Challenges in the Racial Justice Leadership Team

As the Racial Justice Team grows and develops, its members work through the variety of challenges that go along with creating a racially just institution.

The Racial Justice Leadership Team works to change its practices as it figures out the best ways to navigate racial justice work. Polly Talen recalled an example of this reflective work:

She said, “We are for the second time hosting 3-4 homeless families for a few weeks and we’ll turn classrooms into bedrooms through Beacon Family Housing, part of Families Moving Forward initiative. We were planning on doing a racial justice training for volunteers, and a member of our team stood up and said ‘I think we need to do more. Our current training falls short because it doesn’t prepare people to be in community, in relationship with people of color in new ways, in ways where their white privilege doesn’t unintentionally help us not live up to our faith and belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people.' So what we’re doing is amending the training. In the new training, we'll talk about the fact that race is not real, but racism is very real, and that because of how we’re socialized, we carry this. No matter how much we want to say we're color blind, we carry these things. And we unintentionally are oppressing people and unknowingly traumatizing people. It's about helping people understand the difference between intentions and impact. What’s important is impact.”1

No matter how much we want to say we're color blind, we carry these things. And we unintentionally are oppressing people and unknowingly traumatizing people.

Michael Dotson, a former member of the Racial Justice Leadership Team, contributed an essential perspective to the team, as one of the few people of color at the First Universalist:

After Reverend Ruth Mackenzie did a sermon on racial justice issues in 2013, Ruth approached Michael after the sermon.

He explained, "After the sermon, Ruth called me and said, can we talk about some things?’

She told me, ‘I recognize that most of my message in my sermon is to the white people in the church. What do you as a person of color need to be fully engaged/embraced here to make this your church?’

I didn’t have an answer, which surprised me. What struck me even more was that I had never considered that possibility. So what brought me to the Unitarian Universalist church was a liberal concept wherein I could find a corner to be in. The idea that I could be fully engaged and fully accepted and be a presence in this church had never occurred to me, even though early on I was a member of the board and president of the foundation board and on the nominating committee. I was up to my eyeballs in involvement, but it never concerned to me that this could be a place where I could be accommodated.

After that conversation, I paid more attention to what was going on and being said on the topics of race, racism, and whiteness around the church. They asked if I wanted to be on The Racial Justice Leadership Team. I told them that would not be the only person of color in that group. So, we worked around that in terms of timelines and found other people."

Despite his investment in racial justice work, Michael’s main concern was, “What is it we’re going to attempt to do?” He recognized that particularly in multi-racial groups, “there is a lot of activity, but not a whole lot actually gets done.” He said, “ I guess I have a different expectation in that line than many people do. So I found that after two years, I wasn’t clear what it was the group was attempting to do. My frustration level was significant, and I left the group.”2


    1. Polly Talen, interview by Natalie Jacobson, March 23, 2016.

  1. Michael Dotson, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 8, 2016.