In the heart of one of the nation’s most segregated cities, the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
[Post by Rev. Elaine Peresluha, Interim Senior Minister, First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee ]
By publicly hanging a Black Lives Matter banner on our historic church, we are affirming the importance of this movement to inspire systemic change. The issue strikes close to home. Always in the top five, Milwaukee is often ranked #1 in racial inequality across a whole range of indicators: black-vs.-white joblessness, black-vs.-white poverty, and black-vs.-white ownership of businesses, and public education.
We must add our voices to the outraged. As a church community with a long tradition of engagement in social justice issues, we must put our skin in the game to assure that the dreams in our heart become reality. We invite adults and youth to engage in the dialogue here on this blog and at the community conversation events we will be scheduling. Our website will post links to current local events and other resources.
Black Lives Matter was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime. Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist de-humanization, Black Lives Matter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society. This movement brings together the many complicated facets of segregation, racial prejudice, white privilege, gun violence, economic injustice, and classism, offering a timely venue to speak out to stimulate systemic change.
The recent headline “NY Times’ Charles Blow ‘Fuming’ After Son Stopped at Gunpoint by Yale Cops” is all too familiar. In a Jan. 26 op-ed, the New York Times columnist, who has written extensively about racial profiling, expressed his outrage after Yale University officers stopped his son at gunpoint. His son was simply walking home from the school library.
Black lives matter. Not just Yale students, sons of columnists; not just young males, but toddlers, grandmothers, fathers, sisters and sons in all corners of our cities, towns, jails, middle schools, high schools and community colleges. Too much potential and too much life has been lost.
In the months since Michael Brown was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2014, by Officer Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri, demonstrators have marched, set up street blockades, shut down highways, and faced off against the very police officers they want brought to justice. The grand jury decisions not to indict Wilson, or the NYPD officer who choked Eric Garner to death on July 17, or Christopher Manning who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton on April 30 here in Milwaukee, have ignited a tipping point. A critical mass of incidents and reports of police brutality, inappropriate shooting, harassment and racial bias has brought the social and criminal injustice to the forefront of national consciousness. People are outraged by the number of deaths at the hands of law enforcement.
Racism is a combination of prejudice and power that creates unequal distribution of power on the basis of race. The power to make decisions and enforce those decisions, the power to control access to public services and resources, the power to set the standards of appropriate behavior, and the power to name reality, resides with the dominant white culture in this nation.
Why must we join the conversation, as a church with a majority white membership? Because a dominant white culture holds the power to define reality, the engagement and support of white Americans is essential to change the current reality. This nation—and Milwaukee in particular as a place suffering so greatly from social inequality and injustices—needs strong intercultural alliances engaging in social action, challenging the system to transform. Bringing different voices together to inspire change requires honesty, vulnerability, and the commitment to keep showing up in order to build true community.
Now is the time to take notice, to open our eyes and minds, and to put our hearts into this historic movement. We invite you to engage in a dialogue here on this blog — leave a comment below!
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The Reverend Elaine Beth Peresluha, Interim Senior Minister, has previously served interim ministries in Concord, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Wilmington, North Carolina. Before that she had settled ministries in Bangor, Maine, and Woodstock, Vermont. She’s a 1995 graduate of Harvard Divinity School, with a Ph.D. in Social Science.
First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee is a home for spiritual community, social justice, and intellectual freedom, active in Milwaukee since 1842. Unitarian Universalism is an inclusive denomination; core principles include recognition of the worth and dignity of every person; respect for the interdependent web of existence; and the goal of world peace, liberty and justice.