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My People of Faith: Will We Answer?

I want to introduce you to Kenny Wiley, Director of Religious Education at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church in Parker, CO. He has written a powerful piece about his own personal experience as a black man growing up in our Unitarian Universalist community. His story about the tension between race and faith has inspired me, and I know it will inspire you. Given all that has transpired in the last few months around the killing of Michael Brown, police brutality, systematic racism, escalating tension in Ferguson and around the country—it’s time to bring police brutality to an end. It’s time to hold our police forces accountable when they abuse their powers and the citizens they have sworn to protect. And as a people of faith, we must be a loud, unified voice for change. I encourage you to organize within your own congregations and communities to work for justice. Kenny suggests one such effort – the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation on Oct. 22nd — and there will be many more actions like this one. We who believe in justice, freedom, and compassion cannot rest.

In faith, Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President

Dear Friends,

When I was nine, a white UU adult told me after the service he loved that my black family worshipped at “his” church. “It shows how far your people have come.”

That confused me—I thought the folks at church were my people.

I am a proud, lifelong Unitarian Universalist. Some days I sing Spirit of Life to myself as I make breakfast. Coming of Age and YRUU (youth group) summer camps brought me ever-mingled comfort and stress. I am also black. The struggle for black freedom has long held a grip on my soul.

Growing up, I learned that Unitarians and Universalists traveled from near and far to Selma, Alabama in 1965, answering Dr. King’s call for clergy to join him in a march to end segregation. It was one of our young movement’s finest—and most tragic—hours. The Rev. James Reeb answered Dr. King’s call; just after arriving in Alabama, he and a small group were attacked. His companions survived; the young, white Unitarian minister succumbed to brutal injuries.

At Rev. Reeb’s memorial service, Dr. King asked the gathering, “Who killed James Reeb?” “A few ignorant men,” he replied. He paused and then continued, “What killed James Reeb? An irrelevant church, an indifferent clergy, an irresponsible political system, a corrupt law enforcement hierarchy, a timid federal government, and an uncommitted Negro population.”

As they so often do, Dr. King’s forceful words speak to the present moment. On August 9, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed teen Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. We cannot know exactly what happened; Brown became one of many unarmed black and brown people killed by law enforcement. The city of Ferguson—and members of the broader STL community—decided enough was enough.

Many UUs, both in St. Louis and nationally, were moved to join protests and vigils after Mike Brown’s murder. I was one of them. I co-organized several events around police brutality in the Denver area, where I work as a Director of Religious Education at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church.

I believe that as people of faith—as those who profess to believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person—that we can no longer sit idly by as our unarmed black and brown family members are killed by law enforcement, nor watch as their character is posthumously assassinated by media and citizens alike. Black lives matter.

Wednesday, October 22 is National Day Against Police Brutality. I am co-organizing a Denver event, and expect hundreds of people to join me at the Colorado state Capitol. Among them will be dozens of UUs. We in Denver are joining with dozens of other events nationwide.

I urge you, my fellow UUs, to join me and find an event this coming Wednesday. Information about the national October 22 Movement, and locals events all across the country can be found on www.october22.org. Post on social media your opposition to police brutality. Show up and have the hard conversations. At these events you will hear pain, and frustration, and even anger. Live into the discomfort. What you may hear is a tragic, sometimes fatal reality for your fellow human beings.

I ask you this as a Black American. I ask you this as a Unitarian Universalist. Whether you are young and black or seventy and white, you are one of my people.

The harrowing truth is that I could be the next Mike Brown. My household had two parents. I have a college degree and a job. My pants don’t sag. In the wrong situation, though, my ‘respectable’ nature might not save me.
I sometimes wonder—would my faith stick up for me as my character got questioned, as my blackness robbed me of my humanity in the eyes of many?

These questions keep me up at night. But I have hope that you would.

Unitarian Universalists, you are my people. Black folks (several of us are both) need you to show up. They don’t need you to lead or take over, but at these events on Wednesday the 22nd, we need you there. Wear a UU shirt. Stand (and sit, and witness) on the side of love.

The next call to action for racial justice has arrived. My people of faith: Will we answer?

My people want to know.

In faith,

Kenny Wiley

Director of Faith Formation—Prairie UU Church in Parker, Colorado

Organizer, Coloradans for Justice