Pauline Eichten, with input from the Beloved Community Staff Team
It’s timely to have this article in December, when our worship theme is wonder. How might we wonder together, with curiosity instead of judgment, about the challenge of reparations? Are we making any progress toward racial justice, as an interviewer wondered in March of 1964, when he asked Malcolm X if progress was being made.
“No, no,” Malcolm replied. “I will never say that progress is being made. If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even begun to pull the knife out, much less heal the wound.” And when the interviewer attempted to ask another question, Malcolm interjected, “They won’t even admit the knife is there.”
“Pulling the knife out” is an essential step, but it is only an act of suspending the harm. It does not “heal the wound” because it is not an act of remediation or reparation. Repairing the wound requires those culpable to make amends and restitution for the harm inflicted. The claim for restitution anchors historically on our government’s failure to deliver on the promised 40-acre land grants to the newly emancipated, a failure that lay the foundation for the enormous wealth gap that exists today between Black and white people.
The case for reparations does not center exclusively on “slavery reparation” but seeks accountability for the atrocities of legal segregation we know as the Jim Crow era and the ongoing atrocities, including mass incarceration, credit/housing/employment discrimination, a criminal justice system and policing that continue to kill unarmed Black people. It includes the immense wealth disparity borne by Black American descendants, the cumulative legacy of our nation’s trajectory of racial injustice. Reparations is about repairing the wound, both acknowledging the moral failing and making restitution for lives robbed. Reparations ultimately aspires to the righting of a wronged relationship and the deep spiritual yearning for reconciliation.
When asked “Why reparations?” several members of the BCST responded with these statements.
Unity Church has been on a 20-year journey to becoming an actively antiracist multicultural community. We continue to learn about the history of this country and its development and economic power built on the exploitation of African Americans and the appropriation of land from Native Americans. And we are aware of the current disparities in education, wealth, health and safety experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color that are an outgrowth of those foundational practices of exploitation.
The more we learn about the history of mistreatment of Black and Native Americans, and the continuing effect of that mistreatment into the present, the more it seems clear that some form of restitution must be made. Kevin Shird, in a recent column in the Pioneer Press, says compensation today for historic injustices would be a major step forward. However, beyond any monetary compensation, he stated that just the acknowledgement of the injustices committed against Black and Indigenous people matters.
The need for reparations or restitution is clear. What gets complicated is how to do it and who is responsible.
House Resolution H.R.- 40, named after the 40 acres and a mule promised to enslaved people after emancipation, but never given, is a bill seeking to establish a federal commission to examine the impacts of the legacy of slavery and recommend proposals to provide reparations. The bill does not authorize payments; it creates a commission to study the problem and recommend solutions. Representative John Conyers, Jr., of Michigan introduced the bill every year starting in 1989. After he retired in 2017 at age 88, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, assumed the role of first sponsor of the bill. 2021 was the first year the bill made it out of committee.
Locally, the St. Paul City Council established the Reparations Legislative Advisory Committee in June 2021 to lay the groundwork for the Saint Paul Recovery Act Community Reparations Commission. The Commission will develop recommendations to “specifically address the creation of generational wealth for the American Descendants of Chattel Slavery and to boost economic mobility and opportunity in the Black community.” The ordinance to create the reparations commission will be coming before the council yet this year, after which it will be Mayor Carter who appoints the commission members. It is hoped that he will do that after the first of the year.
And the issue of broken treaties and restoring Native lands is a particular form of reparations that needs to be addressed. As members of the BCST seek to expand and deepen conversations about Unity’s role in reparations, watch for future articles that dig into these and other efforts addressing reparations and how this congregation might contribute.
Available in Unity's Library
The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide
Barbara Robles, Betsy Leondar-Wright, Rose Brewer, 2006
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Richard Rothstein, 2017
"The Case for Reparations," The Atlantic magazine, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2014
Truth Telling and Healing: Indigenous and Environmental Justice Series
Lia Rivamonte, for the Artist in Residence Team and Beloved Community News
If you get a call from Paul Kruse, you will want to talk to him. It won’t be hard — he is easy to talk to. Friendly, unassuming, some might even say mild-mannered, he laughs easily —after all he’s from La Crosse for gosh sake. In fact, that may be one of the points he is trying to make with his project, “Once Removed,” a series of audio-based performance pieces, the continuation of a previous work of the same name. The happy-go-lucky, lily-white, hetero-normative, binary, nuclear, so-called Christian family once considered the foundation of rural America was always a myth. A fragile construction built of cheap toothpicks easily blown away when you learn the truth.
And how do you learn that truth? You talk to people, give them the space to tell you their stories, and you listen. What are they telling you? What aren’t they telling you? Paul has become very good at listening, and digging deeper into that silence.
As Unity’s next Artist in Residence, he has already begun his work, interviewing LGBTQ+ members of the congregation, to learn about their experiences growing up Queer—especially if they were raised away from an urban setting.
