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Building the World We Dream About

A Tapestry of Faith Program for Adults

Building the World We Dream About is a Unitarian Universalist program that seeks to interrupt the workings of racism and transform how people from different racial/ethnic groups understand and relate to one another. It consists of 24 two-hour workshops, with Taking It Home activities, reflections, and readings to be done between workshops. The program creates opportunities for participants to practice dreaming our world otherwise, and then commit to new, intentional ways of being.

As Unitarian Universalists, we hope developing antiracist, antioppressive, and multicultural habits and skills will lead us to build the multicultural world of beloved community we dream about. Congregations and groups considering this program are encouraged to check out the support resources from the Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group, which offers tailored support for program facilitators and congregational/group leaders. You can also download a double-sided handout (PDF) that addresses common questions about the program. There is a separate Young Adult version of this program.

About the Author

Mark A. Hicks, Ed.D. is the Angus MacLean Professor of Religious Education at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Formerly a professor of educational transformation, he holds a doctorate degree in philosophy and education and a master's degree in adult development in higher education, both from Columbia University in New York City.

Drawing on his experience as a teacher, musician, and university administrator and his advocacy for social change, Mark consults nationally with congregations, schools, universities, and government and nonprofit organizations on building inclusive, democratic, multiracial, multicultural learning communities. He has been recognized by peers for teaching excellence and is widely known for creating educational experiences that lead to spiritual, cognitive, and social change. His scholarship has been recognized nationally for its transformative qualities. His work has been published in The Journal of Transformative Education, Journal of College Counseling, Multicultural Perspectives, Educational Studies, and in 2010, the first Handbook of Research on the Social Foundations of Education. Mark is a member and lay leader at All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, DC, and The Riverside Church in New York City. Visit his website.

The Developmental Editor for this program is Gail Forsyth-Vail.



The Reverend Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley (1949-2006)

Coworker for justice, mentor, and friend.

The work you did spoke for you.


We gratefully acknowledge the use of the following material.

"Mattering and Marginality" is adapted from an exercise developed by Dr. L. Lee Knefelkamp described in "Integrating Jewish Issues Into the Teaching of Psychology," by Evelyn Torton Beck, Julie L. Goldberg, and L. Lee Knefelkamp. It is Chapter 17 in Teaching Gender and Multicultural Awareness, Phyllis Bronstein and Kathryn Quina, editors (Washington, DC: APA Press, 2003).

"Telling" is used with the permission of Laura Hershey. For more information about Laura's poetry and other writing, go to her website.

The Serial Testimony protocol is used with permission of its author, Dr. Peggy McIntosh, founder and co-director, National SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project on Inclusive Curriculum, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts.

"The Way It Is," by William Safford, is from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems, copyright 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"It feels like We are eyeing one another across a great divide," by Rev. Alicia Forde.

Mediations of the Heart, by Howard Thurman (excerpt), copyright 1953, 1981 by Anne Thurman. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

"Racism and Spiritual Death in the United States of America," a sermon delivered by the Rev. Joshua Mason Pawelek at the Unitarian Universalist Society: East, Manchester, Connecticut, on January 15, 2006.

"Two Kinds of Intelligence," by Jellaludin Rumi, translated by Dr. William C. Chittick and published in The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983).

"Not Somewhere Else, But Here" is excerpted from an essay by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, originally published in Soul Work: Anti-Racist Theologies in Dialogue, edited by Marjorie Bowers-Wheatley and Nancy Palmer Jones, 171-98 (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2003).

"Whiteness Defined," Dr. Gregory Jay, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee, March 17, 2005.

"Instructions for the Journey," by Pat Schneider, in Another River: New and Selected Poems, Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2005.

"Living Wide Open" is excerpted from I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, by Dawna Markova. Copyright (C) 2000 Dawna Markova with permission from, Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, #1-800-423-7087.

"Theology and Anti-racism: Latino and Latina Perspectives" is excerpted from an essay written by Patricia Jimenez, originally published in Soul Work: Anti-racist Theologies in Dialogue, edited by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and Nancy Palmer Jones, 43 (Boston: Skinner House, 2003).

"Parents Shouldn't Take Their Children's Race Personally," by Joseph Santos-Lyons from The Arc of the Universe is Long (Boston: Skinner House, 2009). This was broadcast on KBOO 90.7 in Portland, Oregon, on July 19, 2006.

"We Are One," by Rev. Peter Morales, originally published in A People So Bold: Theology and Ministry for Unitarian Universalists, edited by John Gibb Millspaugh (Boston: Skinner House, 2010).

"Come Ye Disconsolate," by Taquiena Boston, originally published in A People So Bold: Theology and Ministry for Unitarian Universalists, edited by John Gibb Millspaugh (Boston: Skinner House, 2010).

