Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Will Floyd

A Youth and Young Adult History of Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression Work in UUism
By Will Floyd

      The genesis of today’s anti-racism/anti-oppression work in UU youth and young adult communities comes from a long history of Unitarian and Universalist youth involvement in social activism and a desire for justice in our lives. Racism also has a long and devastating history within our denomination as well as in our youth organizations. With the 1997 GA resolution, “Toward an Anti-Racist Unitarian Universalist Association”, the UUA made a commitment to doing institution-wide anti-racism work through the Journey Towards Wholeness Initiative. According to Joseph Santos-Lyons in A Brief and Personal History of Groundwork 1998-2007, “addressing race has been a legacy [within the UUA] since the 1960s. Yet many who have engaged race relations have experienced serious resistance and frustration to the point of burnout and even sadly a reconsidering of their Unitarian Universalist faith. Institutional commitment has consistently ebbed except for a roughly five-year period from 1997-2001 during the last term of President John Buehrens through the leadership of the UUA Journey Towards Wholeness Transformation Committee and the Faith in Action Department. Anti-racist/anti-oppression/multiculturalism adopted as a primary strategy for addressing and redressing generations of White Supremacy, segregation, and marginalization of People of Color, took root with the near unanimous passage of the Journey Towards Wholeness Resolution at General Assembly 1997 in Phoenix. This strategy… has seemed to slowly recede from the collective UU consciousness.” Here Santos-Lyons explains how institutional commitment to anti-racism as an institutional analysis has declined over the years in the UUA as a whole. This is not to discredit the efforts of professional and lay leaders committed to developing anti-racism/anti-oppression resources and organizing trainings, etc. However, a critical institutional analysis around oppression has been strikingly absent from discussions of anti-racism in the UUA, while an interpersonal analysis of racism and oppression has been prevalent in “anti-racist” circles. It is within this context that an AR/AO/MC consciousness developed in UU youth and young adult communities.
      An anti-racism focus developed in YRUU during the Journey Towards Wholeness process, but became most active after 2001. YRUU Youth Council passed a resolution in 1997 in support of the Journey Towards Wholeness Initiative. But with the Resolution It’s Time We Did Something About Racism in YRUU in 1999, a process for a drastic cultural change within YRUU was laid out. This resolution required an analysis of all continental leadership and training activities through an “anti-racist lens.” At the same time anti-racism training began being included in continental events like Opus and Concentric. Joseph Santos-Lyons observes that “by 2001, youth and young adults were taking very seriously race and racism, really for the first time since the 1960s on an institutional level. Workshops and trainings were being incorporated into Opus, ConCentric, GA, Con Con, Youth Council, Youth Social Justice Conference, etc, and the youth and young adults were learning and seeking to lead anti-racism, sometimes on their own. There were only a couple of youth-young adult facilitators, who developed informally. Most were closely associated with the UUA staff, the Journey Towards Wholeness Initiative…” This effort developed largely separately from other efforts in the UUA (such as resource development and Jubilee trainings) with the dedication of youth and young adult leaders and select staff.

      Efforts by the youth and young adult leaders to present anti-racism were met with skepticism and resistance. “Critics [of anti-racism] hid behind rumors of dogmatism, shame, and guilt methodology and ideologies of color-blindness, individualism, and an intellectualization of the supremacy classism as the source of racism.” At the same time, the young leaders were faced with the challenge of transforming UU communities and often lacked the experience, resources, mentorship, and staff support needed to do the job. According to Santos-Lyons, “Issues of paternalism undermined the quality of work, primarily through tokenizing Youth of Color and struggling to identify the workings of White Privilege among leadership…”

