Many of us here in New Jersey have already seen the headlines, probably multiple times. Perhaps you watched the emotionally wrenching videos of police in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, Minnesota shooting black men–to death–with no clear probable cause or justification. And have thought, “Again?? How is this possible?!”
The facts on these individual cases will continue to come forth. What is clear beyond any reasonable doubt–and has been for some time now–is that black Americans are being shot and killed, out of any possible proportion or rational response, by the very people charged to protect American life and liberty.
We are neighbors, living in the same state, and we are Unitarian Univeralists. We are called to shout and mourn, to lament what is happening to our brothers and sisters privately and in our worship. We are also called to “give them garlands instead of ashes” in the words of the well-loved hymn.
We see and honor and curse over the ashes. And then we reach for the garlands, for our children, for the future we build together. Here are some suggestions for mourning our murdered African-American dead–and too many have been murdered, make no mistake–and for rising up, singing.
1) Reach out to local black organizing groups and churches.
As called for this week by the Black Lives UU (BLUU) national organizing group, as an initial step we can at the very least offer our buildings and meeting space as sanctuaries and gathering points for African-American organizers and volunteers. Follow this linkfor more information–including tips on how white allies can best help and inadvertently hurt during such a traumatizing moment in time.
2) Ask your minister or worship coordinator to include a lament at the start of the service next Sunday. We ask for prayers and words of mourning and calls for atonement during this time in the wilderness, when white Americans struggle to own their history and combat the long effects of institutional racism while people of color too often struggle simply to survive.
3) Contact your person in NJ state and national government to keep the focus on police training, accountability and transparency.
Don’t think senators, assembly people, town mayors or police chiefs will pay attention to your call or email? Think again. At the very least, THEY COUNT. Let’s get our voices heard and keep the heat on elected officials to halt police violence against people of color.
4) Find out who is working on the UU Black Lives Matter! movement in your congregation and see how you can pitch in. Most likely there is someone, or even a group, that has committed themselves to doing the soul-growing work of confronting institutionalized racism within the context of our First UU Principle, “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.’
5) Join us: the UULMNJ, the voice for social justice action and long term reform in your home state.
That’s us, the UU Legislative Ministry of New Jersey. We have an active and effective Criminal Justice Task Force and are at the forefront of UU groups using the lens of institutionalized racism to work for comprehensive and lasting immigration, reproductive and environmental justice, gun violence prevention and reform, among others.
We are with you at this wrenching time. We have been working hard for years now, and will continue to do so to ensure that, someday, the killings in Ferguson, Waller TX, Baltimore, Baton Rouge and too many other places will stop. I hope you find the resolve to do something in your congregation and your life to bring garlands instead of ashes. Let us know how we can help.
In faith and abiding hope,
Rev. Rob Gregson