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Introduction

Introduction
Introduction

The Program

We need a place to dream together, to get into what has been kept unknown. Dreaming means flowing with the unknown river of community. — Arnold Mindell, American physicist, psychotherapist, writer, and founder of Process Oriented Psychology

Scientists have recently confirmed what progressive theologians and philosophers have known for years: "Race" is a product of the human imagination, not biological science. At the same time, however, we know that while any theory of race is a social construction, individuals and groups around the world feel the experience of racism harshly. Racism, as such, informs our psychological state, personality structure, the institutional and social values that shape our working lives, the view of how we interpret the world, and even the values we place on human life.

Building the World We Dream About is a Unitarian Universalist program that seeks to interrupt the workings of racism and transform how people from different racial/ethnic groups understand and relate to one another. It consists of 24 two-hour workshops, with Taking It Home activities, reflections, and readings to be done between workshops. The program creates opportunities for participants to practice dreaming our world otherwise, and then commit to new, intentional ways of being. As Unitarian Universalists, we hope developing antiracist, antioppressive, and multicultural habits and skills will lead us to build the multicultural world of beloved community we dream about.

Open and honest conversation about race and oppression, however, is one of the most challenging and potentially divisive experiences individuals and congregations can undertake. The experience is difficult, in part because although people believe they are willing to discuss racial issues, they often harbor unstated fears about what such a conversation will bring to the surface. And with good reason. Discussions about race often reveal the existence of systemic inequalities and injustice. For people socialized into a White ethnic/racial identity, the resulting feelings of guilt and hopelessness can become overwhelming. For People of Color and other people marginalized by race and ethnicity, race talk raises unpleasant and painful memories.

As Unitarian Universalist people of faith, we must talk about race, even in the midst of personal angst and pain. As the poet Seneca once said, "It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult." Indeed, our spiritual health and moral integrity demand that we dare to confront racism and oppression in our congregations, our faith community, and the larger world. And we must begin with honest conversation.

Building the World We Dream About extends the promise of Unitarian Universalism by creating means, structures, and spaces through which every person in your congregation—whether empowered or disenfranchised in the current structure—can find a place and work with others to acquire and deepen multicultural competence and transform understandings of self, congregation, the broader community, and our shared world.

There are many benefits of practicing multicultural skills and competence and engaging in antiracism/multicultural work. Such work provides:

  • A rare opportunity to develop firsthand knowledge about how you view and how you are viewed in the world
  • A chance to gain a better understanding of people who are different from you
  • An opportunity to become less fearful of and intimidated by differences
  • The ability to communicate more openly and clearly with those in your circle of friends and acquaintances
  • An opportunity to name, heal, and reconcile past and current racial wounds
  • A chance to reconnect spiritually with people in your congregation
  • An invitation to confirm that you are not alone in your quest to build an antiracist/multicultural Beloved Community.

In order to grasp of the approach and intent of Building the World We Dream About, think of yourself and workshop participants as photographers working with a telescopic lens. At times you will be asked to bring yourself and your own identity and personal history into sharp focus, paying particular attention to the impact of your lived experiences on the way you see and make sense of yourself and the world. Sometimes you will focus on yourself as part of a congregation that has its own identity and practices. Sometimes your focus will be on the broader community and the ways in which you and your congregation interact with that community. Many diversity programs simply name the differences and similarities between individual humans, and stop there. Building the World We Dream About goes deeper and asks you to bring the context of your life—the part of the image that typically stays blurry—into full view and focus. This back-and-forth focus, on both the personal and the social, congregational, historical, and community contexts, creates a rare opportunity for participants to come into a shared space filled with good intentions, grapple with the complexity of a multiracial world, confront ill-formed assumptions and, together with others, find new ways to undo racism and oppression in your community.

Ultimately, this program is about transformation of congregations that are serious about changing their culture to become truly welcoming of all people who yearn for a liberal religious community. As cultural critic James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced."

Goals

This program will:

  • Promote multicultural welcome, inclusion, and affirmation in all facets of Unitarian Universalist congregational life
  • Develop participants’ knowledge and skills in addressing issues related to race, ethnicity, and cultural identity both individually and institutionally
  • Identify ways congregations can build multiracial/multicultural communities of love and justice
  • Transform how participants see their individual selves, their congregation, their community, and our world through the lens of race and ethnicity.

