Healing the Waters: Addressing Race, Class, Gender and Immigration Status

From March 13th – 15th, 2015 I participated in an environmental justice conference entitled Healing the Waters:  Decolonizing Our Communities and the Climate Movement that focused on the intersections of race, gender, class, and immigration status in New Orleans, LA.

Focusing on those intersections, we knew as people of faith, and environmental activists and stewards of the earth, that we needed to have a deeper conversation around these national and international issues when it comes to climate change.

Two organizations got together and made this important conference and conversation(s) happen: Diverse, Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) and Allies for Racial Equity (ARE). These two groups are working on creating an anti-racist/anti-oppressive Unitarian Universalism, and also, an anti-racist/anti-oppressive United States.

Keynote speeches and workshops addressed all of these issues creating dialog that lasted until the next workshop or address. The history of the South, including its racism, oppression, and corruption all came together, especially in Colette Pichon Battle’s words. Colette is the Executive Director of the  Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. Her address laid out the historical and institutional racist practices that have created the harsh situations experienced by displaced and the impoverished people of New Orleans and its surrounding cities and communities. It was an education that I welcomed because I had only heard of or read about the injustices taking place in New Orleans, and in other southern cities, after Hurricane Katrina. You have to go there and listen to the locals in order to know what is really going on, and how climate change and political corruption has affected the people there.

As a human rights activist, and as an environmental activist, I feel that if we’re going to solve 21st Century issues relating to the climate movement, these intersections must continue to be addressed, discussed, and documented as we deal with a changing world and a changing global climate. The communities that are usually affected by all of this are usually front line communities who have been dealing with and learning about Earth’s climate changes for centuries. Front line communities have the experience, knowledge, and leadership that will help change our situation and develop strategies that will bring us together in the process of creating a healthier planet for generations to come.

Healing the Waters was created with an intentional multicultural focus that allowed us to keep front line communities’s at the center of our work. It also provided us with the opportunity to have a much needed conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement.

UU World writer and nationally known blogger and activist Kenny Wiley and myself led a conversation on the Black Lives Matter movement and discussed our activities within the movement and how Unitarian Universalists can be involved and more engaged in this human rights struggle.

White Unitarian Universalists were looking for better ways to be involved, and were willing to have the tough conversations that happen when we’re discussing racism, police brutality, or mass incarceration here in the United States.

The workshop was very engaging as we decided to sit in a circle and address our concerns, fears, and thoughts about what is taking place with the Black Lives Matter movement. What came out of that dialog was as simple as white (Unitarian Universalists) doing whatever they could on their own level to help with the situation. As long as we’re doing something to save the lives of black women and men, and brown women and men, is helpful to our struggle.

New Orleans was a great setting for this conference. We talked about how we could invite Colette Pichon Battle to help do more of this work with us, and what future workshops and gatherings in our Unitarian Universalist faith movement could look with a lot of what was shared at Healing the Waters: Decolonizing Our Communities and the Climate Movement.

With our upcoming gathering of thousands of Unitarian Universalists in downtown Portland, OR this summer (http://www.uua.org/ga) and our climate movement focus with Commit2Respond (http://www.commit2respond.org) now is the time for a lot of important work to be done to help heal our hurting planet.

To learn more about this conference, visit http://alliesforracialequity.wildapricot.org. To learn more about Diverse, Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries, visit http://www.druumm.org.

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