"Ask Me," by William Stafford, is from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. Copyright 1977, 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"Chrysalis," by Alla Bozarth, Julia Barkley, and Terri Hawthorne, from Stars in Your Bones: Emerging Signposts on Our Spiritual Journeys (St. Cloud, Minnesota: North Star Press, 1990).

"God Beyond Borders," poem by Kathy Galloway, in Maker's Blessing (Wild Goose Publications, 2000). Permission requested.

"What Will We Be and For Whom?" by Kat Liu, originally published in A People So Bold: Theology and Ministry for Unitarian Universalists, edited by John Gibb Millspaugh (Boston: Skinner House, 2010).

"The Fountain" by Denise Levertov, from Poems 1960-1967, copyright (C) 1961 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

"Russell," by Rev. Jose Ballester, UUA Board Liaison, Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee.

"Cummings' Identity Map" was originally published in the 2008 dissertation "An Educational Model of Pastoral Care to Support Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Unitarian Universalist Congregations" by Rev. Dr. Monica Cummings. It was adapted from P. A. Hays, "Addressing the Complexities of Culture and Gender in Counseling," in Journal of Counseling and Development 74 (March/April 1996), 332-38; copyright American Counseling Association.

"Perspective on Music and Cultural Appropriation," by Rev. Jason Shelton, was originally published on the UUA website.

"Report examines racism, youth at 2005 General Assembly," by Tom Stites and Christopher L. Walton, from UU World online, February 6, 2006, reprinted with permission from UU World. Copyright 2006 Unitarian Universalist Association.

"The Bridge Poem," by Donna Kate Rushin. Permission requested.

"Kindness," by Naomi Shihab Nye, from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books. Portland, OR, 1995). Used with permission.

"Not by Ourselves Alone," by Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, Birmingham Lecture, delivered March 8, 2002 in Birmingham, Alabama, at the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Convocation. Used with permission of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.

"If you are who you were," by Erik Walker Wikstrom.

"The Destiny of Diversity" is excerpted from a sermon written by Rev. Fred Small and delivered at First Parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts, December 6, 2009.

"For religion to be significant," by Rev. Dr. Mark L. Belletini, is from a sermon delivered October 14, 2007.


How can we make our congregation more racially and culturally diverse?

In an increasingly multicultural world, more and more Unitarian Universalist congregations are asking some version of that question. When Unitarian Universalists address that question, they often begin by focusing on how our congregations welcome and include those we consider racially and culturally "other." However, experience has shown that the transformational work necessary to become the "antiracist/multicultural faith community" Unitarian Universalists seek to be begins with ourselves—as individuals, congregations, and members of diverse communities.

Building the World We Dream About is an adult faith development program designed to help Unitarian Universalist congregations welcome, include, and build community with people of diverse ethnicities, races, and cultures, both in congregational life and when working in interfaith and community coalitions. Originally envisioned as "a welcoming congregation curriculum on race and ethnicity," Building the World We Dream About was developed by Dr. Mark Hicks, Angus McLean Professor of Religious Education at Meadville Lombard. It was developed with the guidance of Unitarian Universalists who represent a diversity of races, cultures, and ages, and with religious professionals and lay leaders in our faith communities. The curriculum was field-tested by more than 30 Unitarian Universalist congregations all over the United States.

I hope that all who experience Building the World We Dream About will understand that transforming Unitarian Universalism to be more racially and culturally welcoming and inclusive is lifelong spiritual work for those who love, nurture, and lead our faith. The possibility of achieving this understanding is what makes this program so appropriate for the Tapestry of Faith series of programs and resources for Lifespan Faith Development. And while this program does not promise that congregations will become multicultural, it is a proven tool for helping Unitarian Universalists develop greater understanding about racial/cultural identity and how racism operates as a barrier to building the Unitarian Universalism we dream about.

All Tapestry of Faith programs are based on stories, and this one is no exception. This program explores how the story of race in our personal lives, our culture, and our national history intersects with the personal, institutional, and community stories of our faith. The program helps individual Unitarian Universalists and congregations identify ways the broader cultural narrative about race intersects with personal and congregational stories. Participants will understand more deeply the barriers racism poses to our goal of being a truly welcoming and inclusive faith, and practice together the skills of living into multicultural Beloved Community.

Through experiential learning, reflection, and community building, Building the World We Dream About provides opportunities to share stories about how race shapes our identities and interactions with those we may consider "other." Participants will be able to define race and racism and how these operate in our individual, congregational, and community contexts; and identify how race and racism give privilege and power to people identified as "White," while oppressing People of Color and other people marginalized by race and ethnicity. The program stimulates dialogue rather than debate about the complexity of racial identity—including multiracial identity—and the various ways people experience race.

