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Unitarians dedicate banner for hope
Fellowship posts Black Lives Matter as symbol of support
W Black lives matter photo
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro held a 'Black Lives Matter' banner dedication service in which many of all faiths and ethnicities from the community took part in the program and attendance. - photo by JULIE LAVENDER/staff

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro held a dedication ceremony Thursday for a newly-displayed banner they hope symbolizes a movement aimed at bringing races and cultures closer together.

Community members representing diverse faiths and ethnicities attended and took part in the dedication ceremony for the “Black Lives Matter” banner that now hangs on the side of the building.

The Rev. Jane Altman Page, minister for the Fellowship, said the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution supporting the Black Lives Matter movement back when it started in 2015, but the congregation felt compelled to visibly display the banner at this time.

Rev. Page said, “We’ve discovered as of late that we still have much work to do ourselves. The dedication of this banner is especially meaningful to us as Unitarian Universalists as we struggle with our awareness that white supremacy still is deeply embedded within our own movement.”

Page pointed out that the Black Lives Matter movement, started by three women, states on its namesake website: “Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important, it means that Black lives, which are seen without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation” and “when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole.”

Thursday’s dedication program included representatives from various faiths and community representatives to share thoughts and pertinent quotes for the dedication.

Dan Rea, member of the Baha’i Faith, shared excerpts from a Baha’i Statement first issued in 1991, adding that the words were even more relevant today. Rea quoted, “A nation whose ancestry includes every people on earth, whose ideals of freedom under law have inspired millions throughout the world, cannot continue to harbor prejudice against any racial or ethnic group without betraying itself.”


Sharing concerns, hopes

Representing the Latino community, Maria Fatima Rea shared a quote from the Bible and said, “If one part of the body suffers, all the parts share its suffering. We recognize the ongoing suffering of African Americans who have been enslaved, discriminated against and treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. We are all interconnected parts of the same body of humanity.”

Maria Rea urged the Latino brothers and sisters in the community to stand in solidarity.

“May God give us the strength to overcome hate and prejudice with love and justice,” she said.

Ahmet Akturk said he joined the dedication ceremony as an individual Muslim and, referencing diverse nations and tribes, said, “God tells us your differences are my signs, so you have to respect each other. Treating anyone as a second-class citizen is not acceptable by God.”

Rachel Schwartz, representing Judaism, told the audience that, in the Bible, God called out to Abraham before the sacrifice of Isaac; Jacob before the vision of the ladder and Moses from the depths of the burning bush. Each time, God asked, “Where are you?”

Schwartz explained that the Hebrew response of each man was “Hineni.” Schwartz said, “This is no simple word. It carries the deep weight of history and emotion. Hineni means: ‘I stand ready to serve you. I make my stand even though it will be hard, and I might be frightened. I will serve you in humility. I give myself fully to your cause and know it to be mine.’

“Listen my friends, for now we are the one who are being called. Let us stand with our black sisters and brothers and say, ‘Hineni – here I am.’”


‘An insidious cultural disease’

James Woodall, representing the local chapter of NAACP, quoted poet Scott Woods, who said: “The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers that continue to work on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense. Racism is an insidious cultural disease that find[s] a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.”

Joe Bill Brannen, who was instrumental in forming the Beloved Community group that meets regularly to discuss how to meet the needs of various people groups within the community, said the philosophy of the group is this: “If you talk to someone and walk in their shoes, it’s hard not to like them.”

Stacy Smallwood, moderator of the Beloved Community group, said he was encouraged to see the banner as a tangible representation of the Black Lives Matter movement, but urged those in attendance to make it into an action, not just a statement.

To accomplish that, Smallwood said three things were needed: courage, communication and change.

One of the last speakers on the program was Police Chief Mike Broadhead. Broadhead said, “As a fabric, our police and community have to be one.” Broadhead reiterated his commitment as that of law enforcement providing service to the community and to protect the community.

Rev. Page emphasized three specific functions of the banner, to serve as: a reminder of the fundamental truth that each person is full of exquisite beauty, dignity, potential and life; a response to individual victims of racial injustice and a representation of the UU’s collaborative efforts in this community and beyond for social and racial justice.

Page pledged, “We affirm with both our banner and behavior that Black Lives Matter.”


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