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BLUU Announces 2021 Survey Results and Gives Restructure Update

14 March 2022 at 10:15

In spring 2021, BLUU launched a survey for all Black folks who are in community with us. We wanted to know why our community engages with us, when BLUU’s work is most impactful, and where we have some opportunities for growth.

Sixty-three people responded to the survey and gave us in-depth feedback about their experiences with and hopes for BLUU. Those who responded represented many ages, sexual orientations, regions, and genders.

While we released this survey last year, we still believe these survey results can teach us about the current state of what our community needs. We took a programmatic pause shortly after the survey was released to do organizational restructure work. (Most of BLUU’s programming is still on hiatus.)

Here is a summary of our survey results and how they impact our current restructure process.

Why does our community need BLUU?

BLUU represents many things to different people, but there were three main themes that draw people to learn more about BLUU. 1. Community (Black Sacred Space, Black-Centered Space, Black-Exclusive Space, Black-Affirming space.) 2. Worship (Spiritual Sustenance, Justaposed to UU congregations, Welcoming/Belonging, Liberation.) 3. Social Justice/Activism. (Making UU more inclusive, Equality, living the values, Building a new way.)

Based on survey results, there are three main reasons Black folks are a part of BLUU’s community. BLUU community members are seeking community, worship, and connection to social justice/activism.

It is important to BLUU community members that BLUU offers Black sacred space, or space specifically for and centering the voices of Black people. People who had an interest in BLUU social justice/activism had a particular interest in making Unitarian Universalism more inclusive.

More than 50% of respondents reported that they had no unmet needs from BLUU. For those who would like additional offerings from BLUU, the requests spanned across three main categories: Spirituality, Localization, and Additional Programming.

What is BLUU doing well?

a picture of a Black person smiling, looking away from the camera. Text next to the picture says: Conclusions: Love BLUU programming and want more of it. Supporting conclusions: Want recordings of worship, want in person programming, want expanded programming. Programming = offerings directly accessible by participants; opportunites to engage with the organization.

People enjoy how we gather. BLUU virtual worship continues to be a meaningful resource of spiritual sustenance for our community. Our community lives in many regions, so many of our community members would value having worship available to watch later if they can’t make a live, virtual service.

“There has been this beautiful sense of community and love in every service I’ve been able to attend,” one survey respondent said. “I have attended a number of faith communities over the years and this has been the only one that felt real.”

Another survey respondent said, “It really aligns with my current beliefs and where I am in life and it leaves room and supports growth. I love that it centers Black voices and our Black experiences in all its various forms. I do not have to dismiss my religious upbringings to grow in my spirituality and adopt new practices.”

While worship is a core part of BLUU’s offerings, our community wants us to expand our programming so folks can also gather in other ways.

BLUU Convenings and the Harper-Jordan Symposium were powerful experiences for people to embrace the liberating power of Unitarian Universalism through a Black-centered experience. Although we’ve understandably not been gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic, people miss our in-person gatherings.

What are BLUU’s opportunities for growth?

Picture of Black person looking into distance, wearing scarf. Text reads: Conclusions: Don’t know how to engage/support. Supporting conclusions: Mission unclear. Structure unclear. Hard to know where to get answers. Engagement is ties to an organization, feeling part of the mission and compelled to support efforts.

The survey makes it clear that we have work to do to make sure our community members know how to engage with us and know how to give us feedback. People in our community expressed not knowing how to get involved with BLUU and feeling frustrated they can’t get a response to their questions about our work or our programming. Folks also said they experience a lack of engagement with their ideas when they share them with BLUU leadership.

Others named positive interactions with individual leaders in BLUU that keep them engaged with BLUU despite dissatisfaction with overall community engagement.

“All these experiences, but especially the website content and application questions, put me under the impression that I am not welcome… like BLUU is a restrictive and exclusive club,” one survey respondent said. “And that is absolutely bizarre because everyone is so nice via Zoom and email. l decided to just be content participating in the online worship gatherings for as long they are offered.”

Community members also shared confusion about BLUU’s mission and vision. People were confused about both our organizational structure and what it means to be a BLUU member, or “BLUU Beloved.”

What’s next?

There are three pictures. One is of BLack people in worship, one is of Black folks at a protest marching, and one is of a Black masculine person giving a speech. Text says: Programming: Reassess programming against the defined needs reported by respondents. Structure: Clarify structure and goals. Communication: Define a comms strategy that prioritizes responsiveness and cohesiveness so that information is accurate and timely.

