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The Promise and the Practice: Beginning Anew (Youth Curriculum)

Background and overview for leaders: Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) is calling on Unitarian Universalists to identify white supremacy in our faith and take the necessary steps to foster healing and move away from harmful practices. This curriculum was created to inform our youth about the existence of the culture of white supremacy and the call from BLUU to end white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism. This is an offering of tools that may be used for healing as well some anti-racist practices of sharing and loving.

As with all curricula, please review and edit this curriculum as needed for your program. The author views the following as the core curriculum: the UU World article with reflection questions, and the “love letters” to BLUU.

Both the youth and the elementary curriculum would work well as two separate Sunday sessions. You could also do the Kintsugi “Introduction” or the UU child and youth video as a Time for All Ages. The author requests that you not edit any words of people of color that are included here. Please pay careful attention to the suggestions for including people of color in the classroom.

Title: Beginning Anew (Promise and Practice Sunday)

Grade Level: Jr. & Sr. Youth

Revisit/Introduce the term “white supremacy” as it relates to Unitarian Universalist culture; past and present. Explore the language of white supremacy and the many ways that white supremacist language has clandestinely entered into the language of our faith.

*A note about safety for People of Color (POC): During reflections, activities, and sharing circles, lease allow the opportunity for POC to pass. Ensure that the group remains in covenant and that confidentiality is held within the circle. Check-in with POC before or after the session, inform them about the topic, activities, and questions. Please prepare a space for self-care and pastoral support for youth of color, letting them know that they are welcome to step out for some/all of the class if they need to exercise self-care. Ensure youth of color in the room do not feel tokenized, isolated, or placed on the spot.

Leader prep:
A.    Read Gail Forsyth-Vail’s August 2017 reflection on white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism, “The Water We Swim In.”
B.    Review the details of Promise and Practice Sunday.
C.    Review this write-up about white supremacy from a sociological perspective.
D.    Read about how white supremacy shows up in culture, by Tema Okun.
E.    Prepare some time beforehand to discreetly brief youth of color about today’s topic.
F.    Write the Beginning Anew steps on newsprint (if this option is chosen).
G.   Preview the "Black-ish" episode (if this option is chosen).

Materials Needed: Speaker/laptop to play music, equipment to play and a project video with sound, newsprint with Beginning Anew steps written on them, purchase Black-ish Season 1: Episode 9*; copies of this UUWorld article.

*You can purchase "Black-ish" Season 1: Episode 9 on abc.go.com, iTunes, Amazon, & Hulu. If your internet is not great on Sunday, load the movie beforehand on your computer or download the movie to your laptop/other device. iTunes may allow you to download the episode and watch offline. Other services may require you to be online to watch the episode.

Chalice Lighting: Play Yasiin Bey’s (A.K.A Mos Def) “Where Are We?,” 4 minutes

Explain that this Sunday is The Promise and the Practice Sunday, and that the work we do today is in support of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism. Explain that today we will be exploring white supremacy in Unitarian Universalist culture. Review covenant, discuss confidentiality, and ensure safety for people of color.*

What does the term “white supremacy” mean to you? When you hear the phrase “culture of white supremacy,” what comes to mind?

Definition of White Supremacy:
White Supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege. - Elizabeth Martínez    

*Sharing Circle/Joys and Concerns:

  • What do you like about being white?
  • What do you like about being a person of color?

Reflection: How many positive reflections were there? From which ethnic group were they from? (if there are others represented.) I wonder if those of us are white are being honest with ourselves about how much we enjoy the privileges of being a white person? Language and silence have the potential to carry the weight of white supremacy. Unless we are able to speak truths directly and honestly, we can never uproot white supremacy from our Unitarian Universalist culture.

(Questions adapted from the People’s Institute “Undoing Racism” workshop)

Reading by Helen Kim-Ho (8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Non-Profits)

"Most POC experience culture — their own and the dominant White culture — acutely, because we’re forced to deal with/ respond to/ defend who we are, and why “we” collectively show up and act the way we do (one Asian American must speak for ALL Asian Americans, what one Black person does or says can be imbued on ALL Black people). In contrast, most White colleagues perceive themselves as culture-less, attributing culture and a prescribed set of behaviors only to POC. This leads to cluelessness that an organization’s culture may be set up to maintain the status quo (i.e., White) and block POC from rising in leadership….

