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Ministerial Perspectives on Racial Justice
Elaine Tenbrink’s Experience with Racial Justice:
Elaine has been thrilled by the development of racial justice work at the First Universalist. Elaine’s Unitarian Universalist ministerial peers have played a large role in influencing her involvement. The Unitarian Universalist community in the Twin Cities is a small, but close-knit, and this sense of togetherness serves as a powerful force in encouraging social action. Elaine finds, “That’s how justice movements work--not because you got an Evite and you’re not going to know anybody else. You show up because your people are committed. And you’re showing up with them.” When Elaine saw her Unitarian Universalist peers stepping up to the racial justice plate, she felt like she had received the invitation to get involved. Even though Elaine went to Grinnell ColIege, a school that emphasizes activism, she’d never been to a protest until she came to the First Universalist.
Because direct activism was a new experience for Elaine, she says, “I was scared. I’m scared every time I show up, but I know I’m going to see my people there, and frankly I’ll be ashamed if I don’t go. Not in some bad way. But it’s like you need that social connectedness piece to overcome the fear. Because it’s terrifying. You don’t know what you’re doing.”1
That’s how justice movements work--not because you got an Evite and you’re not going to know anybody else. You show up because your people are committed. And you’re showing up with them.
Jen Crow's Experience with Racial Justice:
For Jen, racial justice plays an essential role in her faith. She recognizes that racial disparities are prevalent all of our country and right here in Minneapolis. She said, “We've got problems right here. Let’s open our eyes a little bit.”
Jen described two of the main goals for the First Universalists’s racial justice work. One, she said, is “the basic human to human stuff.” For example, “trying to learn enough to avoid hurting people in our day to day conversations and actions with people, being able to recognize our own inherent biases, and trying to act against them.” The other goal relates to partnering with other organizations that use a racial justice lense. One example is the church’s collaboration with Families Moving Forward, a program within the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, an organization that offers hospitality for families experiencing homeless. Because Beacon is one of the First Universalist’s community partners, the church hosts families as part of this program. Jen explained that one of the key parts of of the volunteer training for this program was teaching people to avoid microaggressions.” Her response to this addition to the training was, “Way to go,” because microaggressions had been a problem when the church worked with Families Moving Forward in the past. This type of awareness-raising and reflection on the part of white congregants has been a central part of the First Universalists’ racial justice work.
For Jen, another essential component in the church’s racial justice work has been the collaborations that The First Universalist clergy and lay leadership have built with African American clergy. Many of these peers have called upon the First Universalist leadership to get involved with Black Lives Matter. In particular, Danny Gibbons,the pastor of Above Every Name and one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis is a friend to many of the First Universalist clergy. Above Every Name, a small, predominantly black congregation, meets at Unity Unitarian in St. Paul. Jen said that the relationship they have at Unity “has started feeding the relationship with other Unitarian Universalist clergy.” For both Jen and Elaine, encouragement from their peers was a major factor in their engagement with racial justice. Jen commented, “Not only do we think it’s right, but when there's a particular ask from a friend and a colleague that says ‘we really need you’, there’s an urgency to that.”2
Elaine Tenbrink, interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 8th, 2016. ↩
Jen Crow, interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 15th, 2016 ↩