Between Us, 2/2/2024

When I answered the call to ministry here at the Fellowship in 2013, the letter of call which became the Letter of Agreement between minister and congregation included this as its second point:

1.2 “Anti-Oppression Awareness
This congregation accepts its responsibility to continue to offer its members and minister(s) opportunities to increase their ability to function in a multiracial, multiethnic capacity and to address the systemic nature of oppression within Unitarian Universalism. On-going opportunities for growth and reflection will be offered to ensure the success of the professional ministry and will be scheduled in consultation with the Committee on Ministry.”

Having most recently served a congregation in Michigan which had increased its commitments to understanding and addressing systemic racism, I was very happy to move to a congregation which shared that awareness and commitment. Part of my own work to understand systemic racism had begun very early in my career, when I made a commitment to myself to undertake an annual study of the works of and about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (I’ve now been engaging in this study for nearly 25 years).

Here at the Fellowship, my commitments have only increased, as have those of the Board and many members of the congregation. Now, Black History Month is part of my own “liturgical year”; I set a learning goal during this month each year. This practice has influenced how I learn and study throughout the year. I think that 85-90% of what I read is related to the study of systemic racism and other forms of bigotry. I read predominantly non-white authors, in a wide variety of genres – mostly because I realize that my own perspectives, based on my own experiences in life, are still very limited.

Several years ago, soon after the strong emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I invited everyone in the congregation to join me. “If you are White like I am, read something – anything,” I said, “that will begin to broaden and deepen your understanding of the nature of systemic racism. Many of you did, and we have been engaged in communal learning and discussion ever since.

This year, this Black History Month, I offer the same encouragement. If you have never made a commitment to learning about Black History, I invite you to begin. In case it might help, here are some of the books I’ve read in the last couple of years, which I highly recommend.

“We Were Eight Years in Power” – Ta-Nehisi Coates
“How the Word Is Passed “ – Clint Smith
“The Radical King” – Cornel West, Editor
“Homegoing”, and “Transcendent Kingdom” – Yaa Gyasi
“The Book of Delights,” “The Book of More Delights,” and “Inciting Joy” – Ross Gay
“Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World – and How to Repair It All” – Lisa Sharon Harper
“Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism and Mothering” – Rachel Elizabeth Harding