An Urbana congregation’s four-year effort to understand and seek justice for racism will be recognized tonight by the local chapter of the NAACP.
Set to receive the organization’s President’s Award, which goes to the person or group that best reflects the values of the NAACP: Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, described by its pastor as “a mostly white liberal church.”
“Most white liberals have a sense of wanting racial justice,” the Rev. FLORENCE CAPLOW says, “but to actually do the job is what we have been engaged in as a church.”
The congregation found inspiration in one particular passage from a letter written by the Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. from the Birmingham Jail: “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill-will.”
UUCUC’s project began in 2016, when the congregation created its first Racial Justice Initiative. Two years later, the church placed a Black Lives Matter banner out front and established a group (the Racial Justice Project) to continue the work.
“We live in a society that is steeped in issues of racism,” says congregation member JOE OMO-OSAGIE. “This church is trying to be better.”
Member JIM HANNUM says the group has focused on education and increasing awareness about systematic racism and the effects of a white supremacy culture.
Committee members led a series of discussions and classes on issues, from the history of slavery to structural racism.
Hannum taught a class about white privilege, which he says led to conversations about “how our society is structured to give advantages to white people and disadvantages to people of color, whether it is in loan systems or housing systems or more.”
The church also hosted a series of free films about racism.
“My favorite film was ‘The 13th,’ about the 13th Amendment and how, when slavery ended, it really didn’t end racial oppression. Black people are still oppressed,” says congregation member SANDY HANNUM.
Meanwhile, Caplow led a series of Sunday services focused on racial justice, “so that our entire congregation is engaged.”
“When we put up the Black Lives Matter banner, that says to me we did our work as a congregation,” she says. “We need to take care of the fact that our black community faces issues that are beyond what the white community experiences.”
Next up for the congregation is a bus trip, scheduled for March 2020, to historic civil-rights sites in Tennessee and Alabama.
Among the planned stops: the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Dr. King’s church and the Legacy Museum of Montgomery, Ala.
Says member KATHLEEN ROBBINS: “This experience has opened up my eyes to the depth and breadth of the work we have to do.”