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No Second Chances, Only Many First Ones

The other night, I returned from the store with my groceries in tow, and in a rush I tried to bring them all into the house too quickly – making two trips, when I ought to have made three or four. I set the first batch of bags on an empty space on the kitchen counter, even though it was not a wise place to put them: there were too many bags, and not enough space for them. I went back out to the car for the rest, and on my way back in I heard it – the crash of one of those bags slipping off the counter and onto the floor. It happened to be full of apples, which tumbled and scattered across the kitchen floor, rolling under chairs and over to the heating grate. I responded with exasperation and some words I won’t repeat here.

As mistakes go, my sloppy, hurried chore work had a very low cost. The apples were salvageable, and not badly bruised – they’ll most likely all still be eaten. But there is no denying that what happened happened, that however little the repercussions for my family’s fruit supply, there’s no way to undo it, exactly. Spill a glass of milk and you can clean up the mess, get out a fresh glass, and fill it up with milk again. But that first glass was still lost; there’s no getting it back. And while objects are usually fairly interchangeable, people never are. When our choices and our mistakes affect others, the stakes become dramatically higher.

In the late 1960s, Unitarian Universalism (like every other movement or organization in the United States) was faced with a profound moral challenge. The struggle for racial justice – which was, then as now, older than the republic, and which had been marked and defined by violence and suffering since the first beginnings of colonization and slave-holding in this hemisphere – had reached such a degree of visible intensity that white people and predominantly-white institutions all across the social and political spectrum were forced to grapple with growing demands for societal transformation. Our movement had, in its history up to then, made some laudable contributions to the goal of racial equity and a truly just society. We also had a sorry number of failures to our name. Our Association of Congregations received a new opportunity to act or fail to act when a campaign of black Unitarian Universalists called for the creation of a major new initiative to support people of African descent within our movement.

Their demand – the creation of the Black Affairs Council, and its funding for a sum of one million dollars spread over four years (an enormous sum to our small institution in 1968) – was initially approved by the elected delegates of our General Assembly. They were bold enough to do this, over-ruling a more middle-of-the-road proposal from the Board and President of the Association. The work began; grants were distributed and new efforts were undertaken, including programs to foster the real, full inclusion of black people within our existing congregations, and to form new congregations specifically devoted to reaching out to black communities. Unfortunately, the project did not last even for those four initial years. Many white leaders (and some black leaders) within the movement disagreed with the organizing strategy of the Black Affairs Council, which they saw as being based on separation, rather than integration. The BAC had overwhelming support from people of color within the Association, and sizeable support from our white membership, especially among the younger leaders. But the conflict was enough to get the amount of money set aside for BAC in its second year reduced from $250,000 to $200,000. This came across to many as a vital promise irreparably broken. The BAC and its program essentially collapsed, and a painfully large number of black (and some white) Unitarian Universalists (an entire generation of leaders) left the movement in anger and despair.

I recount all of this to you now, because of what happened just this past month. The Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism organizing collective – a contemporary effort by black Unitarian Universalist leaders – presented its program to support and expand the role and visibility of black people within our movement to the Board of Trustees of our Association. Our national Board voted to fund BLUU with $300,000 immediately, and a guarantee of $5,000,000. That’s a less than the value of one million 1968 dollars would be adjusted to 2016, but it’s in the same ballpark – a dramatic, and serious commitment of our common resources. The Board has expressed its determination to make the visionary choice and see it through this time. There are no second chances, but there are frequently new first ones. Finding, and following them, is the challenge.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

 

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First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915

978-922-3968

Office Hours: Mon 8:00 - 11:00 am & Tue-Fri 8:00 am - 12:00 pm

office@firstparishbeverly.org

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