Love, History and Wealth

By Carlton Elliott Smith

In her poem “Nikki-Rosa”, Nikki Giovanni reflects on the perfect imperfections of her childhood and states plainly that regardless of the hardships her family faced, “Black love is Black wealth”. I know how she felt.

In this moment, my heart is overflowing. I received a call this evening from a beloved relative who had isolated themselves from their dearest friends and our family in recent months. Their personal circumstances had changed in ways they feared others would not understand nor accept. I was aware of this dynamic, but they had changed their phone number so I couldn’t reach out by phone. I could only email to say “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Birthday!”, as was true of most of the other people in their life.

In the conversation tonight, I said to them at one point in the conversation, “You know what your issue is? You don’t know how much people love you.” They agreed. They thought they could just excuse themselves from everyone else’s life and no one would care. But this person has so many people who just want the best for them, who just want them to be happy, that nothing could cause them to be any less loved.

So this relative recently started coming back around. We have mutual friends whom I know have cried tears of thanksgiving to be reunited. I have shed a few myself, now that they understand that they are not alone, that so many of us care, and that we just want them to be happy.

Can love be as simple as that? I am with you. I care. I want you to be happy, no matter what. I see you for who you are. I feel who you are, and I’m not going anywhere.

In this month in which Black history meets St. Valentine’s Day, my thoughts flow not to roses or greeting cards or chocolates or candlelight dinners. They spiral in the direction of savory cornbread, made with the bacon drippings that sat by the stove; of parents who smoked in secret so their children wouldn’t pick up their addictive habit; of the drunken uncle who came knocking on the door at 6:00am on a work-day, but was never, ever turned away; of the many, many brave souls from generations up to and including mine who put their lives on the line -- and sometimes lost them -- so that I could vote and otherwise live as a dignified human being.

Many of our experiences of divine love come from an inspired and inspiring encounter with another person. As Unitarian Universalists, we lift up the possibility that punishment awaits no one at the end of this life, and that what God/the universe ultimately wills is that all creation is reconciled through love -- unconditional love, which is the only real love there that exists.

I join Ms. Nikki in agreement that Black love is Black wealth. Having been consistently denied access to wealth while generating unfathomable riches for centuries through our commodified lives, our history has required us to find our own definitions of prosperity, riches and abundance. We know our “net worth” cannot be measured by our bank accounts. We know what our forebears invested in us is more priceless than any trust fund. We know that to be seen, heard and felt satisfies the soul in ways that a mansion with a five-car garage never could.

While in our struggles for justice and freedom, we can rejoice because through love, we are already powerful. We are already rich. We are already radiant and resilient. We seek greater manifestations of that power and wealth in visible form, but that doesn’t diminish the reality of the difference love makes right now.

It will be a wonderful day when we can agree across continents and cultures that universal love is universal wealth. Our practice of that love in our congregations and in the wider world hastens the day when that will be true.

One such person who exemplified such depth of love was the Rev. Clark Olsen, who died very recently. He was one of the UU ministers and laypeople of the1960s who dared to align with Black freedom workers in the Deep South to bring about the transformation from a segregated society to a liberated one. Southern Region staff member the Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson worked closely with him as a board member for the Living Legacy Project. You can read her reflection on his life here in the Southern Region February E-Newsletter.

Your congregation might also take advantage of UUA resources for Share the Love Sunday, February 17, sponsored by the Side with Love Campaign (SWL). It’s a chance to reflect together as a congregation on what siding with love means to you, to present Courageous Love Awards to deserving members and partners; and to take up an offering to support SWL and other worthy movements for justice grounded in love.

May we each know ourselves to be wealthy beyond measure through love. May our capacity to love expand beyond those whom are nearest and dearest to us. And may the love and appreciation we have for ourselves forever remind us of our place in our blue boat home.

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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