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Eliot Unitarian Chapel Helps Youth Wake Up to Race
Eliot Unitarian Chapel Helps Youth Wake Up to Race
In honor of the Standing on the Side of Love 30 Days of Love 2016 campaign, Colleen Lee speaks up about her awakening to racial tensions close to home.

Social justice is a core value of Unitarian Universalism (UU). Even though Unitarian Universalists’ beliefs can differ dramatically one common strand is social justice. As a white female youth who lives close to Ferguson, MO, I used to be uncomfortable discussing race. I feared that I would offend someone if I said anything about race. So I didn’t actively acknowledge and confront race as an issue because of how touchy of a subject it was. But all the injustices brought to light by the Michael Brown shooting made the racial divide impossible to ignore. Racism began to occupy every part of my life. My social media, my church's involvement in the Movement for Black Lives, and the chatter between peers made me full of agitation that race still mattered. The media and constant babble about the shooting of Michael Brown yet silence about racial subordination in St. Louis made the divide between blacks and whites more prevalent. Seemingly all of a sudden, it became apparent people were either for or against racial equality or didn't care enough to pick a side whereas before things were gray and I didn’t pay attention to race.

Through all the chaos and racial tension, my UU church has allowed me to gain more insight and experience into race and how to address it. Ever since the shooting in Ferguson my church has held vigils almost every Tuesday, congregants have worn Black Lives Matter buttons and participated in marches and hosted events for the local community informing them about racism.

My church hosted an enlightening event where local mothers came and discussed what it was like to raise a black child. The mothers discussed the terms of driving while black and how they had to not only teach their kids how to drive but how to interact with police. The mothers told us how they had to keep their license and registration in sight so if they got pulled over the license and registration was easily accessible and didn't have to frighten the police into thinking they had a gun if they reached for the glove box. These stories of mothers having to teach their children things I never had to learn made my heart swell with sadness.

Another enlightening event my church hosted was a book discussion with the author Debby Irving who wrote the book, Waking Up White. She gave a presentation about the main points in her book, and the one that resonated with me was “acknowledging the elephant in the room,” by which she meant racism. The elephant in the room always makes people uncomfortable, and that’s the point. Racism is such a huge issue that it is overbearing and should be encroaching on white discomfort because that's the only way change will happen. Everyone will have to get fed up with the huge creature lurking in the corner, acknowledge its presence and motivate it to leave. Racism is an unwanted guest and we need to assist in its departure.

I would like to thank Unitarian Universalism in assisting me in acknowledging the elephant and helping me to encourage it to leave.

Learn how to transform white discomfort into a tool for supporting racial justice, read "Spiritual Practices for White Discomfort", by the Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken.

About the Author

  • Jennica first joined the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in 2014. She began her ministry with youth as a youth advisor at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, her hometown, in 2008. Since then she has served as Youth Program Coordinator and Religious Education...

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