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 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 informs our psychological state, our personality, the institutional and social values that shape our working lives, our ways of interpreting the world, and even the values we place on human life.
Three years ago, the UUA published Building the World We Dream About, an adult program that seeks to interrupt the workings of racism and transform how people from different racial/ethnic groups understand and relate to one another in the congregation and in the communities of which the congregation is a part.
This new version of the program, Building the World We Dream About for Young Adults, is specifically tailored to the experiences of young adults whose life situations and congregational involvement are somewhat fluid. The program, comprised of eight two-hour workshops adaptable to a variety of formats and settings, is largely derived from the materials, activities, process, and vision of the original program. It focuses on enhancing personal multicultural competency and the ability to navigate a multicultural world. This version does not assume that participants are part of the same congregation, or indeed, any congregation. Some groups may form specifically for the purpose of experiencing this program and may include participants from a number of different Unitarian Universalists contexts.
In addition, this version takes into account the generational experiences of young adults, both cultural and technological, and includes new material which represents the voices and experiences of young adult Unitarian Universalists. It recognizes that although young adults generally have more familiarity with the idea of a multicultural world than do those of older generations, they bring vastly different levels of multicultural competency and some may bring less experience and more wariness about cross-racial and cross-cultural conversation than might be assumed. Building the World We Dream About for Young Adults offers a process by which young adults can engage in honest and open conversations about race, better understand their own ethnic and racial identity and journey, and learn the practical skills they need to in their own lives right now as they make their way in an increasingly multicultural world. The program creates opportunities for participants to practice dreaming our world otherwise, and then commit to new ways of being in the world in.
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. However, open and honest conversation about race and oppression is one of the most challenging and potentially divisive experiences individuals and congregations can undertake. Even when 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.
But as Unitarian Universalist people of faith, we must talk about race, even when it disturbs us to do so. 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 for Young Adults extends the promise of Unitarian Universalism by creating means, structures, and spaces through which every participant—whether their experiences have been of empowerment or disenfranchisement—can find a place and work with others to acquire and deepen multicultural competence and transform understandings of self, the broader community, and our shared world.
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 groups that have their own identity and practices. Sometimes your focus will be on the broader society, and the ways you and groups with which you identify interact within it. This program asks you to bring the context of your life—the part of the image that typically stays blurry—into full view and focus. The focus on both the personal and the social contexts in the safe space of this program creates a rare opportunity to come into to confront ill-formed assumption and find new ways to undo racism. As cultural critic James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced."
This program will:
- Provide participants with a better understanding of people who are different from them
- Deepen participants' ability to communicate openly and clearly with those in their circle of friends and acquaintances
- Present the idea that racism is a social construct which can be deconstructed
- Explore Whiteness and how it is viewed by people of different racial and ethnic identities
- Offer an opportunity to name, heal, and reconcile past and current racial wounds
- Identify ways to build multiracial/multicultural communities of love and justice
- Present Unitarian Universalist theology, tradition, and Principles as a basis for antiracism, antioppression, and multicultural work.
This program should be facilitated by a team of at least two young adult people. The team should include either a religious professional or lay person who has significant facilitation experience and personal experience in talking about race and ethnicity. Because this is a program requires significant preparation and planning time, facilitators must understand the commitment they are making.
Effective facilitators will have these strengths:
- 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
- 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/ethnicity, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability, and a 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, district, or other sponsoring organization and its lay and professional leadership.
The program is designed for young adult participants ages 18 to 35 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. Include a question about disabilities and other special needs on registration forms or sign-up sheets. Some activities include specific suggestions for adaptation. In all cases, keep in mind these 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 person with dyslexia," rather than "a dyslexic person"; "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 Disability and 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. In some situations, substituting an alternate activity may be helpful.