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Living into Accountability

In the early months of The Movement, I came to believe that being accountable to marginalized communities essentially required supporting and showing up to those communities’ acts of struggle and protest.

It was only recently that this belief was shattered by Leslie Mac, a Unitarian Universalist, Woman of Color, and prominent #BlackLivesMatter activist. She published a powerful series of tweets critiquing this view of accountability, explaining that “it’s time to dig deeper into the meaning of accountability [to Black leaders]. Accountability means that your ACTIONS are in alignment with Black leaders. Accountability means that you align YOUR group or personal goals and actions with those of black led organizations and leadership.”

Most importantly, she noted that “accountability means using your status to do MORE than just educate. To do MORE than just show up at Black-led actions. TO DO MORE. Period.”

Many UUs who came to St. Louis for the Ferguson Uprising Commemoration weekend acted on this sense of accountability by participating in racial justice demonstrations in largely white, suburban parts of St. Louis.

Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel (of Chesterfield, MO), of which I’m a member, and Eliot Unitarian Chapel (of Kirkwood, MO) are two St. Louis UU congregations whose members have been holding weekly vigils for racial justice in their (overwhelmingly white) geographic areas since the fall of 2014. Vigilers at Emerson and Eliot have also been working with Metropolitan Congregations United and other local activists to pressure the Chesterfield and Kirkwood police departments to adopt reforms to help combat systemic racism.

Emerson and Eliot held their vigils during the Commemoration weekend, too, and Rev. Julie Taylor, whose leadership in orienting and organizing Unitarian Universalists who came to St. Louis for the weekend is difficult to overstate, mobilized our UU contingent, which itself was almost entirely white, to collectively attend both.

On that Saturday, 73 people, nearly all of whom were UUs, attended Emerson’s vigil to bring the message of The Movement to hundreds of passing cars outside of a large strip mall in Chesterfield. The group’s size also gave power to the press conference that was held during the vigil in order to call attention to the Chesterfield police department’s lack of response to repeated calls by organizers for reforms that would address systemic racism.

That Sunday, dozens of UUs also witnessed for racial justice in a march from Eliot Chapel to Kirkwood City Hall, where participants then claimed space outside of the city hall building to broadcast the message of The Movement to passing cars and pedestrians, alike.

Together, these UU-led actions showed thousands of St. Louis County residents that no one, especially not people in white, suburban America, will be able to escape the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. Justice must be realized, and if there’s no justice, then there can be no peace.

Yes, Unitarian Universalists showed up en masse to actions, including Moral Monday actions, that were organized by local Black and brown leaders. This was necessary and important. However, in lending our bodies and voices to racial justice efforts in Chesterfield and Kirkwood, too, we held ourselves to a more complete understanding of accountability to the goals of Black Lives Matter organizers across the country.

Let existing and forthcoming racial justice efforts by Unitarian Universalists reflect this sense of accountability. In doing so, we will help meaningfully transform ourselves, our community, and our world.

In faith,

Jake Lyonfields

Jake Lyonfields is a member of the Board of Trustees of Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel. He lives, works, and organizes in St. Louis.