We have been working with AORTA, a movement-based organizational change organization, to do a deep dive into our organizational culture and how that culture contributes to some of the opportunities for growth named in our survey. We know that how we work and communicate together impacts how we show up for the wider BLUU community.

Our new Developmental Board Chair, Natasha Walker, is doing an organizational diagnostic. This will help us consider what structural changes need to be made so that our work is clearer internally and therefore easier to explain and engage people in more broadly.

After our organizational pause is complete, we will have a new structure and refined mission for our organization that we can share with our community. This clarity of our structure will create the container for expanded capacity, which will help us expand our programming.

After our structure and workflows are clear, we will design and implement a communications strategy that prioritizes community engagement. This includes finishing work on a simplified, streamlined website that includes password-protected recordings of worship for Black folks.

We plan to engage our community members soon in our restructure conversations. There is no BLUU without community! We’re taking time to be discerning about the containers we create for community engagement and will share opportunities to connect with the Organizing Collective Board soon.

Thank You to Everyone Who Responded to Our Survey

We are so grateful to everyone who filled out the survey. We don’t take you for granted–the survey wasn’t short and the questions asked respondents to be vulnerable.

We are learning from your feedback and integrating it into our restructure work. Thank you for your continued support and trust in us.

Natasha Walker joins BLUU as the Developmental Board Chair

31 January 2022 at 11:10

Natasha Walker joins Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) as the Developmental Board Chair of BLUU’s Organizing Collective Board of Directors. She will focus on OCB recruitment, project management, and training during the strategizing for and implementation of BLUU’s restructure process.

St. Paul, Minnesota

(L-R): The BLUU Organizing Collective Board welcomes Natasha Walker as its new Developmental Board Chair. Natasha is pictured with her children.

After a competitive search, BLUU is excited to welcome Natasha Walker as its new Developmental Board Chair.

“We took our time and were very intentional about finding the right person to help lead BLUU onward in our journey,” said Executive Director Lena K. Gardner.

The Organizing Collective Board of Directors (OCB) is a working board that serves as the governing body of BLUU. Natasha will lead project management for the OCB, support OCB skill development, and serve as the OCB’s primary liaison betwen BLUU and community members and partners.

“I’m excited at the prospect of amplifying the impact and continuing the strong legacy of the BLUU Collective,” Natasha said. “I believe you can’t complain if you’re not in the fight, trying to make things better. We all have something to contribute to building a new way. Get engaged, share your voice, and creative solutions will appear.”

Natasha brings key experience as a Black Unitarian Universalist and project manager. She attends services at Unity Temple (Oak Park) and the First Unitarian Church of Chicago (Hyde Park). Natasha is also a Project Manager at Google, with deep expertise in efficiency, process improvement, and organizational design. Prior to Google, she worked at Disney, McKinsey & Company, Pepperidge Farm, and General Motors. She is also active on the Board of Free Spirit Media, an organization focused on helping underrepresented youth in Chicago tell their stories.

“We feel honored and thrilled that Natasha brings not only high-level project management and leadership skills and experience, but also a deep understanding of BLUU, connection to our BLUUBerries programming and attended the historic Convening in 2017 which truly birthed our community,” Lena said. “We couldn’t have dreamed of a better candidate and are thrilled to be bringing her aboard!”

About BLUU:

Formed in the wake of several conversations among Black UUs at the July 2015 Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland, OH, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism is committed to expanding the power and capacity of Black UUs within Unitarian Universalism; providing support, information, and resources for Black Unitarian Universalists; and justice-making and liberation for Black people through our faith.

New Legal Religious Discrimination in Michigan

12 June 2015 at 13:59
Michigan's Governor Snyder signed a new set of discrimination laws yesterday.  "Senate Substitute for House Bill No. 4188" states:

"Private child placing agencies, including faith-based child placing agencies, have the right to free exercise of religion under both the state and federal constitutions.  Under well-settled principles of constitutional law, this right includes the freedom to abstain from conduct that conflicts with an agency's sincerely held religious beliefs."

Both faith-based and non-faith-based agencies receive government money.  Given the separation of church and state, it should be the case that agencies receiving federal or state money are not allowed to religiously discriminate in who they serve.  However, this separation has been eroded over the years in a multitude of ways, from President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. 

