Growing up, I didn’t always understand what love was. For me, it was both constant and obscure but it almost always came in the form of a harsh, demanding directive. My parents were relatively strict and in that way I knew they cared a great deal for my well-being but sometimes, it did come at the expense of my confidence.
My dad would tell my sister and I, “You have two strikes against you, you’re a woman and you’re Black” (and later a third strike when I came out). As I have evolved, I’ve challenged the metaphors he used to describe the challenges I would face in my life – but the point came across; life won’t be easy for you because of what you look like – and later, because of who you love.
Being a queer Black woman was always framed as a problem, not a lifestyle. I always had the tenacity to fight the unconstructive ways in which my life was discussed but behind closed doors. I felt wrought with frustration and sadness that the burden rest on my shoulders to convince others my life was valuable. This didn’t feel like love to me.
Love, in all of its nuanced complexity, is many things to many people. It is adorning and ostentatious, a glittery show of lights for the entire world to see, it is mindful and quaint, compliant and subtly exposed to an intimate audience of two; it is mellow but rich and full of niceties and sometimes love is grippingly unemotional, but consistently so. Compound emotional details aside, love is also a warm meal. It is enough money in your pocket to buy a dignifying cup of coffee, it is a warm, embracing coat on a cold winter’s day, the long, slow breath you take when you flip the switch and the lights come on, the ability make a decent wage, feed your family and live life away from the margins and closer to the center.
But for me love is embracing the notion that I have to fight for my right to live a full and satisfying life, free of scrutiny and judgment and that that fight won’t always be won. Standing on the side of love means reconciling that my existence is radically offensive to some and refreshingly welcomed by others and that’s okay.
Moving through the world as a queer, woman of color has proven to be both difficult and extremely rewarding but I am standing on the side of life because my life is valuable and sharing my story reminds others that their life is valuable too.
This post was written by Shanelle Matthews. Shanelle is the Communications Manager at Forward Together, an organization that leads grassroots actions and trains community leaders to transform policy and culture in ways that support individuals, families, and communities in reaching our full potential. Shanelle is working with UUA staff on the upcoming Mama’s Day celebrations. You can read her other Standing on the Side of Love blog posts here.
On Thursday, April 12th, approximately 150 people gathered on the Boston Common to show support for Trayvon Martin’s family’s demand for justice and to oppose the proposed ‘Stand Your Ground’ or ‘Shoot to Kill’ bill before the Massachusetts State Legislature .
The rally, sponsored by NAACP New England Area Conference, was endorsed by The Unitarian Universalist Association, UU Mass Action and UU Urban Ministry (UUUM). Present in the crowd were NAACP Chapter Presidents and members from around greater Boston, a contingent of students and teachers from the Boston Day and Evening Academy, and dozens of UUs, including four members of the clergy from the Cambridge and Boston congregations, and staff from the UUA. The diverse gathering included members of Boston University Black Law Student Association, Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, and ¿Oíste?.
Among the speakers were two state representatives, two Boston city councilors, the director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Coalition for Social Justice, and Blackstonian’s Jamarhl Crawford. Crawford declared that lynching is still going on in the United States and urged everyone to “come together in solidarity to stop the stand your ground law that could lead to the legal lynching of young Black men and the ‘Three Strikes’ law that is fueling the trend of mass incarceration of young black men.”
Rev. Catherine Senghas, Executive Director of UU Urban Ministry, also spoke. She said, “At this moment, we live in a society where a young man carrying nothing more than a bag of Skittles and a drink of ice tea can be killed by a man with a gun in a residential neighborhood… We are outraged and at the same time, we are not surprised.”
She then read a statement from UUA President Rev. Peter Morales.
“My friends: Today’s gathering may be rooted in our collective sorrow and outrage, but I am heartened that you have gathered in solidarity – strong in your sense of community, striving for justice, working together for all that is right and good in the world.
