Becky Gonzalez-Campoy, Beloved Community Communications Team
A year ago this month a local storyteller planted the seed for what is becoming Unity’s Indigenous Justice Community Outreach Ministerial Team. Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation and cultural facilitator working to raise public awareness of Native American causes and injustices, joined members of Unity Church for a conversation about restoring broken trust and congregational approaches to reparations with Indigenous Peoples. His story centered around his grandmother’s boarding school experience, one that robbed her of both her culture and her voice.
The U.S. government funded more than 350 boarding schools across the country during the 19th and 20th centuries and they were often run by churches, including at least one with ties to the Unitarian denomination. Rev. Jacobs wrapped up his talk with a call to action, outlining three areas congregations should consider if committed to providing reparations to the Native American tribes: 1) help local Dakota and Ojibwe communities to reclaim their language and culture; 2) develop a meaningful relationship with members of the local Native American community through spiritual life exchange; 3) create a pathway to return the land upon which Unity sits to its rightful owners. He cautioned that these steps will take years to achieve. First, we must restore trust.
Many of us emerged from Rev. Jacob’s presentation ready to go to work, and came together to take action. In the months since then — and in spite of Covid-19 limiting factors — we have begun to build a solid foundation upon which we can begin to tackle the charges set forth by his call to action. We began preparation last spring to submit a Community Outreach Ministry Team application to Unity’s Executive Team in the coming months, knowing that we must connect vocational calling, spiritual practice, and thoughtful planning to make a real difference. Among the many reasons our members cited for working on behalf of Native American justice is that this group is often overlooked in antiracist advocacy. Their sheer lack of numbers keeps their voices largely unheard. We want to change that.
We collect and send out monthly alerts about Native American cultural events and opportunities to volunteer or support Native-owned businesses. We hosted a Wellspring Wednesday presentation by the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) in May 2021, an educational event to encourage congregational learning about the traumatic impact of boarding schools on Native American children and their families. We arranged for one Sunday offering to go to support NABS. And thanks to church member James Oberly, retired history professor from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, we provided NABS with information about the school sponsored by the Unitarians to add to their research database.
Our current Indigenous Justice team brings together many talents and connections to other organizations and Community Outreach Ministry Teams such as the Minnesota Multi-Faith Network, Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance, United Theological Seminary, and Unity’s Act for the Earth Team. In building these relationships, so much of our work intersects.
We invite those committed to Native American reparations to take the next step and join us as we continue to build our Indigenous Justice Community Outreach Team and seek community partners. For more information, contact Becky Gonzalez-Campoy (email@example.com) or Rev. Shay MacKay (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For additional information about Indigenous justice work, see these resources:
Wednesday, September 22
7:00-8:30 p.m. • Zoom (online)
What does it take to be racially literate and engaged in antiracism in a day-to-day way? Where do we find resources and support in our ongoing learning about systemic racism and the work of dismantling it? Whether you attended previous sessions or are just checking it out now, this program is an easy entry into finding antiracism books, podcasts, and videos, as well as discussion partners for talking about them. Come to choose a resource, sign up for a buddy or small group, and receive discussion guidelines. This program is part of Unity's Finding Our Next Right Action efforts. Questions? Contact Becky Gonzalez-Campoy at email@example.com.
Angela Wilcox, Beloved Community Staff Team
When I was fourteen, my mother insisted that I take an “Assertiveness Training” course offered by my high school during J-term and taught by a psychologist who was a family friend. The very thought terrified me, but the great irony was that my inability to assert myself to oppose this idea meant I spent a week of January learning how to do all the things I thought I couldn’t do: make a cold phone call to ask for information; return an item of clothing; and hardest of all, enter a space where I didn’t know a single person. This week was one of the most significant in my education because of what it taught me about being human in community; Dr. Warloski gave me permission to feel uncomfortable and do the thing anyway. Her goal was to help us feel the truth that discomfort would not kill us, and that often, our paralyzing fears dissipated once we stepped over the boundary and realized that we were not alone — not in our fears, but also not in our values, beliefs, and wonder.
My high school was parochial in all senses; I felt a suffocating need to get away from the sameness of that world. In college, I was surrounded by smart, curious people from all over the world. United by our academic drive and our willingness to live through Minnesota winters, we were rich in diversity of experiences, opinions, and dreams. We reveled in unveiling the quirky regionalisms that shaped us and the ways we spoke, played, and understood the world. I became aware of parts of my identity that had been hidden from me because they were so ubiquitous back home. In this temporary and carefully curated educational community, we took the time to explore our differences and share our stories. In graduate school, I gravitated toward courses and social groups filled with international students. I married one of them, we traveled the world together, and I embraced the feeling that I had finally stretched beyond the sameness of my hometown and into the world.
After a decade of marriage and a divorce, what I longed for most was a spiritual home where I belonged — someplace where the values and the people felt familiar. From the first Sunday at Unity Church, everything from the religious education program to the music to the flow of the service made me feel like I was home again. And yet, Unity felt like the church of my future, where I had much in common with others, and could raise my children and myself in this new version of my life.
I worked in a junior high classroom rich with diversity of all kinds — age, race, culture, language, nationality, ability, and more. As I tried to connect to my students authentically across our many differences, I was often uncomfortable, and these youth invited and pushed me into spaces that stretched me even further into discomfort. I knew from experience that discomfort wouldn’t kill me, but I learned that it takes ongoing practice to stretch and remain humble enough to stop focusing on my discomfort and start listening. Unity has helped me build and sustain those essential ongoing practices.
One of my favorite “stretch” experiences has been attending the annual RISE (Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment) conference with some of my Muslim students. During a panel discussion of professional Muslim women, one of my students pulled me aside with tears in her eyes; she’d never met an adult Muslim woman with a career and didn’t know that could be a possibility for her. I’d been so focused on the idea of helping these young women experience a place with other women like them that it hadn’t occurred to me how enormously diverse this gathering would be and what the power of that diversity might be for my students. Where was I missing that diversity in my own life, in spaces that I thought of as being “just a lot of people like me?”
Here at Unity, we have expressed our longing to be a multicultural spiritual home grounded in racial healing. What if the way we start is by asking what stories, backgrounds, perspectives, and beliefs we might have missed because so many of us share more obvious identity traits? What if our particular, specific identity is our superpower? That work, along with cultivating ongoing spiritual practices that help us remain humble and resilient in the face of discomfort, might help us live our way into that longing in unexpected and world-altering ways.
Learn more about RISE on their website: www.revivingsisterhood.org.
Beloved Community Resources
Next Right Actions
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
In 2016, the Beloved Community Staff Team was formed at Unity Church to strengthen and coordinate Unity’s anti-racism and multi-cultural work, and to share the stories of this journey with the wider community. We commit to sharing the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations here at Unity and in the wider world of our faith and city. The current members of the team include Rev. KP Hong, Rev. Kathy Hurt, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Rev. Shay MacKay, Laura Park, Angela Wilcox, Pauline Eichten, and Erika Sanders.