Toward the Beloved Community: Updates from the Interim Co-Presidents, May 24, 2017
The Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) Interim Co-Presidents, the Revs. Sofía Betancourt and William Sinkford and Dr. Leon Spencer, shared the following update regarding their recent meeting in Atlanta with representative leaders of color in the UUA:
Two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to gather in Atlanta, GA, with a small group of leaders connected to our UU communities of color. The purpose of our meeting was to envision the construction of the Commission on Institutional Change, the founding of which is part of our charge from the UUA’s Board of Trustees as Interim Co-Presidents. Dr. Takiyah Amin, Taquiena Boston, Rev. Danielle DiBona, Lena Gardner, Rev. Mel Hoover, Dr. Elias Ortega-Aponte, Claudia Jimenez, Paula Cole Jones, Jesse King, Lily Rappaport, Rev. Leslie Takahashi, Rev. Cheryl M. Walker, and Rev. Sunshine Wolfe gathered with all three Interim Co-Presidents over a two-day period to interpret the charge of the Commission, explore purposing our history to gain tools for this current moment of opportunity, and identify key priorities for the work. Elandria Williams was not able to be with us because of international travel, and we missed the Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons’ participation due to unforeseeable delays with airline travel.
We know that this small group does not reflect the full breadth of leadership that has given decades of faithful service to the work of dismantling racism and anti-black oppression within Unitarian Universalism. These leaders were chosen because of their relationships with constituency groups, both professional and serving our communities of color specifically, and because of their deep grasp of institutional history. In the midst of challenging times, UUs keep showing up, open hearted, to lead the work. It is a depth of spiritual commitment that we do not take lightly. We are immensely grateful to all those who changed their schedules with very little notice to offer their wisdom and expertise to the process. We see this gathering as an investment in accountability – to bring the voices of leaders of color into the earliest imaginings of the way forward and ensure that well-informed decisions are made in solidarity with people of color and/or indigenous members of our community. We are now working to appoint a small and nimble group of commissioners who will work collaboratively with an outside organization to bring badly needed analysis, visioning, and theological depth to the work of institutional change. That Commission may work for 18 months or more.
The Atlanta consultation identified a profound scope of vision and assessment for the Commission. We focused on urgent priorities, the work of the next two to twenty-four months, and long-term visioning where the Commission can signpost the way forward as it concludes its efforts. There is an immediate need for a truth and reconciliation process centered on the events that precipitated our latest conversation around the impact of white supremacy on Unitarian Universalism. It is also essential that we continue to address structural racism and equity issues in our institution, even as we invite partners and affiliate entities to join us in this important work. There is a clear desire for the Commission’s work to be broad and far-reaching. In Atlanta we took time to dream big, and to think beyond the current moment. We kept the health and well-being of our community of color at the heart of the conversation. Our questions were relational, and theological. We found ourselves looking for a Universalism that points toward transformation. We engaged this moment as an opportunity to redeem a piece of the history of our faith and to serve as a model of love and justice to the broader world. We focused on questions of power, liberation, leadership, and recentering those pushed to the margins. We unflinchingly questioned cultural habits and norms that hamper us in our yearning to build the Beloved Community. The consultation tasked us with finding ways to ask UUs, “What would be the most important thing for us to attend to, to ensure your well-being in this faith?” It is in that spirit that we undertake this work.
There will be opportunities for many more specifics coming out of the work of the Commission moving forward. We plan to report further on its priorities and start-up at General Assembly. We also want to acknowledge that the real energy and possibility we feel in these days could not have happened without decades of dedicated work from many individuals and groups of UUs. It is time to make real the vision that we already claim in our hearts.