The killing of Trayvon Martin has wounded our spirits, though it is a good sign that the justice system will finally undertake this case. While none of us knows all the details of what happened that day, what we do know is that an unarmed young man was shot to death by someone serving as a vigilante. In response, we raise our voices against the fear, ignorance, and racism that fueled this crime.
The proposed Stand Your Ground law in Massachusetts has sparked fear in our fellow citizens. Expanding the legal use of deadly force can escalate everyday conflicts into deadly encounters. The potential for violence stemming from social prejudices would only be made stronger by such legislation. In response, Unitarian Universalists speak out as people of faith against the danger of this misguided proposal.
In the face of these injustices, however, there is hope. Always, there is hope. We can work together, and we can change the world for the better, as long as we continue to stand on the side of love.”
There were frequent chants of “We are all Trayvon” while another speaker, Paul Marcus, Director of Community Change, who identifies as a white anti-racist said, “People like me also need to own that ‘we are all George Zimmerman’ and hold our communities accountable.”
Following the rally, participants went to the Massachusetts State House to lobby against ‘Stand Your Ground / Shoot to Kill” legislation, which expands the use of deadly force.
See coverage in The Boston Globe including a short video!
The message below went out on Thursday, April 12, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.
I buy a lot of books, some from my local bookstore and some from Amazon. Recently I purchased Van Jones’ new book, “Rebuild the Dream.” I paid for this with my Visa card and it will be shipped to me by Federal Express or UPS. Imagine my shock when I learned that each step of this transaction was providing revenue that supports the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC is the organization that has promoted the “stand your ground” laws highlighted in the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida; Arizona-style, anti-immigrant legislation; laws that undercut voter registration in communities of color; and anti-environmental legislation. Yes it’s true. Amazon, Visa, Federal Express, and UPS all provide substantial support to ALEC. All I can say is: What are they thinking?
In addition to being a customer of these companies, I also have another relationship. As the Treasurer of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I am responsible for overseeing our denomination’s investments, and we hold stock in each one of these companies. I am outraged that these companies are funding ALEC, and shocked that these companies that depend on their relationships with millions of consumers would risk their hard-earned reputations by aligning themselves with ALEC and an agenda that is very often directly harmful to our communities. That’s a bad business decision that hurts us as a shareholder.
In the past days alone, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Wendy’s have all agreed to cut ties with ALEC due to pressure from consumers like you and me. Let’s keep up the pressure.
Please join the leadership of our denomination in asking Amazon, Visa, Federal Express, and UPS to cut their ties with ALEC.
ALEC presents itself as a non-partisan organization “that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and the vigorous exchange of ideas between the public and private sector to develop state based solutions.” Its approach is to bring legislators together with business leaders to work jointly on crafting “model” legislation that can then be introduced, often verbatim, on a state-by-state basis. In addition to promoting “pro-business,” low/no tax legislation, ALEC pushes an ultra-right, pro-gun, anti-immigrant, voter disenfranchisement agenda—and ALEC is enabled by their corporate supporters. The (mostly Republican) state legislators, who make up the membership of ALEC, provide about 1% of the organization’s budget, while the rest comes from companies, many of which you and I do business with every day. None of ALEC’s work would be possible without its corporate funders.
The laws ALEC promotes stand in stark contrast to several of our Unitarian Universalist principles:
SB 1070 and its anti-immigrant copycats violate the spirit of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
Voter I.D. proposals that disproportionately disenfranchise minorities fly in the face of “The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.”
Stand Your Ground legislation has shown how it gets in the way of “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.”
For several years now, the UUA has been working with other investors, including the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees and Walden Asset Management, to promote our values and press companies to disclose their financial relationships with lobbying groups like ALEC. Now we have the best example yet of why these alliances are bad for business and disastrous for our communities. This shareholder coalition has filed resolutions with many leading companies asking for full disclosure of their lobbying and political expenditures. The votes will take place over the coming months. We will continue to pressure them privately and to speak out at their annual shareholder meetings.
But we don’t have to wait. Right now, let’s urge Amazon, Visa, FedEx and UPS to stop funding ALEC. They deserve better company than that. You can join me in sending a message to these companies today.
