Environmental Justice Collaboratory

     In March 2014, UU leaders from across the country met in Detroit, MI, to engage in deep conversation about how the social justice issues that UUs care about so passionately all intersect with environmental/ecological justice issues. The group worked to understand and embrace this critical, foundational relationship that will inform and aid our response to a climate-changing world.

     Scroll down the page  to see the press release for this Environmental Justice Collaboratory and read the June 18 letter below (or download PDF), which was sent to a long list of other UU leaders and UU organizations, inviting their input and participation.

     Watch this space for additional information and developments as this new movement toward ecological justice grows within our denomination.

Letter From Collaboratory Participants Inviting UU Leaders and Organizations To Join the Environmental Justice Conversation

June 18, 2014

Dear (see recipient list after signers),

     In March 2014, thirty leaders representing at least eighteen organizations across the larger Unitarian Universalist community came together in Detroit. Over the course of four days, we looked deeply into environment, race, class, and a host of other critical factors intersect in this era of massive global change. After engaging in some strategic thinking, we have committed ourselves, individually and organizationally, to continue this work and it is work we call our Unitarian Universalist leadership to engage in with us.

     The oppression of marginalized human communities and of other species, as well as all aspects of our natural, built, and social environment, intersect through unjust power dynamics. The logic that led to slavery and colonization and the degradation of humans at various times in history is the same that has led to speciesism and is leading to the destruction of Earth.  It is the framework that suggests everything is in service to the dominant class. People who fight racism or sexism but don’t extend the models of oppression to Earth are supporting the degradation of the planet, and people who work for environmental sustainability but not socially sustainable models are supporting the dominant structure which will ultimately defeat Earth or will, at least, terminate her ability to maintain human life. The fight for justice is the fight for life in every form. The dismantling of the power structure of dominance is the dismantling of the same structure that dominates Earth.

     The environmental justice movement was founded by people of color who charged mainstream environmentalist organizations to recognize the power analysis needed to dismantle the structures that are damaging our planet, with an eye on how our decisions affect those who are most vulnerable in our society. Whether one refers to addressing this work as environmental justice or ecological justice is less important than acting on the reality that many oppressions are inextricably linked. Each signing organization and individual commends your organization or staff group to also make that connection in analysis, education, and strategy.

     The individuals and organizations listed below are dedicated to our Unitarian Universalist vision and faith community. We bring our collective presence to bear as we ask you to consider our invitation. We are committed to engaging ongoing dialogue at all levels of our Unitarian Universalist community.

     We are appealing to Unitarian Universalist organizations, asking you to enlarge your agendas to prioritize environmental justice. We are requesting that you engage with us in direct conversation regarding our new planetary reality and our shared desire for justice in all our communities. We hope these conversations will inspire a shifting of priorities in your areas of expertise and circles of concern. 

     As we work across organizational boundaries, we have become acutely aware that some of our Unitarian Universalist cultural and organizational habits do not serve our movement and the larger world as well as they might. We are learning a great deal about collaboration and intersectionality, where issues tend to be pitted one against the other in competition for scarce resources. We commit ourselves to help shift this dynamic in our spheres of influence, and hope to support this process at as many levels, and in as many areas of the Unitarian Universalist world, as possible. We are committed to engaging in ongoing dialogue about environmental and ecological justice, and we ask that the UUA leadership and Unitarian Universalists engage this conversation with us.

     Thank you for your attention to these critical issues and for thinking with us on behalf of this world and this faith we love. The need is great and the time, we believe, is right and necessary in ways it has never been before. We look forward to hearing from you and continuing this conversation in the months ahead. You can contact us at ejuucollaboratory@gmail.com.

