June 4th Call-In Day
For most of my life I have witnessed the denigration of African American men through images projected in the media. I remember decades ago once feeling fearful for no reason when an African American man was walking toward me in the street. I caught myself and wondered: are people reacting to my father and brothers this way? Even I, as an educated woman of color, had not escaped the messages that train us to assume and accept the stigmatization, the criminalization, and the elimination of black men from society.
The problem of racism in this country has been a focus of my personal and professional life. One of my Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) friends introduced me to the work of Michelle Alexander, the notable author, researcher and social rights advocate who wrote The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her work caused me to look at how the system that is supposed to protect us is growing a racial caste system in our country.
More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their thirties, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the “war on drugs,” in which two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. -The Sentencing Project
In the US, African Americans are over six times as likely to be incarcerated as whites; Latinos over twice as likely. If the US enacted the reforms necessary to reduce its disproportionate minority confinement by just 50%, the incarceration rate would drop…and put the U.S. fifth in the world instead of first.
-Fact Sheet on U.S. Rates of Incarceration: A Global Perspective by Chris Hartney, National Council on Crime and Deliquency, November 2006
Are these statistics a reflection of policy-makers’ that have lost faith in humanity? Are these statistics reflective of the policy-makers true values?
Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 4th is a call-in day for people of faith to urge the Senate to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act. Please join me and call the Capitol Switchboard TWICE by dialing 1-888-427-0484 and ask to speak to your state’s Senators. You can use this simple script and talking points when you make your Senate calls.
The Faith in Action Criminal Justice Working Group, which is part of a larger civil and human rights coalition, is working to get the Smarter Sentencing Act passed–a bipartisan bill that would deal a blow to mass incarceration and is a step towards addressing racial injustice. The bill has successfully passed the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and is now poised for a vote by the full Senate this month.
The Smarter Sentencing Act will cut mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses in half. It also will enable judicial review of cases sentenced under the old 100-to-1 crack cocaine disparity for possible resentencing. Overly punitive mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses have disproportionately incarcerated people of color for low-level and nonviolent offenses for decades, leading to the crisis today. The federal prison population has increased 800% since 1980 and if incarceration trends continue, one in three African American men born today will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. Congress has ignored the consequences of these harsh sentencing policies for too long.
And so have we. One of the ways that I am putting my faith into action is by helping to grow the movement to end mass incarceration in the United States. I am working with U.U. congregations to get educated about this crisis and to partner with community organizations and other faith traditions who are leading the way in addressing it.
Since I’ve been organizing in congregations, people, mostly women, have been pulling me aside to tell me about their children and their brothers who have been incarcerated. They have thanked me for breaking the silence around incarceration. These families need a voice.
It’s time that we break the silence and act. Please make those calls tomorrow. If you believe that mass incarceration is a gross injustice in our nation, make the calls. If you believe we must oppose the racial caste system that has been created through mass incarceration, make the calls. Passing this bill will not only change people’s lives, it will be a signal to this country that we are no longer standing by silently, we are standing on the side of love.
Please stand of the side of love tomorrow and call your Senators.
Paula Cole Jones
Paula Cole Jones is the Racial & Social Justice Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association Joseph Priestley District. She is a lifelong U.U. and member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC.
P.S. To get connected with the U.U. movement join the Facebook Group UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration. We will be meeting at General Assembly — See G.A. Organizing Meeting for U.U.s Resisting the New Jim Crow and Mass Incarceration for more information and to R.S.V.P.
This post comes from a friend of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign and contains personal and community reflections and resources about sexism, patriarchy, and sexual assault. Trigger Warning for sexual assault and violence.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
-Dr. Maya Angelou
This past week, another tragic mass shooting occurred in Isla Vista, California. This time, the shooter released several videos and a manifesto that made clear his distaste for many people, especially, but certainly not limited to, women. In these materials, the shooter expressed his belief that women should be judged on their appearance and that he was owed sexual experiences from women.
