On matters of racial justice, everyone has a critical role to play, says the Rev. Julie Taylor, a Unitarian Universalist community minister in the St. Louis area, who has been deeply involved in protests and community organizing since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
“We all have a job to do in this, okay? These are our people, and this is our time,” said Taylor, who from week one was on the streets of Ferguson during protests, working with other clergy to protect protesters.
UUs in the St. Louis area have made a strong commitment to the movement for racial justice, showing up at protests, vigils, rallies, and community-building events across the metro region all year and continuing to do so, noted Taylor, who moved to St. Louis three years ago with her wife, a professor at Eden Theological Seminary.
Taylor believes that fears about “respectability” keep some UUs from jumping wholeheartedly into the current civil rights movement. Some are put off by street protests, others by what they perceive as the anger or rowdiness of the Black Lives Matter movement. “We are ‘a gentle, angry people,’ but we also need a pissed-off, angry people,” Taylor said. “Protests feed the urgency for policies to be created.”
Taylor isn’t afraid to be provocative in her justice work. At an August 10 protest in St. Louis she wore her clergy collar and a T-shirt that read “RACE TRAITOR.” “I am a traitor to my white race,” she said, “because I am actively doing what I can to dismantle systems that grant me privilege because I am white.”
The key to being effective in racial justice work is building and sustaining relationships. “If I had just walked out in the streets in my whiteness, not knowing St. Louis, that may not be as helpful,” said Taylor, who has been with the UU Trauma Response Ministry since 2007. “Just showing up because your heart calls you to a place you don’t know and saying, ‘I’m here to help!’ can be seen as self-deploying and it’s almost always a terrible idea.”
The four St. Louis-area congregations comprise a tight-knit group of ministers and congregants with a strong history of working together on racial and social justice issues. “Luckily those relationships were in place for some time and working on some really specific things in the summer of 2014 before Michael Brown was killed, so those pieces were already in place,” she said. “That made a big difference moving into the crisis we had here.”
Taylor also had relationships through Eden Theological Seminary, which counts many St. Louis faith leaders as alumni and became an organizing hub after Brown’s death. “When the stuff hit the fan, those relationships could come together and provide a basis to work in a very directed way,” she said. “I was able to plug into the bigger movement within the first few days. I could say, ‘I’m here, what do you want me to do?’”