In Faith,

  • Rev. Peggy Clarke, Minister, First Unitarian Society, Hastings on Hudson, NY and
  • Racial and Social Justice Consultant, UU Metro NY District
  • Rev. Rose Edington
  • Barbara Ford, Advisor, UU Ministry for Earth
  • Meck Groot, Justice Ministries Coordinator, Clara Barton and Mass Bay Districts of UU Congregations
  • Dr. Michael Hogue, Professor of Theology, Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Rev. Mel Hoover
  • Rev. Dr. Leisa Huyck, Minister-At-Large
  • Rev. Beth Johnson, President, UU Animal Ministry
  • Rev. Susan Karlson, Central East Regional Group (CERG) Disaster Response Coordinator
  • Irene Keim, Chair, UU Ministry for Earth
  • Rev. Kurt Kuhwald, Assistant Professor, Starr King School for the Ministry
  • Dr. Kat Liu, Board Member, UU Ministry for Earth
  • Matthew McHale, Summer Minister, West Shore UU Church, Rocky River, OH
  • Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti Sr. Minister, The Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill, NJ
  • Jennifer Nordstrom, UU Young Adults for Climate Justice
  • Rev. Karen Quinlan
  • Christopher D. Sims, UUA Nominating Committee and DRUUMM Executive Team.
  • Rev. Dr. Frances Sink, Minister, The Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Stamford, CT, Board Member, UU Ministry for Earth
  • Nancy King Smith, First Unitarian Church, Cleveland, OH
  • Rev. Jan Taddeo, President-Elect for Allies for Racial Equity

Recipients of this Letter:

  • Jim Key, UUA Moderator
  • UUA Board of Trustees
  • UUA Staff and Administration
  • Rev. Peter Morales, President
  • Rev. Harlan Limpert, Chief Operating Officer
  • Rev. Sarah Lammert, Director of Ministries and Faith Development
  • Carey McDonald, Youth and Young Adult Ministries Director
  • Taquiena Boston, Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness
  • Janice Marie Johnson, Multicultural Ministries Director
  • Susan Leslie, Congregational Advocacy and Witness Director
  • Jennifer Toth, "Standing on the Side of Love" Campaign Manager
  • Rev. Scott Tayler, Director of Congregational Life
  • Rev. Teresa Cooley, Program and Strategy Officer
  • Helene Atwan, Director, Beacon Press
  • Mary Benard, Editorial Director, Skinner House Books
  • Chris Walton, Executive Editor, UU World
  • District/Regional Presidents
  • District/Regional Executives
  • Commission on Social Witness
  • Journey Towards Wholeness Transformation Committee
  • Youth Ministry Advisory Committee
  • UU Finding Program
  • Ministerial Fellowship Committee
  • UUA Presidential Search Committee
  • General Assembly Planning Committee
  • UU Service Committee
  • UU College of Social Justice
  • UU-United Nations Office
  • UU Women’s Federation
  • UU State Advocacy Networks
  • UU Ministry for Earth
  • Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries
  • Allies for Racial Equity
  • UUs for a Just Economic Community
  • UUs for Social Justice
  • Interweave
  • UU Trauma Response Ministry
  • UU Young Adults for Climate Justice
  • President’s Advisory Committee on Ethical Eating 
  • UU Animal Ministry
  • UU Ministers Association
  • Liberal Religious Educators Association
  • UU Society for Community Ministries
  • Meadville Lombard Theological School
  • Starr King School for the Ministry
  • Covenant of UU Pagans
  • UU Buddhist Fellowship
  • UU Christian Fellowship
  • UUs for Jewish Awareness
  • UU Humanist Association
  • UU Veatch Program at Shelter Rock
  • Church of the Larger Fellowship

Historic National UU Gathering Brings Motown Vision and Spirit to Congregational Justice Work

     Many people who do not live in Detroit perceive the city as an example of the nation’s despair and the demise of "The American Dream." Yet, Detroit proved a perfect setting for what later may be seen as a watershed event in UU history.

     Thirty UU leaders from around the nation recently came away from a strategic gathering there enGroup portrait of Collaboratory participantsergized and inspired by local activists and committed to an ambitious action plan for congregational organizing and ministry which weaves together racial, economic, and environmental justice. Pictured in the photo – First row (planning team): Frances Sink, Mike Hogue, Pam Sparr, Mark Hicks, Kurt Kuhwald; Second row: Beth Johnson, Peggy Clarke, Jessica Halperin, Mel Hoover, Rose Edington, Leisa Huyck, Karen Brammer, Meck Groot, Paula Cole Jones, Jan Taddeo; Third row: Manish Mishra-Marzetti, Evan Junker, Nancy King-Smith, Barbara Ford, Christopher Sims, Evan Seitz, Sue Karlson, Irene Keim, Kat Liu. Not pictured: Jennifer Nordstrom, Patricia Jones, Matt Friedrichs, Mary Lou Malone, Roger Mohr.

      “We are thrilled by the outcome of our time together. It exceeded our expectations,” notes Irene Keim, chair of the board of UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE), which organized and hosted the event. “I think we all felt this was a big leap forward for our denomination in terms of our understanding and practice of building a sustainable, Beloved Community.” 

