2018 Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism: Danielle Di Bona

Presented by the Unitarian Universalist Association to the Rev. Danielle Assunta Di Bona

If Unitarian Universalism as a faith has a chaplain, it is Danielle Di Bona. Your service to Unitarian Universalism spans more than thirty years. During that time, you have touched thousands of Unitarian Universalists’ lives in ways seen and unseen.

Typically, this presentation of honors begins with a recitation of the honoree’s educational degrees and qualifications. The ways in which our dominant culture recognizes those accomplishments forms a basis of the value we place on a person and their place within our society. Unitarian Universalism exists within our dominant culture, and our reverence of these accomplishments is no different. But for people of color, these accomplishments are not simply indicators of class status. Your successes, first at Smith College for your bachelor’s degree and then at Ursuline College for your ’master's degree, were and are an act of Resistance. You dared to imagine institutions that would have no choice but to recognize your tenacity and brilliance. You dared to bring your whole self to institutions built upon the exploitation and oppression of the Ancestors. You dared to insist that your place at the table be recognized and valued.

And it is that daring sprit that your Unitarian Universalist ministry embodies. In the earliest years before what we now know as DRUUMM (Diverse Revolutionary Multicultural Ministries), you were instrumental in recognizing that if we were going to confront racism within Unitarian Universalism, we needed a shared language to even discuss the issues. You were instrumental in creating the work around defining what anti-racism, anti-oppression, multiculturalism (ARAOMC) looks like for Unitarian Universalism. Because, at the time it, wasn’t something that UUs really understood, and many bristled at naming it within their faith. If this looks easy because many now so easily utilize the language of ARAOMC, we need only look to our current difficulty embracing the terms around white supremacy culture. You are a steady, and sometimes fiery, presence in drawing UUs into conversation around ARAOMC and white supremacy, and then holding them in that space as they experience hurt, shame, anger, reflection, laughter, and resolution to begin again.

Several UUs of color were consulted in the writing of this commendation. Clyde Grubbs, who shares a similar native identity to yours, shared a meaning of the name of your people, the Wampanoag. He said, “The creator gives assignments to the People and an assignment to the Wampanoag is to be greeters of the dawn, of the morning light. This is fitting for a people who live on the shores of what is now known as Massachusetts.” And it is in this bringing of the light to Unitarian Universalism’s challenges and strengths that you have shone. One such time was at the 2001 General Assembly in Cleveland, Ohio. Folks gathered here may remember that Cleveland has this little problem with its baseball team, its racist name. Well, you were not about to let our faithful gathering take place in a city with so clear a continued attack upon our native communities. You helped coordinate a public witness event that included our siblings in faith, the United Church of Christ, and placed hundreds of UUs in protest directly outside a Cleveland baseball game. You led them through a torrential downpour in order to give witness to our gathered commitment to justice. Now public witness events are a part of GA schedules, with dedicated resources given to living out our faith in the world.

In your current “retired” professional life, you are a palliative care chaplain at hospitals in your community. You’ve also served in ministry positions at congregations throughout New England as well as a stint as the anti-racism program associate for the UUA. You currently serve on the Board of Trustees for the Church of the Larger Fellowship and are a past president for DRUUMM. The Nominating Committee of the UUA was blessed by your constant vigilance about diversifying the membership of our committees, including your deliberate and expansive allyship for our LGBTQ community. Congregations have been blessed with you as facilitator for Beyond Categorical Thinking workshops to help them move beyond narrow views of what ministry looks like. You have mentored dozens and dozens of religious professionals in their ministerial formation. And no recitation of your accomplishments would be complete without the fabulous triumphs of your Pumi dogs at national dog show events.

But it is as a chaplain that your ministry has so beautifully flourished. Time and time again, you have offered yourself to Unitarian Universalism as the minister to come to in times of trouble, when grief is present and threatening to overwhelm, when anger is so palpable you can see it shimmer in the air, when joy and laughter are to be found. These are the times we find you, Danielle, at the center. You have been a chaplain for General Assembly, DRUUMM, and Finding Our Way Home, and you currently serve as chaplain to the UUA Board of Trustees.

Many people wonder why Unitarian Universalists of color need our own a chaplain, so let’s share why your chaplain ministry has been literally life-saving for so many people of color. It is because you know the struggle of people of color down in your very essence. You too have been brought to the very brink of despair in Unitarian Universalism. Where any reasonable person would consider just throwing in the towel, where the thought of waking up to face one more day of micro and macro aggressions is just too much, where the abuse and injury is just too much to bear on behalf of and in service to our faith, it is your capacity to viscerally know those depths of despair and yet help the person you are ministering to transform that despair into a resiliency, a core of strength that brings our Ancestors to the center, and then witnesses our collective joy at faith reborn. That is what we honor here today. This type of service isn’t often recognized--the one-on-one, quiet (and sometimes not so quiet!) service from the edges.

Today we celebrate and consecrate your ministry, Reverend Danielle Di Bona, recipient of our highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.