In a stirring GA Talk during the Friday morning session, Amanda Weatherspoon, a third-year seminarian at Starr King School for the Ministry, and Kenny Wiley, UU World senior editor and director of faith formation at Prairie UU Church near Denver, Colorado, situated contemporary Unitarian Universalism in relation to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement did not start in response to Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, said Weatherspoon, but had been created by two queer women of color in response to Trayvon Martin’s death in 2013.
Wiley shared how he felt called to act following Mike Brown’s death in August 2014, but could find no local Denver actions. “I paused and laughed at myself,” he said. “I knew what this meant. I took a deep breath, and though I was not an organizer, I began to type a twitter post. Nine months and dozens of actions, meetings, and witnesses later, here I am.”
Weatherspoon addressed common criticisms of the movement: the appropriateness of public uprisings and calls for leadership and accountability. All she would say about public uprisings, she said, is to refer to Audre Lord’s words, “The master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.” As for leadership, she said it is distributed, and noted that the movement goes far beyond the public uprisings that catch media attention. “This movement does not only take place on the streets.”
In looking for a UU theology for #BlackLivesMatter, Wiley said, “the First Principle of Unitarian Universalism . . . stands as an unrealized promise. It is a map of the work done centuries and decades ago, and a map of the work yet to do.” He went on to name those who created “the long legacy of those willing to live out the idea that every person truly has inherent worth and dignity,” from Lydia Maria Child to Viola Liuzzo.
#BlackLivesMatter is a fight, he said, “to demand more out of the First Principle, and a more perfect faith. Right now we as Unitarian Universalists are being called to act. We are being called by our ancestors–those who demanded that we help end slavery, that we fight for suffrage, that we join the struggle to end Jim Crow, that we listen to Black Power.”
Wiley shared an impassioned litany of the marginalized groups to whom Unitarian Universalists have said, “Your life matters.” He drew the inevitable conclusion that this line of concern extends to the lives of young Black people, and the audience rose to chant with him, “Black lives matter!”