Public witness event features interfaith leaders, young adults.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II preaches at the General Assembly public witness event. (© Christopher L. Walton/UUA)
In a rousing and inspiring rally Thursday night for broad-based justice that brought the standing-room-only crowd to its feet many times, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, UUA President Peter Morales, and others exhorted the crowd of Unitarian Universalists to say “enough!” to white supremacy, classism, homophobia, and “other kinds of violence perpetrated by fear,” as Morales said.
Barber, who said injustice, inequality, and oppression evince a “heart problem” in the nation, said it is “dangerous to mess with the heart; if the heart malfunctions, the whole body gets sick.” He called upon UUs and people of faith to “stop what you’re doing” and “keep shocking the heart.” As the audience leapt to its feet clapping and cheering, he shouted, over and again, “It’s time to shock this nation!”
Due to concerns about heavy rains, GA’s public witness event, “State of Emergence,” was moved from the steps of the Ohio Statehouse to a large auditorium in the Columbus Convention Center, where UUs—many in yellow Standing on the Side of Love shirts—yelled and stamped their feet. The rains never materialized, and the change in venue did nothing to dampen the loud and enthusiastic reception to the speakers, especially Barber’s high-energy, call-and-response vocal style and message of love and tolerance. Music by the Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost, including “Say Her Name,” in support of transgender rights, filled the air.
Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, the National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, read words from Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, who was unable to attend GA: “I want to congratulate Black Lives UU for helping shape this moment. You have organized more Black UUs to be here at this assembly than have ever been here before, and for that you deserve to be commended.” Through Simpson, Garza also said, “Black Lives UU need your support, trust and love … Unitarian Universalism needs to be a spiritual resource for folks that need it, so we need to make this a space where black people thrive [in order to] fight like hell to become the change we seek.”
Standing on stage with the Rev. John Dorhauer, president of the United Church of Christ, Naeem Baig, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Morales said, “I stand here with other leaders of religious faiths, and they too have had enough.”
“We come from different traditions and yet we are one, united in the struggle for justice and compassion. That means supporting the struggle for Black Lives Matter,” Morales said. “Together we are so much stronger. We recommit ourselves to standing on the side of love, and we are one.”
The speakers emphasized the need for action in support of racial justice and against oppression and violence against any group. “The world will tear itself apart if religious leaders continue to foster hatred and fear of ‘the other,’” said Dorhauer. “We respond to a Creator who fashioned us in her image and called us good." Said Jacobs, “The God we love is impatient with injustice,” adding, “God knows Black Lives Matter, so why don’t all Americans know that?”
Referencing the Orlando massacre at PULSE nightclub ten days ago, when a Muslim man committed mass murder, Baig said, “Inviting us here means a lot to us, especially because Muslims are in the media for all the wrong reasons. Brothers and sisters, I am a Muslim and my faith teaches me to be respectful, kind, and merciful towards my fellow human beings.” He added, “All of the Orlando killer's actions violate Islam."
The Rev. Lane Campbell, minister of religious education at First UU Church of Columbus, noted that twenty-three-year-old Henry Green was shot dead by plainclothes Columbus, Ohio, police in early June, and said, “We are calling out the violence of the racist police and we aren’t going to stop.” She asked the audience to sign a petition to be delivered to the Columbus City Council seeking justice for Green.
Malaya Davis of the Ohio Student Association told how her eight-year-old brother was shot in November by plainclothes police in Cleveland, and said her organization is working to stop the trend of plainclothes police patrolling neighborhoods. "Young black people can no longer be looked at as target practice," Davis said, before leading the crowd in song.
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.
Kenny Wiley was a UU World senior editor from 2015 to 2018. His writing has also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, and Skyd Magazine.