It is not the culture of nice people, but of those with the privilege to wield power behind the scenes. It’s similar to the culture of politics: savvy politicians refrain from making open and direct statements because the less people know, the more likely they are to retain their seats and their political power. In contrast, POC have lived most of our lives outside circles of power. Our greatest tools are the truth, our voices and organizing.

Silence is the privilege of the powerful. If that’s a part of your organizational culture then POC will not only be tokenized, but also be forced to either subjugate themselves to your implicit control, or risk speaking out and being accused of being “uppity,” “confrontational,” (and) “not a good fit.”

Read Elaine McArdle's April 5, 2017 article about the recent controversy around white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism.

Reflecting on the article, identify the language used by Peter Morales that initiated this specific conflict. Do you hear any words that can be interpreted as racist? How might Peter Morales’ language be a reflection of white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism?

Activity 1: Beginning Anew -- A ceremony to heal our brokenness

Beginning Anew is a ceremony of reconciliation created by Thich Nhat Hanh. This practice can be used to foster healing or utilized as a method to teach forgiveness, reconciliation, and atonement.

Review: Beginning Anew Ceremony

1.    Flower watering: Offer gratitude for the person being addressed.
2.    Share suffering: How have you or the other person been hurt?
3.    Offer Regrets: What regrets do you have about the incident?
4.    Share difficulties: What difficulties are you having in this moment?
5.    Begin anew: Make a commitment to your covenant with the other person and to do better in the future.

A.    Scene Work: Recruit two volunteers, person A and person B. Explain that one of the following incidents have occurred. Afterward have the youth do the Beginning Anew Ceremony.

Scenario 1: Person A quoted lyrics from a popular rap song and said the “N” word. (The scene begins after the word is said, the youth should not say the word during this scene.) Person B is offended and hurt by the use of the word. Person B has asked for a Beginning Anew ceremony to express their hurt.

Scenario 2:  Person B is a person of color and person A is not, Person A thought they were complimenting Person B in telling them they were very articulate. Person B gets upset and Person A realizes there is a need for a Beginning Anew ceremony. Person A doesn’t quite understand why their comments were racist but they understand that they have hurt Person B with their words. Person A begins.

Scenario 3 (optional): Youth-created scenario. This can be a real incident among two persons in the youth group. Alternatively, the youth may choose an incident that they have personally experienced and would like to act out in a safe environment.

Activity 2: “Love Letters” to BLUU utilizing the Beginning Anew steps

Following the Beginning Anew steps, write a letter to the leaders of BLUU. How can you as a person, youth group, congregation help our denomination begin anew with UU’s of color? Send the final letter via email or snail mail to BLUU.

Activity 3: Black-ish TV-PG
(adapted From Woodinville UU Church Middle School Curriculum 2017)

Season 1: Episode 9 (20 minute episode) Colored Commentary

Watch segment from the beginning to at least 5:15; watch the entire episode if you have time.

Summary for leader: The commentator at Jack’s baseball game makes some comments. Bow thinks the comments are racist (i.e. “he’s a natural athlete,” “he runs like a panther,” and “he’s born to steal”).

Reflecting Questions:

  • What terms/phrases did the character “Bow” hear as racists?
  • Do you think it would be difficult to speak up if you were Bow? If so, why?
  • Have you ever heard people of color referenced with racist “code words”?
  • Imagine that instead of the announcer, the person you suspect of using code words is your minister, fellow church member, or friend. How would that feel?


About the Author

Jaelynn Pema-la Scott

Rev. Jaelynn Scott is a Buddhist community minister who has served as the Director of Lifelong Learning at Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church. A graduate of Naropa University's Buddhist Divinity program, she was ordained by Ven.'s Bhante Chao Chu and Tampalawela Dhammaratana, and brings...

For more information contact worshipweb@uua.org.

“Over the past few weeks, many have been responding to calls by UUs of color to look critically within our faith communities—including hiring practices, power brokers, and cultural habits—for the ways racism, sexism, and white supremacy live. ‘White supremacy’ is a provocative phrase, as it conjures up images of hoods and mobs. Yet in 2017, actual ‘white supremacists’ are not required in order to uphold white supremacist culture. Building a faith full of people who understand that key distinction is essential as we work toward a more just society in difficult political times.”
—blacklivesuu.com, April 2017

The cast of the TV show "Black-ish" on a screen.
The artist/actor Mos Def raises his arm and speaks into a microphone.

Yasiin Bey, A.K.A. Mos Def