On January 16, 2016, I was sitting in Wentz Concert Hall on the campus of North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, Naperville, which by the way is 70% white and 5 % black. In this vast auditorium I was surrounded by Unitarian Universalists and many many other people interested in hearing about this new movement “Black Lives Matter”. Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of the movement spoke to us.
She started telling the story of how Black Lives Matter got started: “My friend, Alicia Garza, after the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, posted on Facebook ‘I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter... Our lives matter.’ Then I shared this with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. I was struck by the similarities of Trayvon Martin to my younger brother, Joey, feeling that it could have been him killed instead.” She went on to talk about how the organization Black Lives Matter was advanced by the ongoing killings of black people by police and racial disparities within the U.S. criminal legal system. She talked about violence from the police, mass incarceration, police militarization, and over-criminalization. And then she said how it was important for her to tell us that this movement was truly inclusive. She emphasized that all Black Lives Matter, trans, bi, gay, lesbian people were part of this movement.
I was surprised to hear about this movement being inclusive. In my past conversations with African Americans working on civil rights, usually black pastors, they held very different views of about the LGBTQ community than Patrisse and the others in this movement did. I thought “Black Lives Matter is a movement that Unitarian Universalists could really get behind.”
And many Unitarian Universalists did get behind this movement. Black Lives Matter signs went up outside Unitarian Universalist congregations all over the country. Many of the signs were defaced, torn up, or stolen by people who didn’t understand its meaning or who rejected the idea that Black Lives Matter, or perhaps that Black Lives should Matter. But Unitarian Universalists persisted, putting up new signs after old ones were damaged. As a matter of fact, my mother, who is a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church: Thoreau Richmond Campus in Richmond, Texas, west of Houston, told me they just put up their Black Lives Matter sign a few weeks ago—many of the congregation showed up with their masks on to celebrate its being raised on their campus, and then she told me it was torn down last week. And, despite the Coronavirus and social distancing, the congregation repaired it and it’s in front of their church building once again.
Putting up a Black Lives Matter banner or flag is taking a highly visible stand and holds meaning for those within a congregation as well as those outside a congregation. Putting up a Black Lives Matter banner is a public declaration that we accept responsibility for the physical banner and what it means to Black lives and what it calls us to be and to do. It means we believe that this movement is so important that we will keep that message on our property so that others will know that we affirm Black Lives Matter and if someone decides to deface it or destroy it, that we will replace it again and again, if necessary. It means we will persist.
I also believe putting up a Black Lives Matter banner or flag is about knowing and embracing the meaning it holds for black lives and what it calls us to be and do. We will need to know in advance how to respond to someone who says that all lives matter.
What do you see in this cartoon? Most of our houses are not on fire. Yes, our lives—all lives--are important and need care and attention. But what about black homes, black lives? Our systems of white supremacy affect black lives disproportionally, and their metaphorical houses have been on fire for over 400 years. They suffer injustice after injustice. And that has to stop. And we are the ones who have to stop it.
Black Lives Matter is a call to action to bring our attention to the issues that black people face in this country, and in this world. It does not denigrate or cheapen others’ lives, to uplift black lives by becoming antiracists. We can work to change laws and policies that support institutional racism. We can bring justice to the injustices that black people face. We can confront racism when we see it in the words and deeds of others. Yes, we can.
Let’s read this sign. “We said, Black Lives Matter. Never said, Only Black Lives Matter. We know All Lives Matter. We just need your help with #Black Lives Matter for Black Lives are in Danger.” This is what you might say when asked why we don’t say “All Lives Matter.” Black lives are in danger right now.
So the question is, I ask you is this: is the message “Black Lives Matter” a message that this congregation affirms and promotes? Is it congruent with our Principles: we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Raising a Black Lives Matters banner here is something we decide as a group to either do or not do. It means we co-discern what Black Lives Matter means to us individually and as a congregation. It means we each make a good faith effort to articulate that meaning when we face push-back to it. It means we will need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk if this banner is put on our property.
Today, I will be sending out an email to all of the members of this congregation to ask you if you support putting up a Black Lives Matter banner or flag on our campus. The email will contain a survey monkey survey. The leadership of this church will review the results of this survey and let you know how we will proceed. This decision is about who we choose to be and what we represent as a community. Please respond to the survey. If you need further discernment and want to talk, I and other members of the Social Justice Committee are willing to listen and engage in non-judgmental dialogue. We say every Sunday that love is the spirit of this faith. I ask you to look in your hearts, and examine your thoughts around displaying a Black Lives Matter banner or flag at UU Miami. Let’s show the world that love truly is the spirit of this faith.
My friends, we can all be more than we are at this moment. The decision you will make about this banner will not only be about today, it will be about tomorrow and the day after that and all the days after that.