Because it is a faith development program, Building the World We Dream About engages participants in spiritual reflection about how Unitarian Universalist Principles and values support and undergird the work of becoming more racially and culturally welcoming, inclusive, and justice-centered. The program provides opportunities for worship, for sharing what has been learned with the congregation, for building multiracial/multicultural relationships in the larger community, and for developing action plans for helping a congregation become more welcoming to people of all races and cultures.

Before ending, I want to express my gratitude to all those who have worked so diligently to bring Building the World We Dream About to fruition. These include the individuals who gathered on a snowy February weekend in Boston to envision the program; the many UUA staff who worked on the Request for Proposals, the field test selection, and the final revisions for the Tapestry of Faith online program, especially Gail Forsyth-Vail; author Mark Hicks, who brought tremendous creativity and enthusiasm from his transformational education background to this program; and all the Unitarian Universalist congregations that participated in the field test. May we all keep faith with the dream of a Unitarian Universalism that truly welcomes all people as blessings and where the human family lives whole and reconciled.

— Taquiena Boston, Director, Multicultural Growth and Witness, Unitarian Universalist Association

The Program

We need a place to dream together, to get into what has been kept unknown. Dreaming means flowing with the unknown river of community. — Arnold Mindell, American physicist, psychotherapist, writer, and founder of Process Oriented Psychology

Scientists have recently confirmed what progressive theologians and philosophers have known for years: "Race" is a product of the human imagination, not biological science. At the same time, however, we know that while any theory of race is a social construction, individuals and groups around the world feel the experience of racism harshly. Racism, as such, informs our psychological state, personality structure, the institutional and social values that shape our working lives, the view of how we interpret the world, and even the values we place on human life.

Building the World We Dream About is a Unitarian Universalist program that seeks to interrupt the workings of racism and transform how people from different racial/ethnic groups understand and relate to one another. It consists of 24 two-hour workshops, with Taking It Home activities, reflections, and readings to be done between workshops. The program creates opportunities for participants to practice dreaming our world otherwise, and then commit to new, intentional ways of being. As Unitarian Universalists, we hope developing antiracist, antioppressive, and multicultural habits and skills will lead us to build the multicultural world of beloved community we dream about.

Open and honest conversation about race and oppression, however, is one of the most challenging and potentially divisive experiences individuals and congregations can undertake. The experience is difficult, in part because although people believe they are willing to discuss racial issues, they often harbor unstated fears about what such a conversation will bring to the surface. And with good reason. Discussions about race often reveal the existence of systemic inequalities and injustice. For people socialized into a White ethnic/racial identity, the resulting feelings of guilt and hopelessness can become overwhelming. For People of Color and other people marginalized by race and ethnicity, race talk raises unpleasant and painful memories.

As Unitarian Universalist people of faith, we must talk about race, even in the midst of personal angst and pain. As the poet Seneca once said, "It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult." Indeed, our spiritual health and moral integrity demand that we dare to confront racism and oppression in our congregations, our faith community, and the larger world. And we must begin with honest conversation.

Building the World We Dream About extends the promise of Unitarian Universalism by creating means, structures, and spaces through which every person in your congregation—whether empowered or disenfranchised in the current structure—can find a place and work with others to acquire and deepen multicultural competence and transform understandings of self, congregation, the broader community, and our shared world.

There are many benefits of practicing multicultural skills and competence and engaging in antiracism/multicultural work. Such work provides:

  • A rare opportunity to develop firsthand knowledge about how you view and how you are viewed in the world
  • A chance to gain a better understanding of people who are different from you
  • An opportunity to become less fearful of and intimidated by differences
  • The ability to communicate more openly and clearly with those in your circle of friends and acquaintances
  • An opportunity to name, heal, and reconcile past and current racial wounds
  • A chance to reconnect spiritually with people in your congregation
  • An invitation to confirm that you are not alone in your quest to build an antiracist/multicultural Beloved Community.

In order to grasp of the approach and intent of Building the World We Dream About, think of yourself and workshop participants as photographers working with a telescopic lens. At times you will be asked to bring yourself and your own identity and personal history into sharp focus, paying particular attention to the impact of your lived experiences on the way you see and make sense of yourself and the world. Sometimes you will focus on yourself as part of a congregation that has its own identity and practices. Sometimes your focus will be on the broader community and the ways in which you and your congregation interact with that community. Many diversity programs simply name the differences and similarities between individual humans, and stop there. Building the World We Dream About goes deeper and asks you to bring the context of your life—the part of the image that typically stays blurry—into full view and focus. This back-and-forth focus, on both the personal and the social, congregational, historical, and community contexts, creates a rare opportunity for participants to come into a shared space filled with good intentions, grapple with the complexity of a multiracial world, confront ill-formed assumptions and, together with others, find new ways to undo racism and oppression in your community.