Also this past week, we also lost a great American hero, Dr. Maya Angelou. Assaulted as a young child, Dr. Angelou did not speak for five years, believing her words brought on the death of her perpetrator. She later found her voice and used it to raise awareness about the many times she experienced sexual violence and assault throughout her lifetime in over 30 works including autobiographies, anthologies of poetry, books for children and more. She taught countless women the importance of sharing our stories to release the guilt and shame we might otherwise internalize after experiencing sexual violence.
And on a personal level, this past week I was sexually assaulted.
Shortly after the Isla Vista shootings, the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag sparked a nation-wide conversation on misogyny and patriarchy, and I had a burning desire to share my story. These milestones all occurring this week make it so clear to me that patriarchy still rules our society, that sexual assault and misogyny are not limited to one incident but are a ubiquitous threat, in varying levels, to all of us. The humanity of every person is threatened by this reality. I wanted to share my story both to help me heal personally, and to provide information that yes, all women, and all people of all gender identities might find useful.
Immediately after the assault, friends and family pointed me to resources that have helped me profoundly. I hope all of you reading this have never experienced, and will never experience sexual assault or violence. Sadly, statistics and personal experience force us to acknowledge and bear witness to the fact that far too many women, far too many people, will have to suffer through this as well.
If you, or a loved one, experience sexual assault, here are some points you may find helpful:
• Ask for and accept help as you are able and willing: This might be something that is usually hard. I realized early on I needed to be honest with a close circle of people about what happened so that I could have their support. I also reached out immediately to a local rape crisis center and survivor’s advocacy network. To find information on your own local resources visit: RAINN and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
• Be prepared to make difficult decisions: The circumstances of every assault are different, but in my case, like so many others, I knew my assailant. There were many things that needed to happen immediately so I could be in a safe space away from harm, and that was the most important thing I needed to focus on. You or your loved one might also be confronted with many other immediate decisions, like whether to go to a hospital to get a “rape kit” done, when to reach out to sexual assault detectives, or deciding to press charges. People will likely give you conflicting advice, something I experienced over and over. I was also told: “ultimately it is up to you to decide”, as if that would be comforting. It wasn’t. I didn’t ask to be assaulted in the first place, and it felt like I had this huge burden of making all of these deeply uncomfortable decisions that felt overwhelming. I got through it by practicing self-care while journaling to see what felt like the right things to do for me. You may find creative expression might be something that helps you as well.
• Remember that ending patriarchy and misogyny will take work: Transforming the way we treat ourselves and each other will take lots of love, compassion and time. But we have to take action today to ensure that the normalization of violence against cisgender and transgender women, genderqueer and gender non-conforming people ends. For more information on transformation check out Black Feminism Lives, Against Patriarchy: 20 Tools for Men to Further the Feminist Revolution and the UUA Reproductive Justice Curriculum for Congregations.
For a few days after my sexual assault happened, all I wanted to do was scream with rage. In fact, one day I had to do just that. I parked my car in an almost vacant lot, turned a warrior women song on full blast, so loud my car shook, and I screamed. I screamed until my face hurt, until I let all that rage and anger and fear out of me, so it wouldn’t stay inside and become toxic. Then I made a very conscious decision to stop screaming. I turned off the music, and sat very still. Later, I wrote some words from Dr. Angelou in my journal: You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
One thing you might consider doing is sharing this story with others in your lives, so they have access to these resources. You might also want to share your own story, perhaps anonymously like me, or with your own voice—whatever feels most comfortable and safe to you. In the words of Dr. Angelou: History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
I ask you to join me so that collectively we can change the long history of sexual violence in our communities. Listen to the stories shared by people directly impacted by violence. Our collective future of love and liberation depends on it.
PS: #YesAllWomen has acted as an important rallying call in recent days as people share stories of systemic and personal violence that is normalized. We recognize that people with many gender identities are impacted by violence. Let us begin with working for the human rights of all people to be respected.More >
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 >