Widening the Circle of Concern Award
Presented at the Pacific Western Regional Assembly 2021
Widening the Circle of Concern: The Report of the Commission on Institutional Change, June 2020
In 2017, in the wake of an unprecedented leadership crisis in our UUA, we Unitarian Universalists found ourselves at a crossroads. Collectively, we saw how issues of race and privilege had conspired to create an atmosphere of injustice and inequity in our Association.
As a result, our UUA Board established the Commission on Institutional Change, or COIC. Led by PWR’s own Rev. Leslie Takahashi of Mt. Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek, California, the COIC set about gathering information, stories and data points to help us love right through to a future that centered historically marginalized individuals and communities in both word and deed.
A year ago, the COIC shared its findings online in its extensive report, entitled Widening the Circle of Concern. Before our Association’s first-ever All-Virtual General Assembly, the report was made available to everyone electronically, complete with dozens of recommendations for congregations, regions, and the administration of the Association. Shortly after GA hard copies were sent to all congregations and made available to anyone seeking a copy, through the UUA Bookstore. By the fall, the Commission had also published a companion study-action guide (PDF, 41 pages).
Origins of the Widening the Circle of Concern Award
All across our UUA, we’ve been seeking ways to amplify the message and the vision of Widening the Circle of Concern. Some congregations have established study-action groups. New congregations and communities have gathered themselves. Some are reaching out and connecting with their wider communities in ways they never have before.
Our District Boards within the PWR also considered what they could do to raise the profile of Widening the Circle of Concern, and came up with the idea of having an award that would recognize congregations that were living out the vision of the report. They created the Widening the Circle of Concern Award, and invited congregations & organizations to apply for it and its $2000 prize. The criteria were that the congregation or organization had taken significant action based on the recommendations in the report or had made efforts which foster diversity, equity and inclusion. This includes demonstration of innovative and replicable work that presented a challenge to the congregations and organizations that applied.
Five congregations and organizations submitted applications, each of which is doing commendable work deserving support. You can learn more about the other honorees below, but first:
The 2021 Widening the Circle of Concern Award 2021
In May of 2020, Pastor AJ Blackwood delivered a message about racial and other justice commitments at Prairie UU Church in Parker, Colorado. This fired up the congregation. Its members and friends acknowledged that there were no coordinated, organized UU actions or responses in the Denver Metro area to the racial uprisings occurring across the nation. They and members of other local congregations called the local ministers into action. The Colorado UUs for Racial Justice Council met to answer the call.
The Council began to meet bi-weekly and changed its name to Colorado UUs United for Racial Justice. It became evident that the newly re-envisioned organization was in need of a few key components for successful anti-oppression ministry, and more specifically for anti-racism work. This included a UU community BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) needs assessment, community accountability partnerships, in addition to deep, meaningful relationships, both in personal and organizational realms.
Over the summer, the BIPOC members of the Council offered to become accountability partners for their white colleagues. Among these BIPOC were Angela Henderson, Denard Thomas, Mateo Frisk, Jen Simon and AJ Blackwood. The UU BIPOC speaker series emerged from those partnerships. The series featured seven BIPOC UU religious professionals speaking specifically to and for BIPOC UUs. There were 362 registrants from across the US, Canada, and the UK.
A non-hierarchical UU community of religious professionals, lay leaders and congregants, The Mountain Top meets twice a month for worship, mutual support, and fellowship. Current BIPOC participants report these meetings provide them strength and skills to serve on teams in their home congregations focused on inclusion and social justice. The Mountain Top held vigil for UU BIPOC after the January 6 white supremacist violence in Washington, DC, and were joined by folks from across the country who needed a safe space to vent their anger, frustration, and pain, and to comfort one another.
Honorable Mentions for the Widening the Circle of Concern Award
The Pacific Northwest District Youth Empowerment Services Team -- also known as the YES Team, we honor you for countering burnout among your leadership by horizontally redistributing responsibility and workloads, thereby breaking down structures of power that center white, cisgender, heterosexual, and temporarily able-bodied people with means.
The UU Church of Berkeley, California , we honor you for your Confronting Racism and Oppression Project, which includes interfaith multi-racial partnerships, POC and ally spaces, an anti-racism task force and consciousness-raising through the arts. After the events in Ferguson in 2014, you said, "We can’t let this go on. We have had enough. Now is the time to act! Now is the time to Confront Racism.”
Westside UU Congregation of Seattle, Washington , we honor you and your board for boldly addressing white supremacy culture among your ranks last spring, leading to the adoption of a new vision: “[C]entering equity and anti-oppression principles throughout all [your] work, and ... providing leadership and engagement in applying an equity lens to all of the WestsideUU community.”
Chalice UU Fellowship of the Conejo Valley, California , we honor you for your many thought-provoking, interactive programs over the past several years, including community forums, study groups, workshops, and experiential learning opportunities, all of which help your fulfill your mission, “to nurture spiritually courageous people who transform the world through justice and compassion.”
Congratulations to The Mountain Top and to all the honorees for the 2021 Widening the Circle of Concern Award. May your faithfulness inspire other congregations in their work toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Unitarian Universalist Association that in turn helps transform the world.