Click here to urge Amazon, Visa, Federal Express, and UPS—companies the UUA holds shares in—to cut ties with ALEC.
Simply put, companies we do business with should not be aligning themselves with an organization that is doing such incredible harm to our communities.
Unitarian Universalist Association
Post by Taquiena Boston, Director, UUA Office of Multicultural Growth & Witness
* * *
Someone recently asked me my thoughts and feelings about the Trayvon Martin case. It was not an easy question to respond to. “Mostly, I feel like I need a soft place to land,” I answered first. Because, like many African Americans my age, a part of me just feels tired. When will it stop?
There is a song that comes to mind. Ella’s Song, by Sweet Honey in the Rock. They sing:
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons
Like so many, I see loved ones in Travyon’s familiar face. Trayvon looks a lot like Marcus, the son of one of my cousins. I think about how in the wrong circumstances this could have been Marcus at 17 — another smart, pleasant, happy-go-lucky kid who dressed like his peer group. I’m imagining what it must be like for Trayvon’s parents. It’s hard enough to lose a child in such a senseless act of violence. But then, to know that the person who took your child’s life isn’t held accountable for his actions? It must feel to Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton like they have been told “your child’s life is nothing.”
I also think about my nephews. One just had a son. Is this the future we want for our children? When will the time stop when little boys who approach age 12 won’t have to have “that” talk: be careful how you behave, how you carry yourself, where you are seen. Why can’t you just move around in the world being who you are and not have to worry about someone hurting you because of the color of your skin, your age and your gender?
On top of all these thoughts, what I am struggling with most right now is how much young black men are criminalized in our society. The very things young men may be doing to protect themselves from aggression are the same things that make them targets. For instance, I know that as a teen you want to fit in. That’s just part of being that age. And one of the ways you fit in is by dressing like your peer group, because if you stand out, you can be taunted and ostracized. At the same time, wearing the kinds of clothes teens wear, influenced by the media and celebrities, actually makes these young men appear to some like thugs. Projected on them is this image that they are dangerous, when often all they are doing is being teenagers, dressing in ways that identify them with their own generation.
These have been times that I felt a need to be present in community, and particularly African American community. I need to find comfort and solidarity, and also just know what people are thinking and feeling. I have also sought comfort in my faith community. As a member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., it is a helpful to see that my congregation is rallying around this. They are raising this up as a tragedy, as a time to express solidarity, and a time to move beyond the symbolic.
Symbolism is important. Wearing the hoodie says, “Let’s stop judging these young men and stop projecting this image of danger on them.” But we must go deeper, and take a hard look at the emergence of so-called “stand your ground” laws in numerous states. I equate them with apartheid, with Jim Crow laws, and with vagrancy laws put in place during Reconstruction. With “stand your ground” laws in place, how far have we come really?
We must reflect on how stories evolve in the media. There is such a tendency to create heroes and villains, victims and victimizers. We started with a sweet, innocent photograph of a 17-year-old. Then we saw other images, out of context, that tried to offer a rationale for George Zimmerman’s actions. As a person of faith, I am praying for reactions that focus more on what Trayvon Martin’s death symbolizes than on villainizing George Zimmerman.
At times like this, I am thankful to be a Unitarian Universalist. The work I have done in UU community around racial justice has provided crucial context for understanding how we can still be in this place – and how the case of Trayvon Martin represents an element of racism very much alive in our society. This is a 21st century version of racism that has its roots in a long history of deciding who belongs and who doesn’t, whose life is valued and whose life does not—all based on identity.
When we are faced with a situation like this, those of us who identify as Unitarian Universalist may remember the importance we place on continuing to build the world we dream about. We can put into practice and action all of the anti-racism and anti-oppression work we have been doing. We can appreciate we have the Standing on the Side of Love campaign as a platform to publicly express solidarity; to amplify the voices of Trayvon Martin’s family and community, and other communities whose children are victimized and targeted in this way.
