In the last two weeks of August I went on a self-constructed two week language immersion experience in Copenhagen. While there I wore a small "Black Lives Matter" button. It led to some fascinating conversations. Huge numbers of people from the Middle East, Syria especially, are pushing their way towards Europe. The Continent finds itself with the biggest wave of displaced people and its biggest humanitarian crisis since World War 2.
Denmark has a new right wing coalition government. And there, as here, politicians on the right compete with each other over how far they are willing to go in getting tough on immigrants. The new immigration minister, Inger Støjberg, has a special gift from dramatic anti-immigrant gestures which make great hooks for news stories. One of her moves was try to remove the special permission to immigrate that the former left wing government had given to 2,500. Another was to put an ad in a Lebanese newspaper telling people that Denmark was a bad place to come to (and calculating the cost of this advertisement as equal to the cost of supporting one immigrant for one year) -- or sending more police to the border.
What can one say about Ferguson? Never enough, never enough, for some of us, and while for others, even one mention of the name is too much. There is much that swirls in the air these days about how we, as a country, respond to the continuing existence of racism in our institutions, our hearts, and our minds. It was this in mind that I went as part of our MidAmerica contingent to the events marking the one year anniversary of the death (murder) of Michael Brown.
Why did I go? Although I was involved as much as someone of my age could be in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, I left the States early in the 1970s for Canada. There the “complexion” of race relations is not the same — it’s based on a different history, and racism in Canada comes from similar but different strands. So when I returned to the States in the 1990s, I was playing catch up on issues around race. I noticed that some things had changed (many for the better), but that the great divide still existed with regard to education, employment, justice, and how people socialize. I wanted to learn more about that, and so I dabbled in the topic for years. Since coming on staff for MidAmerica, the trainings have deepened, and I am pleased to be able to work on intercultural competency issues for our Region.
I came to Birmingham and Selma last March to commemorate the events of March 1965, and to be reminded of why it is that racial justice is so crucial. I came home rededicated and recommitted to doing whatever I can to help move us forward as a country to realizing that Black Lives Matter, and that there is much work still left to be done to bring about the equality we UUs believe in so completely.
I’d already been to Birmingham and Selma — in 2013, I joined the UU Living Legacy Pilgrimage to learn about our UU involvement in the Civil Rights movement in the south. It was a transformational experience, with us learning from veterans of the Civil Rights movement — those who had been arrested, those who transported others during the bus boycott, those White clergy who served in African American congregations, children of the martyrs, and more. It helped me understand more deeply the cost of hard won freedom.
The conference of commemoration and recommitment in March was more than I had imagined. We heard from Rev. C.T. Vivian, one of the leaders in Selma 50 years ago; Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP; Opal Tometi, one of the founders of #BlackLivesMatter movement. We had a keynote from Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, who helped us understand what is needed going forward.
In the midst of all the incredible workshops, worship and presentation, there were two parts of the conference that stood out: honoring the families of the Selma martyrs, and marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.