The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
In Their Own Words: Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU)
By Suhra Nahib on February 5, 2021
Since the summer of 2015, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) has been an essential resource for Black UUs across the United States.
BLUU, an independent organization initially sponsored by the UUA and an ever-growing spiritual family, is home to hundreds of Black UUs and Black people who don’t necessarily claim Unitarian Universalism, but share our values. A group of volunteers and paid staff, all part of the Organizing Collective Board of Directors, holds the mission and vision of BLUU along with other volunteer guidance groups within the organization, including an Advisory Team, the 360 Degree Elders Council, and a Financial Transparency Group. They all work together to minister to BLUU’s far-reaching communities, working within the larger UU faith and centering Blackness in their Unitarian Universalism. Rev. Mykal Slack, BLUU’s paid ministerial staff, plans and leads BLUU’s online worship services, attends to the pastoral care needs of the community, leads the newly instituted BLUU Havens and BLUU Harbors initiative, and serves as co-editor of two upcoming publications by BLUU. He also sits on BLUU’s Organizing Collective Board.
2020 was a historic year for the United States, not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of a renewed focus on racial injustice due to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. As protests broke out across the nation, UUs and people of conscience were reminded of the tremendous amount of work we are called in to as we try to heal the immense harm inflicted by white supremacy and anti-black racism.
UUSC sat down with Rev. Slack and asked him about racial justice and the work of BLUU.
UUSC: How was BLUU formed?
Slack: BLUU was formed when a number of Black Unitarian Universalists found themselves at the Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland in July 2015. Folks were talking about their experiences as Black UUs and finding commonality. Those experiences were disheartening and hard, even cruel, [and we] concluded that perhaps we could work together to support other Black UUs who were likely having some similar experiences in Unitarian Universalism. In particular, in the places where UUs congregate, like our congregations or other affiliated organizations. Not everyone at the convening ultimately became a part of the first iteration of the organizing collective, but an organizing collective was formed. And having some initial ideas about what the needs might be around trying to galvanize people and bring people together, they started doing that work as a team.” Developing and then sharing the 7 Principles of Black Lives with the world was the first action they did in September of that same year.
UUSC: What kinds of work does BLUU organize?
Slack: I would probably divide the work into two big buckets. There are ways in which we offer care to Black UUs specifically; we know that there are things that we are doing that folks individually get a lot out of. There are also initiatives that are meant to help change Black people’s material conditions more broadly. So, for example, we have been holding online worship services in explicitly Black spaces every month since September 2017, which is one way that individual folks can choose to get their spiritual needs met. Weekly mindfulness and meditation practice, daily affirmations, children and youth programming, and pastoral care are some other examples of that work. These are programs that build us all up as a broader Black UU community, and individual people are making choices to engage that programming based on their own wants and needs.
One of those broader initiatives was to provide disaster relief to Black people during the hurricanes that were ravaging the south a few years ago. Another, Babies and Bailouts, was spearheaded by Team Sankofa, an amazing group of volunteer organizers with BLUU. This project comes together as a weekly effort each year to both raise funds to free Black people from cages and to raise awareness both about the necessity of ending the money bail system and about that system’s particular impact on Black Mamas, who get separated from their families simply because being free costs more than their paychecks can afford.
Notice that I didn’t divide our work into spiritual work and organizing work. All of it is deeply spiritual work and all of it requires some form of intentional relationship building and organizing. All of this is work grounded in Unitarian Universalism and required of us, if love, justice, and liberation is what we believe in and what we commit to moving toward in all we do.
UUSC: Why is a group like BLUU necessary for Black UUs?
Slack: In broad strokes, I think BLUU is necessary because the work we do and the initiatives and organizations we support matter to Black UUs and to Black people who aren’t UU. Our programming and ministries matter because, at every turn, we proclaim and live into a Unitarian Universalism that centers Blackness. And by doing and saying so unapologetically, Black UUs, who feel held by, or want to be more connected to, Black ancestry, Black love, Black thought, Black artistry, and Black faith, believe that it’s possible to do and say so themselves. All the ways BLUU communities, both online and in-person, minister to ourselves and one another are deeply powerful because they honor, uplift, and equip Black Lives, first and foremost. And in a faith that is more times than not steeped in white supremacy culture, and in a country and world where state sanctioned violence against Black bodies is as pervasive as it still is, this work is critical.
For us, Unitarian Universalism is a living and breathing thing, reflective of the lived experiences of the people who want and need it. We understand Unitarian Universalism to be an orientation toward love, liberation, and justice, ideas and actions that are central to our lives, however our spirit/faith/connective paths get us there. This is why it’s not hard for us, like it can be in many predominantly white UU spaces, to live out a truly multi-religious and multi-faith ethos.
I think it’s also worth noting that Black people, more broadly, are hungry for spiritual community and faith formation that help us all breathe life into the fullness of who we are, whatever our gender, sexuality, faith journey, income, ability, education, family status, neighborhood, etc. At the core of our Black Unitarian Universalism is a rich, liberatory faith perspective that center the voices and lived experiences of Black people of all backgrounds. And, as a direct result of relationships we have with Black people, BLUU is solidly positioned to build these kinds of communities.
Particularly with the recent launch of BLUU Havens (Black UU social groups) and BLUU Harbors (Black UU spiritual communities), and all the brilliant online spaces BLUU has been curating and holding, we are saying to Black people everywhere that we are here to co-create and cultivate something really beautiful and worthwhile. And for Black people who struggle to find theologically grounded and safe spaces, for all the reasons we can imagine, BLUU could be a place to call home.
UUSC: This has been an intense and rough start to the new year, particularly with the attempted insurrection and worries about ongoing white nationalist organizing. How does BLUU understand its work moving into 2021?
BLUU has always believed in investing in people, ideas, organizing, theologies, be-ologies, and do-ologies, and Black futures where supremacy and colonization have no place and cannot thrive. We have always been committed to being and doing in our communities in ways that uphold, amplify and affirm Black life. This was true long before an attempted takeover of the U.S. Capitol, and it’s still true today. And it will be true tomorrow. We’re going to remain mindful of our own care and the care of Black people in our midst, and the work continues. We’ll continue to offer twice-monthly worship, pastoral care, organizing work, and community-building opportunities of various kinds because that’s what our folx say they want and need. And we’re well practiced at pivoting, doing a new thing when a new thing is called for. As hard as it’s been, I continue to be hopeful, about our ongoing work and about our Black futures.
We’re still here.
To learn more about BLUU, visit https://blacklivesuu.org/.
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!
Images Credit: BLUU