Let us continue to use this moment as an opportunity to talk in our congregations about what our role is as UU’s in shedding light on this kind of racism in our society. Let’s examine how youth of color in our congregations can fully know that their congregations aren’t only sympathetic to what they face in their lives daily, but also truly safe spaces of support and caring for them.
All of this is the work of our office—Multicultural Growth and Witness—as well as other offices at the UUA. To help congregations create the capacity to minister effectively, and to provide a container and tools for congregations and communities to reflect and act.
If you are interested in deepening your congregation’s multicultural journey, increasing your cultural competency, and engaging more deeply in anti-oppression and anti-racism work, the UUA has resources to help you do just that. Click here to learn more.
Director, UUA Office of Multicultural Growth & Witness
This post was written by Jesse Jaeger, the Executive Director of UU Mass Action.
Where’s the love? Where’s the redemption?
I am not Trayvon Martin. I did, as a teenager however, have an interaction with a local neighborhood watch that ended very differently because I am white and middle class.
When I was 14 years old, a friend and I snuck out of his parents house in the middle of the night with a 12-pack of stolen beer and a desire to be up to no good. That 12-pack got us good and drunk and we ended up in the parking lot of a local grocery store at about 3 in the morning. It was at that point that I thought it would be a good idea to light a stack of newspapers on fire.
Some local neighborhood watch types saw us, chased us down, and held us until the police showed up. Our parents were called, we ended up in juvenile court, and were sentenced to 8 weekends worth of cleaning up garbage in the parking lot of the grocery store where we lit the papers on fire.
When I look back on this experience all I can think is how lucky I was:
…Lucky because that fire only left a scorch-mark on the side of the building and did not cause any real harm to anyone.
…Lucky because that arrest (my third that year) galvanized my parents to take me and my brother to a Unitarian Universalist church, forever changing my path.
…Lucky because I happened to have been born white and middle class and the act of lighting that fire was seen by the police and neighborhood watch as knucklehead teenage behavior and not something more sinister.
As more details come out of Sanford, Florida, I have repeatedly asked myself, if I were Trayvon Martin, would I even be alive right now? The truth is that if any one of those pieces of luck had gone the other way my life could have been a whole lot different.
Where would I be right now if instead of a scorch mark the building had caught fire and someone was hurt or killed?
Where would I be right now if instead of having parents who cared and started me going to church I was left to my own devices to continue down my path of escalating criminal activity?
Where would I be right now if instead of being white and middle class I was black and/or poor and out in the middle of the night being up to some knucklehead no good? What would have happened to me that night?
The truth is that our graveyards and our prisons are full of mostly young black men who can answer those questions. Our graveyards are full of young black men who have run afoul of the police while either minding their own business–like Trayvon–or being engaged in some knucklehead teenage behavior. They have been shot and killed because they are seen as somehow more sinister or threatening than a white boy. Our prisons are full of people whose luck fell the wrong way or who have made a couple bad decisions and are now serving exceedingly long prison sentences because of mandatory sentencing laws.
When I compare my experience with what happened to Trayvon Martin, I can see more clearly why mandatory sentencing and “3 Strikes” laws are so dangerous. With Trayvon, you have a young man who has committed no crime but who ends up paying the ultimate penalty purely because he is a young black man. I, on the other hand, was offered the chance of redemption because I carry the privileges that go along with being white and middle class. As a young white boy, I was given the benefit of doubt. Young black men are not given that same chance and that is why they are so disproportionally represented in our prison system.
Our Christian Universalist heritage teaches us that all are held in god’s love and everyone gets a chance at redemption. But when young black men are shot and killed for no other reason than for being black; where is the love? When people are sentenced to ever-lengthening prison sentences, sometimes with no chance for parole, where is the redemption?
In Massachusetts, we are fighting against at “3 Strikes” Bill that will dramatically increase the number of crimes that will qualify for life in prison with no chance of parole. UU Mass Action and Unitarian Universalists across the state are lifting up our voices and saying that everyone is held in god’s love and everyone deserves the chance for redemption.