Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: A Place of Wholeness: A Program for Youth Exploring Their Own Unitarian Universalist Faith Journeys

Activity 2: Story - Unitarian Universalist Racial Justice Timeline

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Cut apart the narratives of one copy of the story, so each narrative can be given to a participant volunteer.

Description of Activity

Begin the story by saying the following:

In this activity, we will construct a timeline of Unitarian Universalism's transformation as it attempts to transform the world. The topic is racial justice, and you will learn about situations where Unitarian Universalists worked for racial justice, and times when we fell short. A similar timeline could be constructed for any number of issues-including BGLT rights, women's rights, immigration issues, economic justice, and religious tolerance. It is important to recognize that none of us as individuals, nor the larger movement, is perfect. Knowing we are not perfect, we are more willing to accept this lack of perfection in others-a practice called humility. What we do not have to tolerate, however, is resistance to justice. Many of you have probably heard the quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that "the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." These words originally came from 19thcentury Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, who wrote: "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one... And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice." As a humanist faith, we believe that laws, beliefs, and cultures bend when we band together and apply pressure. Unitarian Universalism's relationship with race and racism is ongoing and changing. Sometimes we fall short, but we keep on trying to change ourselves and to change the world.

Explain that the timeline focuses on three different time periods-the mid-1800s, the 1960s, and the 1990s-2000s. Be sure to contextualize these time periods:

In the mid-1800s, the enslavement of Africans was an urgent political, social, and religious issue. Unitarians and Universalists were on both sides of the debate-some were slave owners and slavery supporters, while others were ardent abolitionists.

During the 1960s, Unitarian Universalists were active in the Civil Rights Movement, but also experienced controversy within our movement around Black empowerment issues.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Unitarian Universalists mobilized for racial justice and worked for personal and institutional transformation, but we continued to experience internal controversy and racism as a movement.

Ask the group for six volunteers to read aloud short first-person narratives from each of these time periods, and the role of Unitarian Universalists in each particular story.

Distribute copies of the story. Explain that they will read the narratives aloud in chronological order. After each narrative, participants will have an opportunity to ask the character in the story questions. However, the "character" will not answer the questions because we do not know what their answers would be. This is simply an opportunity to put the questions out there and to "wonder."

After all the stories and questions, lead a discussion with the following points:

  • This timeline is about race, racism, and racial justice, but these stories are about much more than that. Many of the stories link racism to other oppressions such as sexism and classism. How do you see other dynamics of oppression operating in these stories?
  • What are the reoccurring themes found in the stories?
  • How do the stories connect?
  • Do you have any new thoughts about racism, racial justice and tolerance or about Unitarian Universalism that you would like to share?

Point out the complexity in these stories and how they portray disagreements and divisions. For example, the Clapp sermon about slavery connects what is happening to enslaved Africans to what is happening to white women in the United States and to laborers in northern factories. The stories from the mid-1800s set up stereotypes about northerners and southerners, whereas not all northerners were abolitionists and not all southerners supported slavery. Bill Sinkford's story shows how disagreements can occur even within families. After pointing out some of these dynamics, invite comments and responses. Encourage the group to notice other complexities and to reflect on them.