Even so, this is a new level of affront to freedom of religion.  Hobby Lobby isn't receiving government money to do its work.  It's a for-profit organization.  Adoption is a different sort of business.  Half of adoption agencies are faith-based in Michigan -- Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and the evangelical Bethany Christian Services. How much money are they receiving from the state?  Michigan Radio reports that it is "up to $10 thousand dollars a child." 

This is most notably an attack on same-sex couples.  The Catholics and Methodists both do not recognize same-sex marriage, and the president of Bethany Christian Services, William Blacquiere, has said, "At Bethany, we would never deny a family for their secular status, or single-parent, or anything of that nature. However, if the family would be in conflict with our religious beliefs, we would assist them to go to another agency."

Actually right now judges are stopped from granting two-parent same-sex adoptions already.  Same-sex parents who adopt usually end up with only one of them as the adoptive parent.  This is what started the court case that led to Michigan's challenge to the same-sex marriage ban.  And with a Supreme Court decision potentially changing the marriage equation, this might change, but right now this is the case.  So the religious right is getting ducks in a row to make sure that if you can get married in Michigan you can still be banned from adopting, denied housing, barred from public accommodations, and fired from your job the day after your wedding.  Seriously.  I do not exaggerate.  This is currently the case that all these forms of discrimination are legal, but our legislators are writing laws that ensure that they're not just legal by the default of having no legal protections from discrimination, but explicitly and purposefully legal.

However, it is not just same-sex couples who might be denied adoption.  So who else might conflict with the religious beliefs of these Christian organizations?
  • Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and any people of non-Christian faiths
  • Atheists, agnostics, and the unchurched
  • Single parents and unwed couples
It wasn't that long ago that people had religious objections to interracial marriage and interracial adoption.  Even that most abhorrent form of discrimination could be seen as legal with this new legislation. Our legislature has been hard at work lately making sure that their rights to discriminate are protected at every turn.  What they're worried about, it seems, is their freedom to hate, and what the corporations want. 

What's missing in all of this, of course, is what's best for the children. 

Blogging GA: Thursday

23 June 2011 at 21:43
Today I dropped my daughter off at the UU Kids Camp for the first time.  She had a good day; they took a field trip to the science museum.  She's in the camp for three days, and it's field trips each day.  I confess to a little disappointment around this.  I've been so longing for her to have a UU camp experience.  (See this article from a UU World blog on more about UU kids camps.)  It seems like this great opportunity at General Assembly to have a camp that's integrated around UU principles and heritage and to tie it to our values.  What is in fact the case is they contract the kids camp job out to a local child care provider to run.  I suppose this is not the primary goal of GA, to provide UU experiences for children, but it's a wasted opportunity, if you ask me.  All the same, I hope to continue doing this bringing my daughter to GA and putting her in the camp, hoping that I'll have additional opportunities to expose her to the larger world of UUism beyond the local congregation.  She went with me to the Banner Parade last night and will walk the exhibit hall later in the week.  We watched a bit of the Service of the Living Tradition together tonight.  So those pieces of UUism will still sink in, perhaps.  And if it doesn't, well, at least the kids camp was fun, eh?

After dropping the girl off at camp, it was a workshops day all day today.  In the past, the days have been a mixture of plenary and workshops.  This year plenaries are all stacked into the weekend, with the workshops packed into Thursday and Friday.  I see the logic in this model, but I'm not enjoying it.  It makes for a long day if the two aren't mixed. 

One workshop I went to today was the first part of a two-part series by Galen Guengerich on "Church of the New Millennium: Formula for Failure."  I'll probably miss part two, because it's in the same slot as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.  Guengerich structured his remarks around an imagined future in which his daughter's grandchild is writing a thesis about why Unitarian Universalism failed and disappeared.  He suggests that she would write that it's because we were "spiritual but not religious." 

I'm reminded of when I was asked while interviewing for my current ministry whether I was "spiritual or religious."  "Religious," was my response.  I love the institution of Unitarian Universalism.  That's what's so wonderful about being at General Assembly -- it's an embodied representation of this great thing that is Unitarian Universalism that I love.  I love the moment the gavel is pounded during the opening plenary and the General Assembly is declared to be in session.  I love the swirling frenzied excitement of the banner parade.  I love running into colleagues between sessions and catching up or exchanging hugs.  I love shopping around the exhibit hall.  I love my mind and heart being stretched in program and worship.  Heck, I even love discussions about our bylaws.