Leaders

This program should be facilitated by a team of at least two people. The team should include a religious professional or lay person who has significant facilitation experience and personal experience in talking about race and ethnicity. Because this is a 24-workshop program that requires about two hours of planning time between workshops, be sure facilitators understand the commitment they are making.

Facilitators with these strengths will be especially effective:

  • Experience facilitating a group process
  • Experience engaging in multicultural dialogue
  • Ability to create and nurture a supportive, respectful, and safe community in the workshops and follow all congregational safe congregation guidelines and policies
  • Time and willingness to prepare thoroughly for each workshop and take appropriate action in the event of unexpected cancellations
  • Willingness to listen deeply and let "answers" emerge from the group process
  • Integrity and the ability to maintain strong boundaries, especially in challenging conversations
  • Commitment to Unitarian Universalist Principles and the faith development components of this program
  • Respect for individuals, regardless of age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability, and willingness to modify workshop plans to support the full inclusion of all participants
  • Willingness to support healthy group process by reinforcing ground rules politely and confidently
  • Ability to model respect for the congregation, its mission, and its lay and professional leadership.

Participants

The program is designed for adult participants of all ages and stages of life, young adult through elder, who seek challenging faith development. The ideal group size is 12 to 24 participants, although the program is suitable for groups as small as eight and as large as 30. Participants will be invited to bring their own stories to the group and to share some of their own experiences in both small and large groups.

Integrating All Participants

People of all ages have a range of abilities, disabilities, and sensitivities. Be sure to ask individual participants to identify disability- or sensitivity-related accommodations they need. Because participants may be unfamiliar to you, bring additional sensitivity to disabilities or other special needs. Include a question about special needs on registration forms or sign-up sheets. Some activities include specific suggestions for adaptation. In all cases, keep in mind these general guidelines:

  • Make a few large-print copies of all handouts.
  • Write clearly and use large letters on newsprint. Use black or brown markers for maximum visibility (red and green are difficult for some to see).
  • Make a handout of prepared newsprint pages to give to any who request it.
  • Face the group when you speak and urge others to do the same. Be aware of facial hair or hand gestures that can prevent or interfere with lip-reading.
  • In a large space or with a large group of people, use a microphone for presentations and for questions and answers. If an activity prevents speakers from facing listeners (e.g., a fishbowl activity, forced choice activity, or role play), pass a hand microphone from speaker to speaker.
  • When leading a brainstorm activity, repeat clearly any word or phrase generated by the group, as you write it on newsprint.
  • During small group work, make sure each group is far enough from other groups to minimize noise interference.
  • Keep aisles and doorways clear at all times during a workshop so people with mobility impairments or immediate needs can exit the room easily.
  • When rearranging furniture for small groups or other purposes, leave clear pathways between groups.
  • Emphasize the importance of removing bags, books, coffee cups, and other obstacles left in pathways.
  • Use the phrase "Rise in body or spirit," rather than "Please stand."
  • Use language that puts the person first, rather than the disability—that is, "a person who uses a wheelchair," rather than "a wheelchair-user"; "a child with dyslexia," rather than "a dyslexic child"; "people with disabilities," rather than "the disabled."
  • Refrain from asking individuals to read aloud. Do not go around the room expecting each person to read a part of something. Request a volunteer or read the material yourself.
  • Ask participants to let you know in advance of any allergies to foods. Add to your covenant an agreement that the group will avoid bringing problem foods for snacks or will always offer an alternative snack food.
  • Ask participants to let you know in advance of any allergies to scents or perfumes. If any participants have allergies or sensitivities, invite members of the group to refrain from wearing perfumes and add this agreement to your covenant.

Consult the Accessibility section on the UUA website, or contact a member of the UUA staff, for guidance for including people with specific disabilities. In addition, some workshop activities suggest specific adaptations under the heading Including All Participants. When planning workshops, consider how individual participants are likely to respond to activities. Substituting an alternate activity may be helpful in some situations.

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For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.

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