The Rev. Danielle Assunta Di Bona received the UUA’s 2018 award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism, the Association’s highest honor, for her more than thirty years of service to the faith. Presenting the award Friday morning at the UUA General Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, Christina Rivera, Secretary of the UUA Board of Trustees, declared that “If Unitarian Universalism as a faith has a chaplain, it is Danielle Assunta Di Bona.”
The award commendation pointed to Di Bona’s instrumental work in helping define what antiracism, antioppression, and multiculturalism look like for Unitarian Universalism. “You are a steady, and sometimes fiery, presence in drawing UUs into conversations around ARAOMC and white supremacy, and then holding them in that space as they experience hurt, shame, anger, reflection, laughter, and resolution to begin again,” Rivera read.
Di Bona served ministry positions at congregations throughout New England, was an antiracism program associate for the UUA, advised the UUA’s Nominating Committee on diversifying committee membership, mentored religious professionals in their ministerial formation, has been a facilitator for Beyond Categorical Thinking workshops, and is a past president of DRUUMM (Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries). Though retired, Di Bona serves on the Board of Trustees for the Church of the Larger Fellowship and is a palliative care chaplain at community hospitals.
During the 2001 General Assembly in Cleveland, Ohio, Di Bona helped coordinate a public witness event, which included Native American activists and the United Church of Christ, protesting the racist name and mascot of the city’s baseball team. Hundreds of UUs turned out to protest—at one point getting drenched in a heavy thunderstorm—outside of a baseball game at Jacobs Field.
But it is Di Bona’s chaplain work that the citation particularly highlighted. Presenting the award, Rivera said, “Time and time again, you have offered yourself to Unitarian Universalism as the minister to come to in times of trouble, when grief is present and threatening to overwhelm, when anger is so palpable you can see it shimmer in the air, when joy and laughter are to be found. These are the times we find you at the center.”
Di Bona has been a chaplain for General Assembly, DRUUMM, and Finding Our Way Home, and currently serves as chaplain to the UUA Board of Trustees.
Di Bona identifies as biracial (half Wampanoag Indian), and the commendation especially lifted up the profound impact of her chaplain work with people of color: “You too have been brought to the very brink of despair in Unitarian Universalism. Where any reasonable person would consider just throwing in the towel . . . it is your capacity to viscerally know those depths of despair and yet help the person you are ministering to transform that despair into a resiliency, a core of strength that brings our Ancestors to the center, and then witnesses our collective joy at faith reborn. That is what we honor here today.”
In an emotional acceptance speech, Di Bona expressed her deep gratitude for the award. She also described how there was a time when she—and other young, loud, angry UU people of color who refused to be silenced—felt shunned by and banished from the faith before eventually being “welcomed back into the circle of love and care of Unitarian Universalism,” though she’d never left. She urged the audience not to make the same mistake with today’s young people of color. “Listen to those young, angry, loud people of color . . . because you are given another chance and you may never, never get it again.” Listen, she said, and more importantly follow. “Open your eyes, and close your mouths, and follow so that we can be part of and build a beloved community.”
The UUA is awarding two Distinguished Service Awards this year, after awarding none in 2017. The other award will be presented to the Rev. Dr. Charles A. Gaines at General Assembly on Saturday.