Guengerich expanded on what he meant by religious and spiritual, but you need to go hear it for yourself when it's available, as I'm sure it will be.

Today concluded with the Service of the Living Tradition, in which ministers and religious educators are honored for their service.  Ministers who have passed are listed in the "roll call," and ministers receive preliminary and final fellowship, and are acknowledged when they retire.  Similar milestones for religious educators are marked.  I needed to go back to the hotel so I could be around my little one for one evening, since my next two are booked, and I needed to hear how kids camp went, so I opted to watch the service on line.  It was clear from the service itself and from the comments of my colleagues on Facebook as well that this was the best service in years.  The feed went in and out a bit (probably the hotel connection), but the sermon was awesomely good.  Everybody seems to love that this year instead of admonishing people not to cheer and clap, this year it was encouraged.  Every bit of the service was just right on.  If you want to know what a Service of the Living Tradition is and what it means, watch this one.  I can't remember a better one, including those in which I got preliminary and final fellowship (one of which was pretty darn good, one of which was awful, and I won't say which here on the blog).  This was it.  Seriously.  This was religion.

Reclaiming Resilience: An Election Message from BLUU

2 November 2020 at 08:14

As Black people, we have endured immense loss in 2020. We want our community to know we’re in this with you and more resilient than ever.

Black people have survived generations of violent oppression. And yet, our responses to that violence are not what make us resilient. Gauging Black resilience by our response to violent whiteness is racist.

You’re not talking about Black resilience if you’re only talking about how Black people respond to trauma. On an episode of the La Cura podcast, somatics practitioner Prentis Hemphill says, “Resilience is not an acclimation to conditions but a commitment to life.”

That’s why our invitation to Black folks going into election day is to join us in reclaiming the meaning of Black resilience. One of our 7 Principles of Black Lives says spiritual growth is directly tied to our ability to embrace our whole selves. Today, we proclaim that Black Lives Matter separate from the dangers of whiteness that threaten them. We are resilient just because we exist. Living while Black is rigorous on its own terms.

When we talked about what we wanted to say to Black folks leading up to the election, we agreed that we’re tired of being told that we are resilient without that resilience being located outside of our trauma responses. And we guessed other Black folks might be feeling that way too.

We are resilient because our ancestors believed in our lives when there was no reason to even believe they’d survive. They dreamed us into existence. They prayed us into being. They organized for themselves so that we could carry the mantle. And they didn’t just believe we’d survive. They believed we could thrive.

We are resilient going into this election because we believe there will be Black people in the future, and their lives will be better than we could ever imagine.

We believe in centering community care and self-care after the election because a commitment to Black life demands that we rest and demands that we make sure we all have enough. We are more than our labor and productivity, and no one among us is disposable. We must commit to anti-capitalism and abolition like never before to ground ourselves in the imaginations of our ancestors and the futures of our descendants.

There is much work to do no matter who wins the election, and we will do that work together as we always have. With joy, with determination, and with each other. And with a belief in Black resilience.

BLUU creates and amplifies spaces and work that center Black life, and in doing so, we are performing a radical act. We will continue to support Black people by organizing for our liberation and worshipping in our wholeness. If you’re a Black person not connected with BLUU, this is a great week to get connected. Find out how to join us in the events below.

In faith, solidarity, and Black love,

The BLUU Organizing Collective Board

— — — —

BLUU Sacred Space for Black Folks During Election Week:

(These events are explicitly Black space. We invite folks who aren’t Black to share these connection opportunities with Black loved ones, colleagues, and congregants in solidarity with our work for Black liberation and healing.)

  • We Got Us- Tuesday, Nov. 3., 7–11 p.m. Eastern | 4–8 p.m. Pacific

Team Sankofa, BLUU’s community organizing team, is offering an opportunity for Black people to spend the evening in shared, virtual space. All Black folks who share our values of radical inclusivity are welcome. BLUU’s Election Night Gathering will include entertainment in the form of community-building games, offerings from our esteemed Elders, and an after-hours Lunch + Vibe discussion! (Registration required)

We are in a collective time of grieving and experiencing a considerable amount of loss. The Root Work- Navigating Troubled Waters Herbalism workshop session will focus on strengthening your relationship with your body to hold space for grief. Herbalist India Harris will guide us as we engage in somatic centering practices and discuss plant medicine for heart healing. (Registration required)

