Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

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“In With the Out Crowd”

July 22, 2016

An interview with Tom Andrews, UUSC President and CEO, shortly after he succeeded Bill Schulz this summer.

What did you like the most about the opportunity to become President and CEO of UUSC?

First of all, I don’t think I can talk about what I’d like to do without first acknowledging the enormous contributions Bill Schulz made in his six years of work for the cause of human rights and social justice at UUSC. He was never content to just talk the talk. He walks the walk in a way that makes our organization, and indeed, our world, a much better place.

I’ve been an activist since I was in high school in Easton, Massachusetts, and even with all that’s happened in the years since that time, I believe there has never been a period in my lifetime that the mission and values of UUSC have been more desperately needed in the world. This is an organization that lifts up the voices of the most marginalized and forgotten communities across the globe – women, men, and children who have experienced firsthand the terrible motivating power of fear and bigotry and hatred. In today’s world, it’s so important for these individuals to know there are people who understand the power of love, community, and empathy, and who are willing to put their shared values into action to combat issues of inequality and injustice. In other words, it’s good to know there are groups of people like those of us here at UUSC.

You mentioned you’ve been an activist since high school. Can you tell us more about that?

When I was a 16-year old high school football player, I thought I had hurt my knee, but it turned out that the soreness wasn’t a sports injury, but a particularly malignant form of cancer. I learned at an early age that there are existential questions about how to best spend the years we have. I had a lot of time in the hospital to think about how to make the most of whatever time I had – to make it matter.

So instead of sports and social activities – well, maybe in addition to some of them – I became an activist and an organizer. My friends and I built an organization that sought to make our community and world a better and more just place. We raised money to help Easton’s low-income elderly residents; to establish a recreation program matching at-risk kids with older mentors; launching an agricultural project in Guatemala; and founding an alternative high school newspaper. That newspaper was deemed too radical by school administrators, so I had to distribute it in the parking lot. It was at that point that interest in the newspaper soared!

Under my picture in my high school yearbook is the phrase, “In with the out crowd.” These five words also define what UUSC stands for. It may have begun as a play on the words of an old Motown song years ago, but being in with the out crowd is a powerful statement of what it means to work for human rights and social justice.

What are some of the most pressing needs you see for UUSC in the world today?

There are so many wrongs to be righted that it’s easy to grow discouraged, but cynicism and hopelessness are indulgences we just can’t afford. For starters, there’s global warming. The catastrophic consequences of years of unmitigated assault on our planet are being paid – first and foremost – by those who had the least to do with that assault. They are first in line to lose their land, their water, their health, their very lives. UUSC is standing with them and for them, not just as environmentalists, but as a gentle, angry people who are committed to environmental justice.

We also need to stand with and for those who are on the very bottom of a fundamentally unfair economic and political system that continues to generate grotesque disparities in income and opportunity. That includes people all over the globe, where we face a refugee crisis unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime. And it also includes many of our fellow citizens and residents here in the United States, where individuals seeking the most powerful elected offices in the land fill the air with loathsome, hate-filled rhetoric that fuels fear and threatens basic civil liberties and human rights.

And even in the face of these man-made threats to human rights and sometimes life itself, there will always be unforeseen humanitarian and natural disasters that cry out for immediate, compassionate assistance. Those who are on the margins of society are most at risk during a disaster. This is when being on the margins can become a death sentence.

Are there any words spoken by someone in your lifetime you find meaningful right now?

When I think of the mission of UUSC, I think of the words of the late Bobby Kennedy’s “Ripples of Hope” speech, which he delivered to a group of students in Cape Town, during the dark days of Apartheid in South Africa: “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man (or woman) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he (or she) sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other, form a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

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