Darkest Before Dawn

By Carlton Elliott Smith

Over the past several months, many Mississippi Unitarian Universalists joined in the effort to elect the first Black US Senator from the state since the Reconstruction Era. I was one of those Unitarian Universalists, knocking on doors, posting on social media, attending rallies, donating funds and building networks. It was an exciting time of community-building and consciousness-raising. Our efforts got the candidate into the November 27 runoff election, where he was less than four percentage points from going to Washington on our behalf.

Apart from any partisan considerations, this was a deeply significant race. One candidate was supremely qualified, with depth of experience in both the legislative and executive branches of federal government, while the other did not have that same depth. One candidate was known for being willing to work with all people, while the other made light of the horrors of lynching and the deep pain of voter disenfranchisement and Confederate history. It seemed that one candidate was pointing us toward 2050 and the other wanted to take us back to 1850. And the latter candidate won.

We are in the darkest days of the year, when the sun rises late and sets early. Some of us feel our energy and vitality draining from us from lack of warmth and light. And then, when the days get their shortest, we cross the threshold of the Winter Solstice. The hours of light begin to get longer, and temperatures eventually become warmer.

So it is for Mississippi, our Southern Region and our nation. We feel depths of loss at all the ways we see our progressive gains being eroded — voting rights, human rights and environmental protections, for example — while aggression and violence are on the rise. We struggle with the possibility that our efforts are in vain, especially when what we think would be abhorrent to the masses turns out to be quite acceptable.

These are times in which we can benefit from taking the long view. In Mississippi, for a well-qualified Black progressive candidate to come so close to winning a statewide race against a white, conservative, arguably less-qualified incumbent is actually a sign of advancement. I think of the strides made in just the last 60 years here that have brought us to this point, where within my lifetime, Black people were being beaten, shot and killed here for asserting their right to vote.

We are at the beginning of a season of reflection and renewal. As we look back on the traditions of Judaism through Hanukkah, of Christianity through Christmas, of African-American culture through Kwanzaa, we can be grateful for the examples of those faithful souls who have gone before us. As the New Year approaches, we can consider what our commitments and priorities are for the next 12 months.

Inside of endings and losses are promises of new life. May we awaken to the fullness of this season of rebirth in the spirit of love, joy, courage, justice and hope.

In faith,


About the Author

Carlton Elliott Smith

Rev. Carlton E. Smith is the Regional Lead for the Pacific Western Region. From 2013 to 2020, he was a member of the UUA Congregational Life Staff Group serving in the Southern Region....

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