Black Lives Matter By Kerridwen Henry, UU Congregation of Columbia, MD

Kerridwen Henry (right) and Walter Ellis each received the UUSJ Emerging Leader Award at the UUSJ Social Justice Awards Gala in fall 2015.

It is an honor to receive this award. While I am proud of the work I have done in the last year for the Black Lives Matter movement, I am most proud that I keep trying – even after I say (and do) the wrong things. I will not allow my own mistakes, inadequacies, and insecurities stop me from showing up – even though my mistakes continue to be significant and there is so much at stake. I will not quit.

To me, the “emerging” part of this Emerging Leader award is an indication of how very late I am to have started to get ”woke” to the realities of White Supremacy and to do something about it. I hope that will serve as inspiration for others that it is not too late to move from a broad social justice commitment to specifically fighting racism.

For the last year, Our 2nd Unitarian Universalist source: “the prophetic words and deeds of women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love” has been a powerful presence in my life.

What I wanted to do today was talk about each of the UUs in this area who lead me, but I realize that just reading their names could take more than my allotted time! So I’ll describe them more generally now, and ask you to follow up with me later, because I want to say each of their names and describe the specific ways they inspire me.

We have worked for racial justice together. We have marched in protest. We have organized street vigils. We have stood on the sidewalk shouting for justice night after night. They have started book groups or hosted concerts or shared a song or found other ways to make space for joy in the midst of freedom-fighting. They have come to me when I was broken and hurting, and listened. We have shown up to witness other people’s far more intense pain at the Million Moms March and town hall meetings. We have offered transportation to mothers whose children’s lives were ended by state violence. We have traveled to holy ground in Selma or North Carolina or Ferguson. We have demanded our representatives make substantive changes. We have invested our money in people and organizations that we believe in – from the New York Justice League to Baltimore’s Kid Safe Zone to the black-led DMV chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Clergy have offered time for us to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement in the sanctuary when there are so many different kinds of intersecting social justice issues that deserve time. Clergy have managed to minister with genuine care to all members of a congregation – as diverse as our opinions are – without apologizing for standing for Black Lives – without watering down the truth.

I want us to give attention now to people whom I cannot, or, in some cases, should not, name individually. I want to recognize the people of color – particularly people who identify as black or of African descent – who have come to Unitarian Universalist congregations hoping to find a spiritual home, but have not been given the welcome or respect that you deserve. I want to acknowledge the people who were subjected to debates about whether your lives matter, who were ignored for years or treated as if your experiences of oppression were trivial. Whether you have chosen to continue being part of Unitarian Universalism in spite of this, or have left Unitarian Universalism in order to practice self-care, you lead me to work to fight the racism within our congregations, too. Racism does not have to be intentional to be real or hurtful.

And I need to say one name: Paula Cole-Jones. If I am able to serve as any kind of an emerging leader, it is only because of Paula Cole-Jones. For more than 15 years, she has been bringing her integrity, her authenticity, her wisdom, and her love to the work of helping UUs learn about racism and position ourselves to build Beloved Community. And she has been a deeply comforting and challenging friend to me.

And as profoundly inspiring as all these local UUs are, the truth is that most of the people who I experience to be the most prophetic are not Unitarian Universalists at all. I want to ask all of us to keep asking ourselves, “Is it possible for me to show up to an action outside of my congregation this week, this month? Is it possible for me to move myself to a place where I can be deeply moved by the leadership and vision of black activists?” This work is truly an expression of our faith. Let’s keep doing it together.”