Looking Back to Move Forward

By Bart Frost

Undoing the "Third Reconstruction"

This is part three in our four part series, here are links to Part One and Part Two. - ed.

Rev. Dr. William Barber

Saturday morning began with Rev. Dr. William Barber's How to Build a Movement/Wake Up Call. I had the pleasure of witnessing his preaching on Thursday night at Tabernacle, so I pulled myself out of bed to make it to the workshop at 7:30am. Thursday night he spoke about the power within to fight for justice and was so inspiring I knew I had to see him no matter what.

Saturday morning he spoke about the Third Reconstruction and grassroots organizing. (Beacon Press will publish his book "The Third Reconstruction".) He also spoke about the 12 steps of creating a movement. What was most powerful was about how we need to take back morality. The religious right has a choke-hold on morality, but morality belongs in the loving embrace of religious liberalism.

Read this Blue Boat post about reclaiming morality from the religious right and the 2015 UUA Common Read "Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square"

As Unitarian Universalists, we know that is true. Although there are a couple notable exceptions, we have a robust history of standing on the side of love and fighting for morality. Dr. Barber has been joined by many Unitarian Universalist clergy from around the United States in North Carolina as a part of the Moral Mondays movement. Dr. Barber's wake up call was exactly that: we need to wake up and reclaim morality from those who use it to disenfranchise and hate. As C.T .Vivian said on Friday, "Do racist Christians think they are fooling God?"

Events on Friday focused on the past, it was about what happened 50 years ago. It was a sankofa moment. Saturday was about going forward. It was about building movements and taking what happened 50 years ago into the streets today. Rev. Dr. Barber started this conversation in the morning and Opal Tometi kept it going.

Saturday's keynote address was given by Opal Tometi, one of the folks who started #BlackLivesMatter. The #BlackLivesMatter movement came up well before Saturday morning, during workshops and at the end of C.T. Vivian's talk on Friday night.

Jova Vargas, an activist and an artist who is an organizer of #BlackLivesMatter in California, asked him how to keep energized when it feels impossible. Vivian responded about learning about the best leadership resources you can get and to let people know you really care for them. Vargas's question bridged Friday night with what we were to hear from Opal Tometi on Saturday.

Tometi spoke more about the creation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. She spoke about its necessity and how white folks can support the leadership of people of color in the movement. One comment that has stuck with me since the conference was about a study Tometi quoted. The study found that police officers see white and black children under the age of nine as equally innocent and non-aggressive. After age nine, black children are consistently seen as more aggressive and older than white children. (Click here to read a press release or read the research article.)

As a religious educator this makes my heart hurt, especially when I read other studies about the percentage of children of color who are expelled or suspended from preschool. I reflected on how I served the children and youth of color in my previous role. I reflect now on how I serve youth and young adults of color, on how our institution serves them.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith requires us to stand on the side of love and rise to the challenge of battling injustice in this world. To dehumanize victims of police brutality, to ignore systemic racism, to deny the experiences of people of color as real is to ignore and deny the core elements of our faith. We are not just seekers, but JUSTICE seekers.

Tometi answered questions at the end of her address, including what white activists can do to support people of color in movements fighting for racial justice. The answer was very similar to the advice Hollis Houston offered on Friday when he said, "Sit down. Shut up. Listen. Make yourself useful." Tometi was a little bit more politic in her response, but no less poignant. She said to make space for people of color to lead, listen to their stories as true, and be supportive in any way you can. With Moral Mondays in North Carolina and #BlackLivesMatter across the nation, there are many ways for you to get involved a movement to fight for justice.

As Mark Morrison-Reed and Tometi showed us, we are called to the justice work we do based on our relationships. We join movements to support our friends, our families, and our communities. Which leads to the question we must all ask ourselves as justice seekers: How am I called to support the folks with whom I am in relationship?

Please add your comment – How are you called?

Opal Tometti

C.T. Vivia

Jova Vargas

Rev. Dr. William Barber

Rev. Dr. William Barber