Ultimately, this program is about transformation of congregations that are serious about changing their culture to become truly welcoming of all people who yearn for a liberal religious community. As cultural critic James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced."


This program will:

  • Promote multicultural welcome, inclusion, and affirmation in all facets of Unitarian Universalist congregational life
  • Develop participants’ knowledge and skills in addressing issues related to race, ethnicity, and cultural identity both individually and institutionally
  • Identify ways congregations can build multiracial/multicultural communities of love and justice
  • Transform how participants see their individual selves, their congregation, their community, and our world through the lens of race and ethnicity.


This program should be facilitated by a team of at least two people. The team should include a religious professional or lay person who has significant facilitation experience and personal experience in talking about race and ethnicity. Because this is a 24-workshop program that requires about two hours of planning time between workshops, be sure facilitators understand the commitment they are making.

Facilitators with these strengths will be especially effective:

  • Experience facilitating a group process
  • Experience engaging in multicultural dialogue
  • Ability to create and nurture a supportive, respectful, and safe community in the workshops and follow all congregational safe congregation guidelines and policies
  • Time and willingness to prepare thoroughly for each workshop and take appropriate action in the event of unexpected cancellations
  • Willingness to listen deeply and let "answers" emerge from the group process
  • Integrity and the ability to maintain strong boundaries, especially in challenging conversations
  • Commitment to Unitarian Universalist Principles and the faith development components of this program
  • Respect for individuals, regardless of age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability, and willingness to modify workshop plans to support the full inclusion of all participants
  • Willingness to support healthy group process by reinforcing ground rules politely and confidently
  • Ability to model respect for the congregation, its mission, and its lay and professional leadership.


The program is designed for adult participants of all ages and stages of life, young adult through elder, who seek challenging faith development. The ideal group size is 12 to 24 participants, although the program is suitable for groups as small as eight and as large as 30. Participants will be invited to bring their own stories to the group and to share some of their own experiences in both small and large groups.

Integrating All Participants

People of all ages have a range of abilities, disabilities, and sensitivities. Be sure to ask individual participants to identify disability- or sensitivity-related accommodations they need. Because participants may be unfamiliar to you, bring additional sensitivity to disabilities or other special needs. Include a question about special needs on registration forms or sign-up sheets. Some activities include specific suggestions for adaptation. In all cases, keep in mind these general guidelines:

  • Make a few large-print copies of all handouts.
  • Write clearly and use large letters on newsprint. Use black or brown markers for maximum visibility (red and green are difficult for some to see).
  • Make a handout of prepared newsprint pages to give to any who request it.
  • Face the group when you speak and urge others to do the same. Be aware of facial hair or hand gestures that can prevent or interfere with lip-reading.
  • In a large space or with a large group of people, use a microphone for presentations and for questions and answers. If an activity prevents speakers from facing listeners (e.g., a fishbowl activity, forced choice activity, or role play), pass a hand microphone from speaker to speaker.
  • When leading a brainstorm activity, repeat clearly any word or phrase generated by the group, as you write it on newsprint.
  • During small group work, make sure each group is far enough from other groups to minimize noise interference.
  • Keep aisles and doorways clear at all times during a workshop so people with mobility impairments or immediate needs can exit the room easily.
  • When rearranging furniture for small groups or other purposes, leave clear pathways between groups.
  • Emphasize the importance of removing bags, books, coffee cups, and other obstacles left in pathways.
  • Use the phrase "Rise in body or spirit," rather than "Please stand."
  • Use language that puts the person first, rather than the disability—that is, "a person who uses a wheelchair," rather than "a wheelchair-user"; "a child with dyslexia," rather than "a dyslexic child"; "people with disabilities," rather than "the disabled."
  • Refrain from asking individuals to read aloud. Do not go around the room expecting each person to read a part of something. Request a volunteer or read the material yourself.
  • Ask participants to let you know in advance of any allergies to foods. Add to your covenant an agreement that the group will avoid bringing problem foods for snacks or will always offer an alternative snack food.
  • Ask participants to let you know in advance of any allergies to scents or perfumes. If any participants have allergies or sensitivities, invite members of the group to refrain from wearing perfumes and add this agreement to your covenant.

Consult the Accessibility section on the UUA website, or contact a member of the UUA staff, for guidance for including people with specific disabilities. In addition, some workshop activities suggest specific adaptations under the heading Including All Participants. When planning workshops, consider how individual participants are likely to respond to activities. Substituting an alternate activity may be helpful in some situations.

Downloading the Document

You can download this program, save it on your computer, edit it, and print it. Or, you can download individual sessions or workshops.

About the Author

Mark Hicks


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