Fighting for racial equality spurred both men’s work.
The Rev. Mel Hoover received the 2013 Distinguished Service Award to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism at the UUA’s annual convention, in Louisville, Ky., recognizing his work in antiracism, antioppression, community building, gender equality, and environmental justice, and his role in shaping the path of faithful justice-making in the UUA.
Charlie King, a member of First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, N.Y., for 50 years, received the President’s Award for Volunteer Service.
Lew Phinney, a member of the UUA Board of Trustees, presented the award to Hoover, saying: “When the biblical writer advised those setting out to do holy work to be ‘as wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove,’ he must have anticipated Mel Hoover’s appearance on the scene in the twentieth century. Mel is a truth seeker, truth speaker, collaborator, networker, and community builder. His ministry is filled with gifts of the spirit—grace, hope, and courage. Where others see injustices and fall into despair, Mel looks for ways to make new paths.”
Since 2002 the co-minister of the UU Congregation of Charleston, W.Va., along with his wife, the Rev. Rose Edington, Hoover served on the UUA staff from 1987 to 2002 as an advocate for racial inclusiveness, including ten years as co-director of the Faith in Action staff group.
Delegates gave Hoover a standing ovation as he accepted the award. Hoover came to the podium with his wife, several friends, and a photograph of his brother, Felix. Hoover had wanted his brother to be with him when he received the award, but Felix died a month earlier.
Hoover spoke of first learning of Unitarian Universalism watching white people march among black civil rights activists in Selma, Ala. He found out they were Unitarian Universalists, and he wanted to know them better.
He recalled the first efforts within the UUA to start a Black Concerns Working Group, with an annual budget of $5,000. It’s important, Hoover said, to ask where the institutions we believe in put their money. “Where are we placing our money in terms of our values?” he asked. “I’ll never have this stage again, but I’m going to keep asking that question.”
Hoover expressed hope that the UUA has made strides in its antioppression and antiracism work. He said he felt “just a little hope” watching the UUA’s annual “bridging” ceremony for youth entering young adulthood, where young UUs of color were embraced and cheered by their white peers.
Despite the years of struggle and progress, Hoover said that more work needs to be done to end oppression. “The journey is not over yet,” he said. “I stand here today in hope that you and we someday may not just stand on the side of love, but stand in the midst of love together.”
Earlier in the week, Hoover helped lead a rally against climate change on the banks of the Ohio River, a protest that attracted 2,000 UUs and climate activists. Building on his clean energy advocacy, he presented the UUA with a large book called Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth. In closing, Hoover said he hoped it would help in the next phase of the UUA’s work.
UUA President Peter Morales presented the President’s Annual Award for Volunteer Service to Charlie King, calling him “a strong and tireless advocate for racial equality, for the rights of people with disabilities, for creating a culture of generosity to support Unitarian Universalism well into the future.”
King has been a leader at his Brooklyn congregation and in the association for five decades. As president of his congregation in the 1970s, he helped smooth relationships with UUA leadership and the Black UU Caucus.
His service on the General Assembly Planning Committee reshaped GA in many ways. He was instrumental in incorporating daily worship and in developing accessibility services at GA. Most recently, he served on the UUA Board of Trustees for nearly eight years.
King began to embrace Unitarian Universalism in 1955, when he wrote a story in support of integration for his college newspaper. The dean confiscated the essay and destroyed it prior to publication. But, Morales said, “Charlie and his friends went through the trash, pieced together a proof, and brought it to the local paper. The next morning it was published, picked up by the Associated Press, and plastered across the country.” Within a year, King joined a UU church and became a lay minister.
Morales presented King with a plaque and said the UUA will give $1,000 to a charity of King’s choice.
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Michelle Bates Deakin, a member of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, Massachusetts, was a UU World contributing editor from 2006 to 2011 and a UU World senior editor from 2011 to 2014. She is the author of Social Action Heroes: Unitarian Universalists Who Are Changing the World (Skinner House, 2011) and Gay Marriage, Real Life: 10 Stories of Love and Family (Skinner House, 2006).