In one of the most consequential elections of our time, we may struggle to find the certainty and grounding to know what’s next. How do we move through a time of deep rupture, but also one of deep possibility? We are grateful to welcome Nicole Pressley, National Organizer for UU the Vote, who will be reflecting with us on our ancestors’ (and our own) ability to find purpose and claim victory in times of trouble. (Registration required)

Keep Organizing After the Election:

We will continue to share information from trusted sources about how you can support and organize for Black liberation after the election ends because the work continues. If you don’t know what to do after the election, we suggest connecting with The Frontline as a starting place. The Frontline is a new powerful campaign by The Movement for Black Lives, Working Families Party, and United We Dream. The Frontline will be leading work *after* the election.

About BLUU:

Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism is committed to expanding the power and capacity of Black UUs within Unitarian Universalism; providing support, information, and resources for Black Unitarian Universalists; and justice-making and liberation for Black people through our faith. Subscribe to our email list to learn more about our worship events, organizing opportunities, and youth ministry.

What It Means to Be Rooted: Remembering Elandria Williams

21 October 2020 at 11:49

Elandria Williams (she/they/E), a powerful organizer, a passionate Unitarian Universalist faith leader, and co-founder of Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, joined the ancestors on Sept. 23, 2020. While we are still processing E’s transition, we wanted to share some reflections about Elandria to honor who they were to us.

The diverse groups of people from movement spaces and faith communities mourning E is a testament to the tenacity of E’s leadership and the depth of their spirit. Many people are still sharing memories of E using the hashtag #ElandriaTaughtUs. This is unsurprising because one couldn’t be in a room with Elandria without learning how to be a better human.

One video that folks have shared shows people gathered around E as they teach a call and response song:

Solid as a rock.

Rooted like a tree.

I am here.

Standing strong.

In my rightful place.”

In a world where so many systems and people aim to create disarray and disconnection, it is a deeply spiritual challenge to stay rooted. Yet, that’s exactly what Elandria did. They kept their organizing unapologetically rooted in their commitments to Black liberation and disability justice. They brought this same rootedness into their leadership within Unitarian Universalism, always saying hard things in love and never forgetting to center their work in Black freedom and Black joy.

“I worked with Elandria in the very beginning of forming BLUU,” said BLUU’s Executive Director Lena K. Gardner. “I didn’t know her very well before then. We had our disagreements, but I always felt her love and we always left things in a good place. She was never afraid to feel her feelings or express them, and was welcoming with a warmth I have rarely experienced in movement spaces. I have long admired the way she loves and moves ever since those early days and will miss her. I hope to honor her legacy by continuing to build and strengthen BLUU as an organization — and to always move in love and truth.”

The fabric of who Elandria was will remain in BLUU’s DNA forever. We are so grateful that Elandria taught us how to take up space and to do so with moral clarity. No one ever had to figure out what E’s values were because they spoke them boldly and then lived them fiercely.

“When BLUU was formed in 2015, what I remember Elandria saying over and over again was, ‘we have to say it plain,’” said BLUU co-founder and BLUU Advisory Team member Leslie Mac. “E offered that same advice to me so often in all the work we did together. I watched E, with the support of 1500 Black organizers, negotiate the immediate release of a young man from the custody of what seemed like a battalion of police officers in Cleveland, OH. I watched E navigate the misogynoir thrown at her as she led our UUA as Co-Moderator with ease and grace. I watched E pull me close and talk earnestly and effectively about the need for us to have a strong inside AND outside game. She would say, ‘Leslie I do not care what people think our relationship is like on the outside. We know the truth and that is enough.’ I take that lesson with me always. Elandria taught me that organizing is a journey and one that requires the application of so many different skills and tactics. E taught me above all else to love our people, speak truth to power, and care for yourself, even when it’s hard. In her absence I hear her voice singing to me: ‘Solid as a rock. Rooted like a tree. We are here. Standing strong… in our rightful place.’”

The BLUU Organizing Collective Board is committed to meaningfully and tangibly honoring Elandria’s legacy in the long term. This commitment requires discerning, deep listening and community partnership. E taught us to take care in our work, and to move only when we are collectively ready to move. We will share updates about this work as this promise takes more concrete shape.

Please consider donating to the GoFundMe that E’s community started for their niece and nephews. They were very active in their lives and helped support them financially. #ElandriaTaughtUs to take care of each other, and we ask that our community help support E’s family in that spirit.