Last November, I lay down with just under a hundred other people on an interstate highway in Minneapolis. Along with thousands in cities across the country, we stopped the cars, we carried signs and we chanted and sang, saying Black Lives Matter in every way that we could. My brother called me from Texas, and said, “Hey, did you shut down I-35 today?” I responded, “Well, yes, me and a few others.” He said, “It made news down here. That’s dope. My freedom fighter sister.” That was just over six months ago, it was the start of what has been a nonstop whirlwind of actions, public witness, and personal challenge for me. It has been hard and I haven’t been alone. I have been fighting for freedom, for the freedom to be human in my Blackness, and the liberation of the most marginalized amongst us.
Black Lives Matter is both an organic, creative, and vibrant ever-evolving movement and it’s a bold strategy that is actually quite simple: center the worth and dignity of all Black people, all Black lives. Every. Single. One. It’s a strategy that centers everyday Black people as leaders, not just the respectable, educated ones.
Next week, July 12 - 18 is WORR, The Week of Righteous Resistance. Will you fight with us? Will you fight against oppression of your human brothers and sisters? Will you fight for human dignity?
Ours is a strategy that calls our own and the world’s attention to the least talked about spaces of oppression within our American culture and Black cultures as well. It demands we shine a light in those spaces where the most marginalized within both American society and Black communities are despised, hated, and a source of shame. These marginalized people include our trans siblings, our incarcerated people, our people experiencing homelessness and those trapped in cycles of poverty in neighborhoods with little access to education, jobs, or stable housing - many of them women and children. It is a movement which centers the Black people who have been denied their most basic right - the right to life. Whether the force of police bullets or a chokehold stole it, the root cause of their deaths is something different and more insidious. These deaths are doorways by which we can see all that ways our society is misaligned with justice, with love, with dignity.
Far too many people attempt to justify the murders of far too many Black people with narratives about their behavior. As if anyone deserves a death sentence for illegally selling cigarettes or out of justifiable fear running from the police. As if their life didn’t matter, as if they have no worth and no dignity because they have made some transgression. Our movement for justice comes from below, it is a lower calling; we say you can make a mistake and still deserve to live. You can be afraid and run from a police officer and you don’t deserve to be shot in the back. We say you can be a 12-year old playing in a park and you don’t deserve to be killed. We say those lives matter. Those Black lives matter, all Black lives matter. We say we love you Rekia Boyd. We love you Aiyana Stanley Jones. We love you Tamir Rice. We love you Mike Brown. We say Black Lives Matter because we love deeply. We are a stolen people, living on a stolen land, and we fight, as we ever have, for our own liberation and yours.
Since the UU denomination is overwhelmingly white, one would think that our first principle as UUs would mean we would be at the forefront of an allied movement for racial justice with Black Lives Matter. One would think that we would be throwing our considerable financial and political resources into supporting the movement and yet, we are not. One would think we would be one of the loudest, one of the most bold and public voices in the movement. And yet, we are not. Yet, all too often I hear but “All lives matter.” I can’t say it any better than Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the movement, when she wrote:
“When Black people get free, everybody gets free. #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control, and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free.”
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Action for Immediate Witness on Support the Black Lives Matter Movement adopted by the delegates at the 2015 General Assembly in June is an important symbolic step in taking action. Black churches in the South are being terrorized, yet again. This moment in history is calling us to sink deeper into a humanity that loves the lowest amongst us, the most marginalized in our world. The love must be made manifest in the world otherwise it is empty.
How many of you reading this will answer the call like Rev. Clark Olsen did in Selma fifty years ago and today? Can you risk discomfort so that others may live? How many of you will risk discomfort to save Black lives? I mean that literally. It is uncomfortable to confront racism in daily life for white people, it is uncomfortable to join in rallies and take action in your own city, in your own neighborhood, in your own life. It is uncomfortable to post things on Facebook for many people that challenge racism. Yet there are literally lives on the line, and mostly they are Black and Brown. It is uncomfortable, but for the vast majority of white people, it will never be life threatening to confront racism.
Once you can answer, with your own heart, and your own sense of faith --whether that faith is with a God, to many Goddesses, or no deity at all -- why Black lives matter, discomfort will not stop you. Fear will not stop you. Lack of a point-by-point plan to take down white supremacy will not stop you. When justice truly beats in your heart, it is an unruly and steady fury that cannot be ignored, cannot be quelled, and will demand your attention and action. Privilege will make that beat hard to hear, and comfort will trick you into thinking your silence will save you. Sacred love is the force beneath justice, when you love all Black people as deeply as your own family, then you will find the courage to help end the killings, the imprisonment, the widespread injustice. There are no other people's children.
Since I joined this movement, I have been catapulted into a new life. It is both harder and easier than I ever imagined. It is difficult to confront white supremacy, it is difficult to know the Mall of America keeps a dossier on me and reported me to an FBI terrorist watch list, it is heart breaking when people in my family, people I thought were friends tell me I should stop or don’t support my efforts. It is tiring to organize on top of working my regular job for the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) and childcare at my church. And yet, my heart has never been so clear.
This coming Sunday is Black Lives Matter Sunday, and this Sunday kicks off the Week of Righteous Resistance. Find something. Do something. Help make the words in the Action of Immediate Witness manifest in the world. Otherwise ours is an anemic, empty faith.
Will you stop waiting for a perfect master plan with the perfect talking points and join the messy fray to transform our own hearts and our own worlds and move deeper into love?
Where will you conjure the courage to love all Black people?
What will you do to make Black lives matter, as they never have before in America?
When Black people get free, everybody gets free.
Lena K. Gardner
Lena K. Gardner is a leader with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. She serves on the UU Church of Larger Fellowship staff, belongs to the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis and recently graduated from United Theological Seminary of The Twin Cities with her MA in Justice and Peace studies.