April 21, 2017
Dear UUA Board,
I woke up this morning, remembering how much gratitude I have to Black organizing and people of color led movements. I also recalled how often Unitarian Universalism has lauded itself on involvement in civil rights movements, and movements that emerged from and followed the lead of Black and brown organizers (in struggles for GLBT rights, marriage equality, women’s rights, youth movements). I sat in gratitude for how these leaders, scholars, theologians, and ministers have shaped me.
Fourteen years ago, my own role and voice on the UUA Board as the first voting youth trustee-at-large was indebted to this history in tangible ways. I recall feeling the support and the charge from youth of color organizers and their allies in YRUU and the Groundwork Collective– those who were naming their realities and putting into practice the lessons from Black and POCI movement elders in our own faith community, and those leaders across the US working across gender and class to win and struggle for racial justice. Two of my mentors and peers from that time are among you: Elandria Williams and Gregory Boyd.
I admit then it felt like immense pressure, and I felt inadequate every step of the way. When the two-year term came to a close, I sobbed through the entire Trustee farewell party. The ENTIRE PARTY. As I observe and dig into this moment and observe your meetings, I am beginning to understand more of the reasons I cried a blend of happy-sad tears that day. I am curious if some of your tears, dear Board members, are of a similar blend.
Today, I see our faith as more broken-open than broken down. I observe more opportunity than fear. I know that $5.3 million for Black Lives of UU is a big commitment, but not nearly as big as what Unitarian Universalism has already accomplished and applauded itself for, on the backs of Black, people of color, and indigenous peoples’ organizing. As a white UU, this turning point represents an opportunity to more fully inhabit my faith: to integrate the part of my faithfulness and call to leadership that have been in deep gratitude and indebtedness to Black and POC organizing, and still broken-hearted, dreaming old dreams not-my-own of what a liberating faith might look like. I know there is JOY in following the leadership of people of color in ministry and in religious education. White people have meaningful work to do, for which there is no substitute or alternative in building a Beloved Community. I am so grateful to be able to witness Black and POCI leadership, and to be listening deeply enough to follow. This is a life force. It keeps me tethered to my faith.
Uncomfortable is not a crisis. It is a necessary step in a movement of embodying the vision of a transformative faith.
At 33 and still starting out in ministry, I hope to welcome at least a couple of generations into the religion you are unearthing and affirming right now. Thank you.
One of the most memorable imperatives I recall from my time on the UUA Board was the advice, “don’t forget to count the ‘Yes’ votes.” At times, voices supporting our actions would feel softer or quieter than the no’s, than the fear, than the threats, than the spewed and spun misinformation. There is a tremendous YES for what you are collaborating in right now–authorizing funding of BLUU, for bringing three brilliant and fiercely relational interim co-presidents, and for redesigning hiring processes — for countering white supremacy and not shying away from complexity and ambiguity. Yes, yes, yes.
I am grateful for your leadership and eager to support this transformation. Keep going!
Megan R. Dowdell
Visiting Asst Professor of Ethics and Society, Starr King School for the Ministry
UUA Board, 2003-2005
UUA Commission on Appraisal, 2007-2015