History and Ministry of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism
Formed in the summer of 2015, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) grew out of the broader Movement for Black Lives. In many ways, the origins of BLUU dates back to the 1970s when many Black UUs left our faith in the wake of unfilled promises made by the Association during what became known at the time as the “black empowerment controversy.”
What Is Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism and the Organizing Collective?
BLUU is an independent organization, fiscally sponsored by the UUA, led by an executive director, a community minister, and a volunteer Organizing Collective, which provides ministry for, and by, Black Unitarian Universalists, while also working to expand the role and visibility of Black UUs within our faith.
One of BLUU’s first steps was to proclaim 7 Principles of Black Lives, drawing a direct link between the 7 UU Principles and Black Liberation.
The Organizing Collective (OC) is the leadership team of BLUU, consisting of the following Black Unitarian Universalists:
- Lena K. Gardner, Executive Director was one of the co-founders and lead organizers of the Minneapolis chapter of Black Lives Matter from September 2014 - April 2017. She now devotes her skills and organizing to the Movement for Black Lives locally and nationally. She has been a member of First Universalist Church of Minneapolis for nine years and the Church of the Larger Fellowship since 2014.
- Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin is an alumna of the UUA’s Multicultural Leadership School for Youth and Young Adults of Color (currently known as THRIVE) and a former RE assistant. She is also an active member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
- Leslie Mac is an organizer who created the Ferguson Response Tumblr and founding Creative Director of Safety Pin Box.
- Kenny Wiley is a lifelong UU currently working as the Program Director for Congregational Relationships with the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and as a senior editor for UU World magazine. He is part of the Black Lives Matter 5280 core organizing team.
- Rev. Mykal O’Neal Slack, Community Minister for Worship & Spiritual Care is a speaker and trainer on radical welcome and connection in congregational life settings, a worship leader, and is currently on a core team of North Carolinians growing a new spiritual community in Durham, NC, called The Clearing, which centers the lives and leadership of queer and trans people of color.
- Commander Royce W. James, PhD is a member of the US Coastal Guard Academy’s permanent command teaching staff and is the Chair of Physics. Royce is a member of #BlackLivesMatter in South Eastern Connecticut.
How Does BLUU's Work Differ from past Anti-Racist Efforts Within Our Faith?
First and foremost, BLUU is a Black-led movement, drawing and building upon important work begun in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
BLUU and the Organizing Collective are working with hundreds of self-identified Black UUs around the country to design and proclaim how they envision their faith now and in the future.
Starting with the 2016 General Assembly, BLUU focused on educating GA participants on the Black Liberation Movement within and beyond Unitarian Universalism—directly addressing the assumption that we are a white faith and confirming that the presence, the voices, and the perspectives of Black UUs is critical to countering the impact of “anti-blackness,” so that we as a faith may move toward more wholeness.
In March 2017 BLUU organized the BLUU Convening, a three-day event which brought together more than 100 Black UUs to help shape BLUU’s long-term goals and develop new programming for the 2017 General Assembly.
At GA 2017 in New Orleans, BLUU’s executive director Lena K. Gardner, spoke of the organization’s remarkable achievements in such a short time. In addition, we heard from some of the elder Black leaders within—and outside—Unitarian Universalism about the importance of this ministryand how it is building on generations of work.
In particular, the pain of Unitarian Universalist history in silencing and rejecting Black leadership was movingly expressed at GA by Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika, the former president of the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus of the 1960s. For many UUs attending General Assembly in New Orleans, the collective experience contributed to a feeling of hope for a new way in our faith.
BLUU also worked with UU leaders to advocate for a Restorative Justice Process after two UUA staff members were attacked in New Orleans during General Assembly.
What Is BLUU Working on Currently?
Out of the March 2017 Convening, the Organizing Collective developed a new way for Black UUs to organize within our faith, known as #BLUUMicro30. Action teams identify manageable 30-day ‘mini-actions’ to connect justice movement spaces with UU resources and people. Black UUs who’ve participated in #BLUUMicro30 are actively working together on actions that complement their individual capacity, congregational connections, and movement knowledge, all with the support of a member of the Organizing Collective.
This has fostered intentional, deeper connections among Black UUs and generated deliberate and concerted organizing efforts to create authentic linking, not only of Unitarian Universalist resources with Black Liberation Movement spaces, but also of Unitarian Universalism as a faith with why we endeavor to be who we say we want to be in the world.
BLUU has also created the Black Lives of UU Ministerial Network, a collective of Black UU ministers, religious professionals and lay leaders providing worship opportunities and pastoral care to Black UUs. During the Convening, it became clear that many Black UUs experience a sense of isolation in our congregations. This network provides an additional opportunity for Black UUs to connect with other Black UUs across the country for a spiritual uplift that may not otherwise be available in their home congregation.