messages have been very effective in mobilizing people to call or write to their representatives in Congress; and that we continue to be deeply committed to working to put pressure on House Republican members to support comprehensive immigration reform. I also shared that families need relief now and that we are supporting their request for executive action.
I came away from the meeting deeply moved by the President’s strong and genuine commitment to fixing the broken immigration system through legislative action in the next couple of months. And I was inspired by the group’s enthusiasm to work with the President and his senior staff to help make it happen.
So, what can we do?
We can work in local communities to reach out to members of the Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latino/a, Arab American, African, East European communities and allies who have a stake in fixing the broken immigration system. We could make in-district advocacy visits and calls to their House representatives and put pressure on them to support HR 15.
If we do these things, and do them well, we have a really good chance of not only winning on immigration reform, but also energizing immigrant communities to continue working together on issues of mutual concern regardless of what happens in Congress this summer.
Our current immigration system, instead of welcoming the stranger, leaves families living in fear of deportation, prevents young people from achieving their dreams, and obstructs immigrants from sharing their gifts and improving the economy.
As religious people who believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we are called to change this. We are being called to work together with other faith, immigrant, and community partners to encourage our lawmakers to take action. We have a historic opportunity to help create a pathway to belonging and hope for 11 million immigrant brothers and sisters.
I fervently hope you will join me in making it a reality.
Rev. Abhi Janamanchi
Senior Minister, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church
P.S. Use these hashtags on social media to continue to raise awareness with your friends and family, and encourage them to contact Congress to #DemandAVote because the #TimeIsNow to #PassCIR.More >