Using the Internet to Create (Virtual) Community
I love to play Sims. In Sims 3, you sometimes find an Unknown Seed. If you have enough gardening skills, your Sims can plant the seed and see what grows. It might be a money tree! In real life, we also plant seeds without knowing what they will ultimately become.
In 2012, I facilitated a conversation among a dozen or so UUs who identified as Latino/a, Hispanic, Multiracial/Multiethnic, Native American, Aboriginal, Asian, Pacific Islander, Arab, Middle Eastern, or of African descent to ask after their faith development needs. I went in thinking the conversation could result in a curriculum. What I heard loud and clear was that people wanted most of all to meet other UUs of color. Instead of a curriculum, I launched a virtual community.
What started as a dozen has grown into a community of about 85 people, from California to Toronto to Florida. Our monthly meetings use web-conferencing, allowing ten or 12 of us at a time to hear and see one another. We also use a Google group, between meetings, to post announcements and links to news articles. We share our experiences, which are as diverse as we are. We disagree and debate. We share joys and concerns. We practice forgiveness and share laughs. And we grow.
I have learned a few things over the past two years. Finding free web conferencing was easy. Getting the word out is not. Clearing my schedule to facilitate meetings is rather easy: As UUA staff, serving Unitarian Universalists is my job. For community members to find time for regular, monthly meeting is not so easy. I wish our monthly meetings had better attendance, but numbers are not the only way to measure success. Members routinely email me with the names of new people who want to join. This excites me, not because of a growing email list, but because when a current member invites others to join, that means they find worth in being part of this community. My heart is happy when two members share about their experience growing up Japanese American, or when members' Google group posts fly back and forth in Spanish…even though I don’t know what they are saying.
My hopes were that the community would flower. I watered it with suggestions about ways to create physical meetings: Community members have held at least four such meetings, piggy-backing onto UUA district meetings and social justice gatherings. A member invited others to join him in a book proposal. Some of us will gather at General Assembly in Providence, Rhode Island next month.
Many members (but not everyone) joined the group thinking they might be the only person who holds a particular identity and instead found that they were not alone. Has that ever happened to you? How did it feel?
Why am I sharing this with you? Two reasons. One, I hope you can help me spread the word to other UUs of color who might like to join. Two, you may be someone who would like to start a virtual community of your own. Perhaps you could use web conferencing to get together with your LREDA chapter more often, or to establish an affinity group across the miles. We’ve all been on a bus or in a restaurant, looked around, and seen almost everyone focused on their phone or tablet and not interacting with those around them. We know that modern technology can lead us to be disengaged. Let’s find the ways it can help us increase our connection to each other.
To find out more about the Virtual Community of UUs of Color or about starting your own UU virtual community, contact Jessica York at jyork [at] uua [dot] org.
The UUA Multicultural Growth and Witness staff group offers many resources to help UU communities be more multiculturally welcoming.