My Thoughts and Insights Regarding My Attendance at General Assembly 2017
from Anti-Racism and White Supremacy Perspectives
by Helena Showell
Attending General Assembly in New Orleans for the first time was a powerful experience for me, full of inspiration, exhortation, encouragement, learning, and reflection! GA impacted my life in astounding ways that will be with me a long time! I was able to return with ideas and thoughts that I can, perhaps, use in my work of service and spiritual practice as Worship Associate and within my own personal life.
A very special, dignified, and articulate speaker, Dr. Sanyika, aptly set the overall tone and foundation for me pertaining to strongly addressing anti-racism and White supremacy and how truly Unitarian Universalism must adhere to its purest roots, if it hopes to become the force of positive uplifting and transformative change in our turbulent worlds. During the third General Session in which the business of the Association is conducted, African American speaker, Dr. Sanyika exclaimed and exhorted,
History has a way of choosing us; we don’t choose history. We are used by history
to reconcile humanity unto itself. Unitarian Universalism, at its finest and its best,
is an instrument to transform humanity so that it can evolve to its highest level of consciousness and potential; and it must be constantly vigilant to denounce all forms
of human oppression, exploitation, degradation, domination, and control in any form
that it comes! UUism, at its best, is a transformative agent for justice and liberation
and peace in the world…at its best!! But it can’t do that if it marginalizes humanity.
If it leaves anyone out at the table, you cannot fulfill that mission. You cannot fulfill
that mission by being partial to some and not fair with all. Justice and equity must
define who you are and what you do with whom you claim to be. Because, it’s not just
saying what you believe that matters; it’s what you do with it…BLUU [Black Lives
of Unitarian Universalism] is striving to speak Truth to power!…The virus of racism
and white supremacy is still around us! It metastasizes… Considering Black
Humanism is so critical to the success of future UUism! …Human agency is at the
center of transformation, but you can’t do it without divine reconciliation! …There
can be no humanism without discussing Black Humanism!
Video of Dr Sanyika’s GA presentation:
In planning for GA, I had determined to pace wisely myself, as much as possible, regarding workshops and activities to gain the most from my time. There was a combination of GA workshops/programs and BLUU workshops/programs from which to choose. During opening night, the opening business meeting/celebration, I was so excited (clapping my hands to the music) to see the celebration march that showed all the church banners lead by a lively jazz band, whose music was so uplifting and bouncy!
In writing this piece and for the sake of being concise, I decided to just concentrate on the workshops/activities focusing on anti-racism, white supremacy, and Black UU enrichment/support. The first workshop I attended was open to all: Black UUers and POCIers (People of Color and Indigenous) and White allies/supporters/observers, “Black Power Challenges Liberal Religion: Fifty Years Later”. This workshop discussed the journey of UU denominational attitudes and actions pertaining to the support and non-support of Black UUs and Black Americans over a 50-year span, from 1967 approximately to our present day. UU and national events occurred 50 years ago that have a strong relationship to what is occurring in our faith tradition today! The turnout of attendees was huge with dozens of people listening in rapt attention. We POCIers have been here since the UU inception of our collaborative faith, and we are an integral, crucial part of its foundation! I listened with astonishment to the main speaker, Dr. Sanyika, (aka Baba Sanyika) who spoke so eloquently, and his words were deeply moving. His wise words awed me and uplifted my flagging spirits. Why? Because fighting racism and white supremacy on a daily basis exhaust you, makes you ill, and is disheartening. Dr. Sanyika’s speech gave me hope and a sense of fulfillment, like I’m here for a purpose (or purposes), at this critical juncture in history, in the right time and space! The core of what Dr. Sanyika stated during this much longer speech is referenced to his quoted material in the first paragraph. The work of dismantling white supremacy and establishing healthy self-determination and community-building for POCIers is multi-generational. Each generation must arise from obscurity and find its own mission. Each generation must teach and share with multiple generations, gaining wisdom, enlightenment, and strength from one another.
Attending a BLUU worship service as one of the worship associates and regular attendees fed my soul and elevated my mind and my spirit! I was able to experience, feel, and learn what it might be like to have a UU service arranged from a POCIer perspective, replete with worship themes, music, and commentary. I was one of two readers who dramatically read a stupendous passage, “The Clearing”, from author Toni Morrison’s book, “Beloved”. Our readings deeply moved and affected the audience. We listened to other readers and their readings, also. The songs and music were so inspiring and absolutely thrilling. The entire worship service was interactive, with clapping, dancing, and supportive, encouraging remarks. The homily/message/sermon about reclamation was timely and life-affirming Truthfully, the entire affair could be described as a healing service!
Another workshop that I found absolutely fulfilling pertained to studying and singing African American spirituals from our two UU faith hymnals, Singing the Living Tradition and Singing the Journey. The audience was comprised dozens of UUers and, perhaps, guests in a large room. An African-American choir/music leader led this workshop, which reminded me of being in a service of praise and worship. She discussed the background of the songs, how the intonations, beats, melodies, and rhythms should be handled, and even how to move our bodies. Two people and I shared our hymnals, and by the time we finished the workshop, everyone was enraptured, smiling, talking, and clapping! Between the BLUU worship service and this workshop, I’ve brought back possible ideas for worship at USG.
Lastly, the Ware Lecture featuring, lecturer and speaker, Bryan Stevenson, was right on point! He wrote the book, Just Mercy, which is the UUA’s Common Read Book for 2015-16. I was totally astounded and mesmerized, as was the audience of several thousands, with Mr. Stevenson’s dynamic words! He highlighted key points such as having active hope, going beyond your comfort zone to get things done, changing the racial/historical narrative in this country so that better justice, wisdom, mercy, and TRUTH prevail, and one other key point. I ordered his book through my local library, and the book is awaiting me. I can’t wait to read his book, for Mr. Stevenson offers numerous life lessons in the book for the individual, community, and nation! Mr. Stevenson deserved his standing ovation!