After earning a degree in filmmaking/video production at Northwestern University, Paul lived for a brief time in Chicago where he ended up working for a Jesuit-run organization, and had to be talked out of becoming a priest by a wise Jesuit mentor. Invited by friends to join them in Pittsburgh, PA, Paul discovered that an active arts community and affordable rents allowed him to flourish as an artist. It was there that he began playwriting in earnest, and where he and friends founded the Hatch Art Collective (2012-2022) producing work throughout the city of Pittsburgh. In 2020, Paul completed his MFA in playwriting at UT Austin and his work has received much attention; his plays are produced throughout the country.
Paul’s work typically falls into two distinct categories — fiction and documentary. For example, his play “Chickens in the Yard,” follows a gay couple as they travel from the families who raised them to the family they make together as seen through the eyes of their four chickens. “Once Removed,” is a documentary play, tracing Paul’s own coming-out after piecing together the story of his mother’s gay cousin who died from HIV/AIDS at the age of 31. It was only when he started asking questions and connected the dots by interviewing his mom and later his aunt and other relatives that he learned the truth.
Drawn to writing for theatre because of its collaborative nature, Paul finds great joy in conversation and in learning about people. His project at Unity is ambitious and will include interviews with people beyond the congregation. He is captivated and moved by the stories of Queer people, how they grew up, and if they came out, how and when. How did the rest of their family relate to them? He has observed that Queer people don’t often hear stories about themselves. He has set out to change that, and he is especially keen to learn about queerness in Midwestern families.
Paul’s mission, as he notes on his website, is to “tell Queer love stories.” Many LGBTQ+ people feel they must leave their families of origin and the small towns that raised them in order to be who they are without judgment, recrimination, and the need to shroud themselves in secrecy. Others have discovered this freedom may actually exist in those places after all. “Love is Love,” as the saying goes. These Queer love stories that Paul wants to tell are not limited to romantic love. The type of love that sustains us can be found or re-discovered in all sorts of places — even in small-town America, and even or especially in the lap of one’s own family.
During his residency at Unity, Paul will conduct interviews, lead Wellspring Wednesday sessions, and present a listening gathering and celebration in March to culminate his work with us. Not only do we hope all community members will introduce themselves and make him feel welcome, but we invite everyone to engage in Paul’s work on a deeper level.
While his project, “Once Removed,” focuses on the lives of LGBTQ+ people, there will be opportunities for all of us to participate. Paul’s Wellspring Wednesday sessions will provide a glimpse into his creative process, and he will share some effective approaches to having meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations with family members, others we care about, and even strangers. The culminating listening session will be a chance to celebrate our connection to one another.
We are not all the same but our differences do not have to separate us. By sharing our stories, we break the silence that isolates. This is work that asks us to further develop our “going deep quickly” practice, one of the personal spiritual practices referred to in Unity’s Double Helix Model of faith formation and antiracist multiculturalism.
The intention of Unity’s Artist in Residence program is to “activate our imagination, foster relationships among and beyond our church walls, inspire spiritual and emotional growth, and open the church community to larger dimensions in the work of making cultural change.” We believe that Paul’s residency and that of our other artist residencies, helps to advance Unity’s vision of becoming an antiracist multicultural Beloved Community.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 28
9:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. • In-person at Unity Church
For more and more of us taking next steps into antiracist practices and expanding intercultural capacities, the increasing complexity of this work is everywhere present about us — within, among, and beyond. There is no overlooking, evading, or simplifying this complexity as it is nothing other than the disquieting complexity of ourselves. And for those committed to this deep work, who expect to complexify this work, we invite you to register for this winter training event with Team Dynamics. We will find ways to be present to change, creatively engage conflict, and create brave space where complexity serves as fertile ground for learning and shaping change together.
As one who wrote, spoke, and wrestled incessantly with the complexity of racism in the soul of America, James Baldwin insisted, “Complexity is our only safety and love is the only key to our maturity.” A love that refuses simplistic definitions and illusions of safety promoted by our dominant culture. A love more perceptive to our battling instincts, assumptions, and beliefs that vie for position and power, even weaponizing antiracist tools like “characteristics of white supremacy culture” (Tema Okun, White Dominant Culture) to accuse, shame, blame and perpetuate disconnection. But what are the antidotes and spiritual practices that can revive complexity in a time of false simplicities? How can we complicate the narrative and keep it from collapsing into that us/them binary? How do we wade into the messiness to achieve conflicts and truer conversations worthy of our humanity? If trust precedes facts, how can we claim a deeper covenant with one another that opens an alternate way to truths, tensions, conflicts, mutual care, and possibilities into the future?
We hope you will join us as we further our collaboration with Team Dynamics in deepening intercultural capacity across our ministry areas. We will build on practices and touch the complexities at the heart of our antiracist multicultural work.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Rev. Karen Gustafson, Angela Wilcox, Pauline Eichten, and Erika Sanders.