Change Begins with Us

The hiring practices of the UUA are of deep consequence and are very much on my mind as they have been throughout this last year. Our UUA Staff represent our faith and along with dedicated volunteers shape who we are becoming. It matters a great deal who serves in leadership at every level of our Association, and it matters whether or not our leadership reflects the diversity of the people we claim to serve.

We claim a commitment to building an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and multicultural UUA, but this is not reflected when we examine who gets hired into leadership positions at the UUA and see the patterns that emerge. 9 out of 10 members of the Leadership Council who work closely with our President are white, and every Team Lead in the 5 regions is white. A staff hire was recently made in the Southern Region that has sparked a very important conversation. Thank you, Aisha Hauser, and many others for rightly raising your concerns. There are some that are describing this staff hire as precipitating a crisis.

I want to name the following: We were already in crisis around this issue before the recent staff hire of a new Regional Lead where a white person has been hired to replace another white staff member. However, this staff hire on the heels of the BLUU Convening and the Finding Our Way Home Conference has elevated this crisis into denomination-wide conversation as leaders of color speak out. While this isn’t about one staff hire, we see a pattern that reveals something clear in our system about who has access to power and privilege and who is either excluded or limited in access.

The crisis has been on my mind for months as I can clearly see that the three of us who are running for President will be replacing a person of color in that position. This means that only one person of color, the Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness would remain at that executive level of leadership. This is made all the more glaring by the fact that the Director of Lifespan Faith Development has been removed from the Leadership Council and is a staff position currently held by a woman of color. When this happened, it raised questions for me about whose voices are being centered in the institution that tends our faith. (What is the distance between what we say about centering people of color and what we do? What is the distance between our desire to create a lifelong faith and who holds positions of power? etc.) This is an example of a decision I would change as president.

I am keenly interested in listening to communities of color and learning how we repeat mistakes that keep them on the margins or out of leadership positions – both paid and volunteer. At the Black Lives of UU convening, I shared publicly that I want to initiate a community survey of People of Color currently employed in the UUA and formerly employed in the UUA to uncover patterns of resistance to transformation. My understanding of our UUA landscape includes the UUA itself, associated/affiliated UU entities, congregations, and covenanted communities. My goal is to undertake this survey during the first 100 days I am in office and to use the findings to assist with concrete steps in a strategic plan and climate and culture change initiatives.

One example of something I plan to lead with as president is a focus on building up our capacity for leadership development within communities of color. I hear time and again how our recruitment efforts for staff and volunteers are affected by “not enough applicants who identify as people of color.” First, given the pattern, we need to be skeptical of such assertions to look seriously at the criteria we are setting and how they function to exclude people of color. Second, we need to be investing in leadership pipelines locally, regionally, and nationally. An example I want to lift up from our history is the network of DRUUMM Youth and Young Adults, which led to a number of religious professionals and dedicated leaders of color who are active in our faith today.

Another piece of this work that is critical and that I will support in my presidency is local, regional, and national anti-racism trainings for congregations, leaders, and staff. I find it sad that our UU anti-racism learning networks have been dismantled even as we have learned more about how to deliver effective trainings. While we can and should continue to work with outside organizations who offer trainings, we also need Unitarian Universalists who are equipped as trainers in our own context. We have important theological questions to address and work on our own institutions to be done. This parallels our commitment to engage in the work of anti-oppression in the world and not forget the work of anti-oppression that remains in our own house. It is hypocritical to think we are a part of the answer to justice in society and that we are not impacted by the same forces of power, greed, and racism.

I am very interested in what you have to say about our goals of becoming an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, diverse, multicultural, and multigenerational UUA. Please, share your thoughts and experience with me here. This is our beloved shared work.