Translators working overtime

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This picture shows the stress that my translators are under. They struggle to keep up with the demand created by my expanded readership. Today’s readers come from Cambodia, Argentina, Lebanon and the United Kingdom which speaks an entirely different of English than we do. United Kingdom  had to create a type of English that could be understand all over the world: in Nigeria, Canada, India and, Pakistan. And that wasn’t enough. England had to invent games that were boring enough ie, soccer and cricket, so that nobody would notice that they were being invaded. I mean here this tiny county is that had stuck itself into every corner of the globe. But of course, after England got its paws bloodied by all those colonists telling them to bugger off, we decided to put our greedy little paws in. So I wonder if my readers in Argentina and Lebanon are thinking, here is one of those imperialist yanks taking over what should be blogging space for our writers or are they thinking, probably another CIA agent, best avoid him. One can never be too cautious.

Meanwhile the afternoon shift translators have arrived.

 

2017-06-23 12.28.08

They like me in Bangladesh and Ukraine

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I have been checking my readership stats lately and noted an uptick in my readership in Ukraine and Bangladesh. Hours of work by my marketing team have borne fruit. This is great. I wonder what they are thinking when they see my golden words spewing out at them? Who is this character? What are these Unitarian Universalists? Is this connected with Russian hacking of the American elections?

I should do some research and find out what interests people in those other countries. I could develop a real following, even become like a cult figure. Perhaps I could visit my loyal followers.

2017-06-22 23.24.22

Will I be appointed to the Milwaukee Mental Health Board?

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This picture includes people from the Milwaukee County Committee I co-chair.

 

These are facts that might have been omitted from the application I submitted to County Executive Chris Abele to serve on the Milwaukee Mental Health Board. I was nominated for the Milwaukee Mental Health Board this spring and it was a top 10 experience. Up there with my prom date, receiving my draft number and going to New York to become a hippie. Many of these are things that might not have shown up if someone was doing a thorough background check on me. I have attended one of these Mental Health Board meetings and I said I was in favor of creating a peer run respite in Milwaukee. Which I still am. I have a number of other names by which I have been known, what you might call aliases. In the 7th grade I was known as that black bastard by an asshole I had to fight with. By high school I was a traitor because I refused to stand up for the pledge of allegiance. I was living in a racist city where the school board operated two separate school districts, and there was nothing separate but equal about them. And I was quite certain I was not going to be just a number.

I was very radical in my youth because I was excited about the people of Africa regaining their freedom. I wanted to see Portuguese troops leaving Africa by whatever means necessary. I was a little too young to understand what had happened to Patrice Lumumba. I was a baseball fan but I did not live and die on whatever Willie Mays had done. The song Young Gifted and Black helped define me and my generation. We were poetin.

But times have changed and so have I. My lovely brown hair has turned gray. Some of the heroes I admired have been killed. Counterrevolution has killed many of our African freedom fighters. After protesting the US military, I allowed myself to be drafted. As a man of 66 years I have a long career behind me and a relatively short career ahead of me. A lot of this depends on which of my 93 year old mother’s genes win out and whether I am found guilty of driving while black (or brown, which technically, I still am). I am working my 40 hour shift at the agency you help to pay for. I co-chair a Milwaukee County committee. And I write about things in my blog that appeal to me. I have never been rich. I have outlived my father many years and I stand for black lives matter. If those are the kind of traits you want represented on a body that helps make mental health decisions in Milwaukee County, then by all means go ahead and pick me. If not, I will always be Kenyatta.

 

How introversion affected me at General Assembly

 

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I am very introverted which becomes clear once you begin to know me. This means I am more comfortable socializing in small groups with people that I know in than with a roomful of strangers. My nickname is Spiderman which is appropriate because I am often in a corner reserving my energy. I am also facing the reality that many people I see are younger than me. This was especially true at the General Assembly, our annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  A lot of efforts were made to bring teens and young adults who were active as speakers and presenters. So it made for a much different conference than a lot of people were used to seeing.

The General Assembly is where we vote for the president, who serves a 6 year term. We also have elections for the board and several other positions. The plenary sessions include many statements of public witness where we state our values about issues. Unitarian Universalists tend to be highly educated and opinionated. And we like to study issues. We commemorated an earlier public witness by reading in unison a resolution that had passed 25 or 30 years ago. I dropped out after about 5 minutes of this. The entire thing took about 15 minutes. I guess we have a lot of people who go swimming to build up their energy before the convention.

At the plenary sessions there were seats reserved for the youth which surprised some adults who were used to sitting wherever they chose. In addition there were discussions and meeting spaces set aside for people of color and some of my friends were assigned to tell their white brethren that they needed to respect the boundary.

As for my boundaries I often sat near the back of the hall during sessions. Some of my Milwaukee friends chose to sit with me which was helpful. I took pictures of friends and sometimes went to restaurants by myself or with a friend. One veteran of General Assembly said we should pace ourselves because we will be exhausted by the effort of attempting to attend as many meetings as possible. The convention center layout contributed to this exhaustion because there were rooms hidden away at the end of long hallways. At first I enjoyed the high step counts I was getting on my phone but I learned to sit down and sometimes invite a friend over to talk with me.

