Voices from #MLS2015: Radiating Love

By Elizabeth Nguyen

Guest blogger Sunshine Alvarez attended the Unitarian Universalist Association Multicultural Leadership School this July. Sunshine belongs to the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. -ed.

On July 10th, I had the opportunity to attend a Multicultural Leadership School (MLS) in Boston, Massachusetts for the second time. This was hands down the best part of my summer. MLS is a program supported by the UUA, and at this school I spent five days with youth, such as myself, and young adults of color. There are a lot of challenges growing up as a Black young adult and just growing up being a young adult of color, period, so it felt great to connect with people who were going through similar challenges as myself. I felt saddened when I had to say my goodbyes to my lifelong friends I’d made in under 4 days.

It was my second time attending this school and it really sparked something different in my veins. These people who I had met were like me. They had darker skins tones; they had overcome some major obstacles in their lives - these people understood what I had to say, and it’s a little sad to say but I haven’t felt that way with my own congregation here.

On the first night we had a worship that was centered on how our ancestors are still a part of our daily lives. We all had to bring in one item that we believed served as a symbol of our ancestors, and we set the items on the altar. As I got up to express my item, my art sketchbook, I realized I didn’t know anything about my ancestors. Sure, I knew I was African American and sure I knew all of my Dad’s side of the family was from Honduras. But I didn’t know any of my past families' culture. I didn’t know what part of Africa they were from, the name of their tribe, their language, their names, what they had endured. I knew nothing. And that fact truly hurt me. I watched some of my Asian friends go up and talk about their ancestors and culture as though they knew it like the back of their hand. I knew I wasn’t alone though. Most of my other Black peers stood up and felt truly saddened that they too had no idea. Tracing back our ancestors is like tracing through a long road of confusion, oppression and slavery.

My time at MLS was deeper than deep. I learned all about ethnic and racial identity, spiritual communities, my own leadership and Unitarian Universalist identity, and how take all of this and make some serious stuff happen! More importantly, have the confidence in doing so. Going to MLS, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to get out of it. I wanted to learn how I could help create more diversity in my congregation. So, I went there with that intention and I received what I had been searching for! Do you all want to know the answer? Well it’s simple. We all must do our part. If we want change we can’t just wait and sit on our butts for it to happen, we have to be the change! Become open to all of the leadership styles whether it’s being commanding, visionary, friendly, democratic, pace-setting, or coaching. Become comfortable with how to handle all types of conflicts whether it’s avoidance, accommodating, competitive, compromising, or collaborating. As a congregation we need all the help we can get! I went to MLS with the same mindset of when I had written my credo, not knowing what the heck I am, but now I’m comfortable with not exactly knowing! But I know I love this community. I know I love this accepting group of people here at my home congregation of Eno River UU Fellowship. And I know that I want to be the change for this fellowship; do you? If so, there are so many ways to get this show on the road. We must start going to the people and not expecting the people to come to us! We must get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Heck, I know I am when I’m the only person of color in my youth group. If we want soul we have to be soul! I want our new and improved fellowships to be nurturing, healing while allowing our people to accept the world, and last but not least SPIRITUAL! Why is it so awkward to say GOD? The other religions that we accept believe in this spirit and believe in the unknown, and you know what? I do too. It’s hard for someone to gravitate to our church after coming from a church who prays to a God, or another higher being.

MLS made me realize that Unitarian Universalism should be a spiritual home for absolutely everybody. We are so close to that vision. I often ask myself what can I do that I’m not already doing? And my answer to myself is to keep going. One thing that I love about UU is that I do feel loved. I want to radiate love and light for all of you as well. I no longer want to feel hopeless because when you start to believe there isn’t any hope, it’s someone else’s victory.

Black lives matter; I matter; you matter; and we must all work together to create our vision!

Learn about Be The Change! Youth Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Project to build multicultural congregation and community.

Sunshine, first on the left in the second row, with other Multicultural Leadership School 2015 participants at Sunday morning worship at First Parish Cambridge.

Our altar with items from our spiritual and familial ancestors.

MLS2015 takes an ice cream break!