      In January of 2002 representatives from YRUU, DRUUMM, C*UUYAN, the Youth and YA/CM offices, as well as at large participants gathered in Clearwater, Florida where goals were developed and prioritized and DRUUMM YaYA was formally organized. The meeting provided a blueprint for the next few years of youth and young adult anti-racism work, but still “there were few opportunities to develop and mentor anti-racism/anti-oppression leadership in an accountable, collective, and systematic way. Jubilee I and II trainers were mostly all over the age of 35, there were complaints of ageism…” While critiquing the resources developed under the direction of the Journey Towards Wholeness Initiative, the participants of the Clearwater meeting agreed that “it was [the Journey Towards Wholeness] programs in particular that were not developed in ways that were accountable to UU youth and young adults, and it [was] these programs about which UU youth and young adults have had very legitimate critiques, both with regard to content and to process.” The failure of Jubilee trainings and other resources to be accessible to youth and the lack of opportunity for youth and young adults to take leadership in Journey Towards Wholeness anti-racism initiatives created a great need for a youth and young adult-specific anti-racism training program.

      As Santos-Lyons recounts, “In late 2003, the Youth and Young Adult/Campus Ministry Office, in cooperation with the C*UUYAN and YRUU Steering Committees, agreed to sponsor a new program – the Youth and Young Adult Anti-Racism Trainer Program.” The first training-of-trainers for this new program was held in Boston in May of 2004. The effort was supported by a few experienced UU anti-racism trainers and “elders in the Journey Towards Wholeness and DRUUMM communities. It was very difficult however and the need for more dedicated staff and funding was felt acutely… and each year letters were written to our supervisors and up the UUA hierarchy requesting financial support. These were denied.” This collective was named ARTOP (Anti-Racism Trainer Organizer Program) and then renamed Groundwork in 2006 and a second training-of-trainers was held during the Fall of 2006.

      Groundwork has served as the primary source of anti-racism/anti-oppression education for UU youth and young adults in recent years. Groundwork’s collective governance and critical analysis of oppression is reflective of the combined youth and young adult approach to anti-racism over more than a decade. The relatively independent youth and young adult anti-racism work provided a critical analysis of the Journey Towards Wholeness. For example, at the 2002 Clearwater meeting participants brainstormed criticisms of the Journey Toward Wholeness. These criticisms included: “POC and youth are tokenized and sucked into the energy vortex; forgetting to link oppressions (it’s all tied in, race, class, gender, sexuality, etc); generational split; gatekeeping at all levels (not everyone is invited to experience the analysis); programming spawned from the majority often leads to tokenism; need to use linked oppressions to the advantage of the movement; need more discussion of outside the box action!; analysis is not ‘growing’ (little room for new perspectives); model was never developed with youth and young adults in mind…” With increased communication between UUs doing anti-racism work, these concerns might have been addressed. However, this communication often did not occur due to barriers of age and ideology; these are barriers that prevented anti-racism/anti-oppression work from growing in a multi-generational context.

      The development of youth and young adult specific anti-racism programming would not have been possible without the benefit of youth empowerment in YRUU.

- The Groundwork collective of trainer/organizers needs to funded by the UUA, and the collective must have control over their programming
YSJT (Youth Social Justice Training) must continue to be staffed
- Youth and Young Adults must be empowered to decide how to engage anti-oppression work
- Support must be available for anti-oppression work as a whole, recognizing how oppressions intersect and how theses oppressions can be addressed together within UUism
- Funding should be available for youth and young adult identity-based ministries: DRUUMM YaYA, a White Allies (ARE) YaYA, an Interweave YaYA, etc.

* We must build and honor past collaboration of YaYAs on AR/AO by empowering YaYAs to continue that work with staff support, funding, and organizational self-determination

This account developed mainly from the following sources which were quoted throughout the piece:

Groundwork Manual. “A Brief and Personal History of Groundwork 1998-2007,” Joseph Santos-Lyons.

Minutes: Unitarian Universalist Youth and Young Adult Anti-Racism Resources Development Meeting. January 17-19, 2002, Clearwater, Florida.

I regret that I was not able to compile additional sources and viewpoints for this piece.

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