Justice is a word that we hear often at First Church and justice is a value that we hold dear to our hearts. It’s at the core of what we do, and we strive to share it with our Milwaukee community and beyond.
Several years ago, under the care of the Rev. Jennifer Nordstrom, a team was formed called the Anti-Racism Team.
This team’s purpose is to advance Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, and Multiculturalism (ARAOMC) in First Church as a whole, focusing on Anti-Racism.
Recently, the First Church Digital Outreach Coordinator Molly Sommerhalder spoke with one of the original members of the team, Ron Oshima, who is a Japanese American, to share his story and experience of being on the team.
Here is Ron’s story:
Ron grew up in Hawaii, on the island of Kauai, and it had a large Japanese population (70%) at the time. His experience is very different from Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast. When Ron moved from Hawaii to Washington state, he started to build his awareness of racism in our country.
He realized that he grew up in a unique community that an island affords, and his passion for others led him to become aware of his conditioning as being considered “White” in America.
To continue his internal and spiritual growth, Ron joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Ohio in 2005. He became part of First Church in 2010 when he moved to Milwaukee and officially became a member in 2017.
Ron felt the calling to be involved in his church community and has been an active member in multiple groups at First Church. So far, his biggest contribution was being part of the Anti-Racism Team at its beginning. This group’s mission is to illuminate to racism inside the congregation and guide us forward to be an anti-racist congregation.
During his time on the team, Ron was able to use many resources to learn more from his community and hear first-hand racism stories from others in the group. Through his time on the team, he became aware of the need to be in a place of understanding with others.
“My time on the team gave me the space to create connection with others and realize that moving the needle to be anti-racist takes time and understanding, whether in a work place or a congregation,” says Ron. “It’s a long-term process.”
He also found himself asking questions and using these tools in his work outside of First Church. He now asks himself when pushed up against White Supremacy, “What don’t I know about this person and why are they this way?”
This deeper understanding allows him to realize that we all have different backgrounds. We need to listen to understand each other, even if we might not agree with each other.
Ron shares, “I am grateful for my time on the team and hearing multi-generational conversations on race issues with their varying perspectives based on age. I’m also grateful to learn how to hold space for people as they share their experiences.”
Ron appreciates the friendships and connections that he has made with others through this process.
Just because it isn’t our experience, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. Ron shares his experience of being an ally to remind us that understanding our unconscious bias is more than half the battle. By connecting, listening, and understanding, we can move ourselves forward in our journey personally, and as a congregation, to be anti-racist.