I enjoyed the small group discussions where I was able to ask a few questions about some of the controversies that had arisen. One issue was the fact a couple of people retired from the jobs with the Unitarian Universalist Association and received large sums of money before the interim presidents were appointed. I asked about what changes had been made to ensure nothing like that would ever happen again. I also paid close attention when the Black Lives Matter group was talking about their plans and accomplishments. I felt it was a could time to absorb and understand as much as possible.

I was amazed by the variety of African-Americans I saw because I had never seen more than a handful of us at the First Unitarian Society. Even the videos of the Black Lives Matter event this spring had not really prepared me for this. I was excited and also wished I had been at the earlier event. There might be regional discussions and there is a retreat scheduled for this fall. My next step will be to open up and begin suggesting some activities for our Black Lives Matter Collaborative.

How I got to General Assembly

 

 

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The Unitarian Universalist Association was rocked this spring by revelations about their hiring practices and how few people of color it employs. It is a system which favors white ministers. Suddenly the liberal religion was turned upside down. The President, Peter Morales, quit and was replaced by three people of color who served on an interim basis. The Black Lives Matter to Unitarian Universalists became an increasingly important force for change. There was the news that the Board of Directors made a commitment of financial support to the Black Lives Matter group which surprised many white people. And the denomination began a self-examination to understand the ways in which white supremacy governed how it operated. There was a series of white supremacy services in churches across the country, including the First Unitarian Society. It was in the midst of this change that the leader of the Black Lives Matter at the church, Mary Devitt, decided it no longer made sense for her as a white woman to be in charge of the group and asked me if I would become the chair. Mary had been very active building relationships with all sorts of groups. I attended some events and was not involved in marching. I wrote a humorous blog post about the transition called Welcome Back which hearkened back to an old television show about a white teacher who returned to the school he used to attend.

The Black Lives Matter to Unitarian Universalists were very active in helping to raise money, which I learned about at the GA. I spent time watching videos from the Church of the Larger Fellowship which is an organization of Unitarian Universalists who are not affiliated with any congregation. I engaged on-line with the Black Lives Matter to Unitarian Universalists and saw some of their videos from a gathering they held in New Orleans. I wondered what was going on and how could I fit in. It soon developed that there was one delegate credential left and there was a movement to reach out and make it possible to help cover the costs of people of color like me. I wondered how this GA would be different from those in the past. My long time friends at First Church encouraged me to go. And the outgoing development director sent an email about the fundraising and encouraged me to apply for a scholarship. I was sending emails and text messages and posting on Facebook up until a couple of days before I was supposed to leave.  Despite the fact I had worries that things were not going to work out, a group called Standing on the Side of Love, handled arrangements getting us to New Orleans, providing spending money and finding a room in a hotel right across from the General Assembly.

The other part of how I got to GA is much more mundane. I have a full-time job with benefits including vacation. I discovered that the GA would coincide with our annual employee retreat but that was not a problem. My vacation was granted without a hassle. So, if you have understanding and compassion surrounding you, it is possible to do things. You can have support from the congregation. You can get the funds that you need to go. And you can rest assured that your job will be there when you return. In a lot of ways, it helped me feel that my life mattered.

My first GA

 

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In June, I went to my first General Assembly, which is the annual membership meeting o the Unitarian Universalist Association. It was a electric experience. I thought to myself, after so many years of identifying as an atheist, I really am part of a religion. A very particular type of religion with certain basic tenets and and a wide amount of choice. This revelation comes after meeting with a dear friend recently who discovered the very same thing. The Unitarian Universalists lack a lot of things tat hold churches together. There is no fear of going to hell. In fact that was one of the things that drew the Universalists together. If there is no fear of eternal damnation, how do you hold people together?

I found in this gathering a lot of what holds us together. It is love. We have people who pray. We have people who are recovering from traditional Christianity. My friend is healing herself after having been part of a very strict cult similar to the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And, as the joke goes, “there are a lot of atheists who haven’t kicked the religion habit.”

One of my favorite hymns includes a line “even to question, truly, is an answer.” Going to General Assembly exposed me to a wide variety of African-Americans. I saw people who were part of a walkout many years ago when the church lost thousands of African-American members over its failure to follow through on a commitment it had made to them. I saw people the the Black Lives Matter to Unitarian Universalists and the Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Ministries. In my upcoming blogs I will describe some of these experiences in great detail. There is always more to the story.

Speaking out against mass incarcerations

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On July 18, 2017, I had a proud moment when I walked into a public meeting and introduced myself as the chair of black lives matter at the First Unitarian Society. Years of preparation had led me to that moment at the meeting to close the Milwaukee secure detention facility. Since I took over as chair almost 3 months ago I have been quietly, in consultation with the the black lives matter cabal, been searching for an issue where we could help to fill in the gaps and have a meaningful impact.

At the meeting of our black lives matter collaborative in June I had recommended that we join and announce our support for the coalition. But that was different from standing before this room of family members and ex prisoners and saying that I was with them. I had decided that this was the cause. We had listened to a heart felt presentation this spring about the lives of thousands of people locked away for crimeless revocations and I was moved to action.

This was a start for me and I felt welcome pronouncing my name and finding, to my surprise, some of the people in the meeting were also with our black lives matter collaborative. I am always say that you can start anywhere so we did. I am hoping that the people in the room will begin to recognize as we begin to make changes together. We have a role we can play in ending mass incarceration. I need your support.