Ever since the first wake-up call in 2014 with the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, that sparked the Black Lives Matter protest movement, our church members at UUFP have started to turn and face what one long-time church member has called “the elephant in the room”—our country’s history of violence (often state-supported violence) towards our fellow citizens who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and our history of state-supported laws and policies blocking our BIPOC citizens who from a good, safe and valued life. We had only to look at the data. Black, Brown and Indigenous Americans are significantly sicker and poorer than white Americans. This is a disgraceful legacy, especially considering that so much of the wealth of this country was built from the stolen land of the Indigenous and the stolen labor of African-Americans. So how have we in the UUFP responded to the cry of pain? How have we answered the call to justice? How have we fulfilled our church’s mission to connect in love?
I have been asked to give a three-minute racial justice testimonial about what our congregation is doing and should do to support what is becoming known as the 8th Principle. The 8th Principle states that we covenant to affirm and promote journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.
Here are some of the things UUFP members and staff have been doing to accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves, our church and our community, in the last year, most notably since the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd:
- We are listening to the voices of our fellow UUs and community leaders who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, and we are learning about their struggle for justice.
- About eight of us attended the more affordable Zoom General Assembly this past summer, which highlighted UUs who are BIPOC, and we reported about what we learned to the UUFP in testimonials in a Sunday Service and in Adult Forum.
- Two powerful sermons were delivered last year to our Fellowship: one on mass incarceration presented by the Reverend Cynthia Snavely and another devoted to the 8th Principle by the Reverend Andrew Millard.
- The Sunday Services Committee featured phenomenal UU musicians of color, including Dr. Glenn Thomas Rideout singing "Circle Round for Freedom" and the multiracial group, Emma’s Revolution, singing "Keep on Moving Forward." Sunday Services included the voices of community leaders of color, like Anita Harrell of the Weyanoke Association, and prominent UUs of color, like Paula Cole Jones, co-author of "The 8th Principle of Unitarian Univeralism" and the Reverend Dr. Qiyamah Rahman, social justice writer and educator.
- The Adult Religious Education (RE) Committee devoted a Sunday Forum to learning about the history of racist housing policies in Newport News and Hampton and their continuing effects on the Peninsula. The lecture, followed by discussion, was given by Dr. Finn of Christopher Newport University.
- Soon we will have the opportunity to come together and discuss Imani Perry’s powerful work, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, led by our Director of RE, Joanne Dingus. Dates to be announced.
We have started examining ourselves:
- Many of us white UUs and some of our members of color, as well, attended the White Fragility study sessions in August and September to examine how systemic racism is—like rain falling on all of us, getting us all wet—as one white member has described. White UUFPers learned how acknowledging that perspective is an important first-step, which stirs us to action.
- The Policy Board formed an Anti-Racism Task Force, which I am chairing, to examine our bylaws, policies, programs and procedures for ways in which they either support or dismantle institutional racism in the UUFP.
- Currently, a large number of us are meeting on Wednesday nights to discuss the document written by The UUA Commission on Institutional Change titled "Widening the Circle of Concern" to learn how our congregation can make positive changes to more effectively connect in love with our UU siblings of color. (We are studying this amazing document, one chapter at a time, and it’s never too late to join us!) Email socialjustice@uufp to sign up at any time.
We have taken action in our community:
- Many of us joined Hampton Roads Legislative Collaborative Table (LCT) and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) to lobby our state delegates and senators for racially just and other anti-oppression legislation. Visit VICPP’s Day for all People to learn about their advocacy efforts.
- We held a Black Lives Matter vigil almost every Monday since June in front of the UUFP's office building on Warwick Boulevard in solidarity with the Reverend Dr. William Barber’s Moral Mondays movement.
Is there something else we in the UUFP can do to answer the call of our fellow UUs of color to connect in love? There are many things we can and must do. But here is one: We can join many other UU congregations, like All Souls Church, Unitarian, in the D.C. and Northwest UU Church in Michigan by adopting the 8th principle in our church and displaying it, along with the seven principles, prominently on our website, reminding ourselves and informing all visitors and friends to what we are committed.
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
Institutional racism in North America is a system that predates our founding as a country. It is over 400 years in the making. The problem is large but not insurmountable. Our Unitarian forbears teach us: “We are in this together.” Our Universalist forbears add: “And together we shall be well.” Heaven on earth will not happen for any of us until it happens for all of us. And as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., declared: “The time is always right to do what is right.”