Natalia Averett thinks big. She dreams of living in a world influenced by Unitarian Universalist values. And she is doing her part to make that happen.
Averett’s goal is to connect the UU community to the non-UU world. It’s a goal she pursues from deep within Unitarian Universalism. She holds positions as both president of her congregation, the 845-member UU Church of Arlington, Va., and as a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees, representing the Joseph Priestley District. Although she is a leader of her congregation and the association, she believes her service is primarily to UUs outside of both.
“The people in congregations are a smaller percentage of people [who consider themselves UU] than those outside of congregations,” said Averett. “The leadership of the UUA is not the beginning and end of Unitarian Universalism, and our congregations are not the beginning and end of Unitarian Universalism. We’re part of an entire community that is very large. To harness that would be great.”
At 29, Averett is also a spokeswoman for young adults on the UUA board. She describes herself as “a black, bisexual, gender-nonconforming woman” born to a mother from the United States and a father from Honduras.* Her upbringing and her identity can lead her to approach board topics with a “different mindset,” she said.
The board is striving to be multicultural, Averett said, but is still trying to figure out what that would look like in terms of personal actions and accountability. “There are ways in which entire groups of people who have lived in the U.S. and were raised by people born in the U.S. have ways of approaching thinking about topics. If you have enough people with the same mindset and the same way of processing the information, there is no way to get to a new way of making decisions.”
She says the process is at once frustrating and a learning opportunity. And she is excited about the potential for what the board can achieve. “I really want to be able to make a difference for Unitarian Universalism in the world, and I think being on the board is one way to do that,” she said. At the same time, she believes it’s not possible for a single person to make changes. “It has to be in the context of an entire culture,” she said.
Averett discovered Unitarian Universalism as a teenager growing up in Brockton and Boston, Mass., and in Providence, R.I. Her family didn’t go to a UU church, but many of her friends did, and she would attend social justice events at UU churches. She identified with UU beliefs, she said, and began to call herself a UU, but didn’t join a church. She said, “When I filled out my college applications, I put down that I was UU.”
Averett graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., where she majored in international relations with a focus in comparative Latin American politics and studied economics, women’s studies, and black studies.* She now works as an industrial security specialist for a government consulting firm, which she says has nothing to do with any of her majors.
This is Averett’s second and final year as president of her Arlington, Va., congregation. Her presidency overlapped for one year of her two-year term on the UUA board. She liked the idea of serving a two-year term on the UUA board before the board downsizes next year. And she relished the thought of running in a contested election to become a trustee. “I’m not personally a fan of having a nominating committee that gives us as many candidates as there are open seats,” Averett said.
She has had a busy tenure as congregation president, assuming the top spot during the same month as when the senior minister announced his retirement. The congregation has also been in the midst of a capital campaign. It has raised twice its original goal of $3 million, instead raising $6 million toward parking lot, landscaping, and building renovations. The Arlington church is adding a conference center, which will provide space for community social justice groups as well as for the Joseph Priestley District of the UUA.
Averett is active herself in local social justice organizations, especially the DC HIV Prevention Community Planning Group and D.C. Outfront, an Amnesty International group focused on LGBTQ rights.
On the UUA board, Averett sits on the Governance Working Group, the Right Relationship Monitoring Committee, and the committee charged with creating a work plan for the board to complete before its size is reduced from 26 to 14 next year.
She is also helping to arrange next January’s board meeting, which will take place in Philadelphia, within the Joseph Priestley District. Averett said she is looking forward to showcasing some of the district’s model programs in leadership development and its directors in racial justice and young adult programs.
To all her work, she brings a hope to create a “UU kind of world,” she said. That’s a world where Unitarian Universalists can be a resource and promote their values “without needing to pull people into organizations that are UU. We would become a strong influence and resource for people.”
Correction 6.19.12: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Averett’s parents’ nationalities. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph. An earlier version of this story also misstated Averett’s undergraduate degree. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.
An abridged version of this article appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of UU World (“Young adult brings ‘different mindset,” page 40).
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