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Why Racial Justice?
Many of the congregants who have engaged with racial justice organizing at the First Universalist recall the most influential moments that sparked their interest in racial justice.
Below are stories of how several congregants initially became interested in racial justice:
“My interest started when I was a kid actually, growing up in Detroit, Michigan. My family didn’t talk to me about things, so I just was aware that there was something funny. The few black people I saw were cleaning people’s houses. Then there was this big flight to the suburbs of white people. But it was all very vague in my head. I got more involved in college in issues of poverty, and then you realize that so many people who are poor are African American. Then I worked in an African American day care center as one of a couple white people. Slowly things were hitting me about the unfairness. At some point I thought, ‘Well when I retire, I will figure out something—because I always thought white people have to do something—-it’s on us. I thought maybe I’d knock on church doors in the black community in north Minneapolis and say, 'What can white people do?' So I was thrilled when the church took that on, and I didn’t have to go door knocking. I could be part of it here. It’s one of those things—I think the more you get into it, the more you see the injustice.”1
“I had been involved in the civil rights movement with my parents. I had picketed. I actually was the youngest picketer at an amusement park protest. We desegregated the local amusement park. They used me as part of it, because they had Howard University that was mostly black students. It was community members from my neighborhood which was near the amusement park and Howard University students. The organizers used me as part of it. My dad bought four tickets for the amusement park- gave 2 to university black students, and they wouldn’t have been able to buy tickets themselves, and they got in, and they got arrested. And the whole purpose was to have them arrested so we could bring forward a suit about discrimination. It was successful in that they never actually had to finish the trial because the amusement park opened the following year as an integrated place. We lived in a very progressive neighborhood. We lived in DC, so my parents went down to the South and picketed and marched. My mother founded an organization called Suburban Maryland farm housing. It was all about redlining and housing discrimination. Then we moved to Madison. WI. There we got much more active in protesting the Vietnam war... I went to the march in Washington on 1863. It was a huge deal.
So I thought I had very good racial justice credentials. And then I ended up adopting three kids of color. My oldest daughter is biracial African-American. My next two are both Chinese-American. So I had this very multi-racial family. But when the church showed this movie series on racial issues, and my friend Susan and I walked out of there, despite how good we were as a family in terms of racial justice issues, we realized we were miseducated. We were so amazed by it. The history of it. The history of creating a white race in order to maintain power. Totally off my radar. Susan and said ‘We’ve got to do more.’ Right around that time, I was invited to be part of the racial justice leadership team.”2
“The first thing that made me realize oppression and inequity in a deep way was when I was a teenager. I grew up in a white town about forty minutes North of here- Anoka, Minnesota. There were virtually almost no people of color. Really, I don’t remember any.
I had grown up really poor, and had been on kind of the wrong side of the tracks in my town, and had been looked down upon, and had experienced not having my voice heard at all in the way I grew up. I was on the bus, I was 15 or 16, there was a new kid on the bus and he was black. Kids were bullying and mean anyways; they would throw wood ticks down my dress. This was not unusual behavior. But they were throwing spitballs at him, calling him names. He was looking like he’s not there, like he’s not there in his body. I remember thinking oh my god, 'I can leave and wear nice clothes and people won’t know. But he can’t leave. He will never be able to leave his body and people will always have that towards him.' And so I just think I had an awareness that when I got into working in the school system, I was always the one chosen to be on the 'diversity committees' and all that.”3
“I come from a multi-ethnic background. Growing up, I strongly identified with my Native American side. In college I came to terms with the fact that in most social situations, I’m read as white and pass for white, and that that attributed me a very different upbringing than people of color or folks that live down in the reservation or had that understanding. I really started to look at the culture of whiteness, meaning the language I use, the educational privileges I had, the socioeconomic privileges I had. How I could walk into a room and feel safe and not judged or placed in certain dynamics.”4
"My family is from Pakistan, and I’m an immigrant, and I was born in Nigeria, and I moved to the US when I was twelve, so I have a somewhat different perspective from someone who was born and raised here. And I was raised Muslim. So the message of UU really resonates with me; it’s all of the basic values of every great religion without dogma and rules-- the rules that have nothing to do with being a good person in the world and trying to make the world a better place. I will say that our church and the Unitarian Universalist faith is primarily one of white, upper-middle class professional education people, so as someone who is not white, that can sometimes feel a little bit isolating. And so being on the racial justice leadership team and making racial justice an important part of the church’s message is very important to me."5
Lyn Rabinovitch, Interview with Natalie Jacobson, April 17, 2016. ↩
Polly Talen, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, April 24, 2016. ↩
Denise Konen, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, April 24, 2016. ↩
Channing Mckinley, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 8th, 2016. ↩
Fawzia Khan, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 20th, 2016. ↩