     The "Environmental Justice Collaboratory" was held on March 10-13. Many UU-related groups, both UU seminaries (Starr King and Meadville Lombard), as well as UUA headquarters staff and district staff and consultants related to justice ministries sent representatives. Groups sending leaders included Diverse & Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), Allies for Racial Equity, UU State Advocacy Networks, UU Service Committee (UUSC), UU College of Social Justice, President’s Advisory Committee on Ethical Eating, UU Trauma Response Ministry, and UU Animal Ministry.

     The conference was called a “collaboratory” because of its collaborative and laboratory-style format informed by the teaching methodologies of Dr. Mark Hicks. The Collaboratory brought together a small, diverse set of key UU leaders to explore together how UUs might transform the culture, institutions, and practices of our denomination so that clergy and laity are better equipped and more effective in meeting the multi-dimensional challenges of the 21st century – including climate change and its consequences. Our central question was, “How can UUs help to bring about a more just, sustainable, and spirit-filled society and economy?”

     Some highlights in the agenda included:

  • Visit with Detroit civil rights activist Grace Lee BoggsA private meeting and conversation with noted local civil rights icon, 98-year-old Grace Lee Boggs about the nature of “visionary organizing.” Mrs. Boggs challenged the group to “‘grow our souls, not just our economy,” which is based on her analysis that our current economic troubles are really   a “crisis of our humanity.” She noted that the question whether Detroit would make a “comeback” was the wrong one to ask. That presumes a failed model of development. Rather, she challenged the Collaboratory participants sitting in her living room about how they might contribute to a new “American Revolution” where we move forward in creating more diverse and healthy communities founded on non-materialistic values and collaboration.
  • Colors Restaurant chef Phil Jones and Rev. Dr. Frances SinkMeeting with the staff and dining at Colors – the local Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) training restaurant. The UUA common read for 2014 is “Behind the Kitchen Door,” authored by one of the founders of ROC.
  • Meeting with organizers from the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union and a local Iraqi-American businessman who are forging an unprecedented partnership to create worker-owned grocery stores in Detroit to address both employment and food security needs in the city.   
  • Exploring the lessons and opportunities involved in local water rights organizing with local leaders and the UUSC’s Environmental Justice Program Manager Patricia Jones and UU Justice Ministries of California Executive Director Evan Junker.
  • Collaboratory participants visit abandoned Packard auto plantExploring industrial sites that contribute to the labeling of 48217 as the most toxic zip code in Michigan with an organizer who grew up in that neighborhood. UUMFE is in dialogue with UUA staff about participating in shareholder action related to two of the companies – Marathon Oil and DTE, the local coal-fired power plant.

     Planning team chair Pamela Sparr explained, “We developed the environmental justice journeys with the close consultation of two very knowledgeable local UUs – Mary Lou Malone and Matt Friedrichs from First UU Church in Detroit. Matt and Mary Lou are terrific examples of what engaged UUs are doing locally to make a big difference in their communities. I am very grateful that Rev. Roger Mohr has been so supportive of this endeavor and found us these two fantastic volunteers from his congregation. We couldn't have had the impact we did without them! The journeys provided several powerful examples of what our UU congregations could be doing – from urban gardening, to organizing around recycling, waste incineration, urban planning, and municipal budgets, to guaranteeing access to water, to using the financial muscle of their investments to promote employment and worker-owned enterprises, as well as environmental justice.”

Altar created by Collaboratory participants     Background information will be made available through the UUMFE website, social media, and various publications. UUMFE and the taskforce created to steer implementation of the work plan welcome the involvement of more UUs. “We have the ball rolling now, and hope many more UUs will join us as we provide more educational and action opportunities going forward,” said Rev. Dr. Frances Sink.     

     The Collaboratory was organized by UUMFE and funded in part by a grant from the UUA Funding Program. Faculty from Starr King (Rev. Kurt Kuhwald) and Meadville Lombard (Dr. Mark A. Hicks and Dr. Michael Hogue) served on the planning team along with UUMFE board representative Rev. Dr. Frances Sink. Pamela Sparr, an environmental justice consultant to UUMFE, served as chair.

     Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth was established in 1991 with the purpose of connecting and inspiring an active community of Unitarian Universalists for environmental justice, spiritual renewal, and shared reverence for our Earth home. UUMFE is a related non-profit organization serving the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. UUMFE gifted its signature creation, The Green Sanctuary Program, to the UUA in 2008.

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