Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Black Lives Matter AIW, Part 1 - Landrum

This is part one of three of a report on the passage of the Action of Immediate Witness passed by the UUA General Assembly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Cindy Landrum was a participant, and a careful observer. Here is her account of what happened.

The final text of the Action is here.

Rev. Cynthia Landrum serves the Universalist Unitarian
 Church of East Liberty, MI.
I entered ministry a month before the September 11, 2001 attacks.  That year, suddenly, everything changed.  Our churches, and ministry itself, I think, changed.  It's hard for me to know if this is entirely true, because I was so new.  But I know that for me the most important work of our churches was suddenly all about being allies to Muslims in our community, as well as the issues of war, personal liberty, and more that came out of that time. 

The situation this year has been entirely different, but it reminds me of September 11th, only the call, the imperative, to respond has been even stronger.  This is the year that suddenly our movement has awoken to the work of anti-racism after being in a slumber for as long as I (a Gen-Xer in my 14th year of ministry) can remember.  It was a coincidence that we honored the fiftieth anniversary of Selma this year, a time when so many in our movement awoke to the call of the Civil Rights Movement.  I wasn't alive for that call, but have heard about that time all my life, and about how our movement responded.  And now it was time for us to respond to a new movement.  In my church, Black Lives Matter became the theme of our year, as we held worship service after worship service where the names of those who were killed were lifted up over the course of the year.  I built new relationships with African American ministers in my community, and worked with them to build new organizations where we could come together in partnership and respond to the needs of our own community.  We held town halls with civic and law enforcement leaders.  And we prayed together for our community and our world.  One of the local pastors in this area has a son who went to Ohio State University and was brutally beaten by Columbus law enforcement (for committing the crime of littering).  Our General Assembly will be in Columbus next year, by the by.  The incident was two years ago, but Joseph Hines' civil rights case against the city will be finally be heard this month.  Working with his father, I got to know better a man who is a powerful preacher, an important local leader, and a loving father who is trying to do the best for his son who will never be the same again. 

I have no doubt that across our country, our ministers and our lay people in small towns and areas out of the spotlight have been doing similar things.  In Baltimore, St. Louis, Charleston, and other areas where the killings of black men have gotten media attention, our ministers and lay people have been doing much, much, much more.  Across our movement, without a denominational directive, our movement has been slowly and steadily changing itself and responding to Black Lives Matters.

So it was no surprise that when we got to the General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, that while the announced theme of the year was "Building a New Way" and our Local Service Project was on prisoner reentry, and our Social Witness project was on "Commit2Respond to Climate Change," the real theme of the General Assembly was Black Lives Matters.  The hottest swag in the exhibit hall was Starr King School for the Ministry's Black Lives Matters bandanas and the Black Lives Matters buttons from Allies for Racial Equity and DRUMM, although many of us arrived already wearing the buttons.  The hottest workshops were those on anti-racism, with the crowd for Chris Crass' workshop pouring out the doors into the hallways.  The week reached a high point with the Ware Lecture by Cornel West.  And it was absolutely assumed by many of us before we even arrived that the week would end with a Black Lives Matters Action of Immediate Witness.  And it did.  But the process of getting there was surprisingly painful.  

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