Partnership and Black Lives Matter

Sometimes for the wrong reason, we North American Unitarian Universalists have viewed international partnerships between congregations as belonging to the category of social justice. That wrong reason is viewing partnerships as fundamentally about helping other people in need—in places like Transylvania, the Philippines, and India. The problem with this view is that we mistake charity for social justice.

For quite a few years now, the UUPCC has worked hard to understand partnership as being not about charity but rather about mutual relationship. We’ve taken to calling this “Partnership with a capital P.” Both parties in a Partnership with a capital P give AND receive. Partnership with a capital P reminds us to name the truth: that mutual giving and receiving  have always been present in partnerships. Too often we overlooked the many gifts we have received. Too often we lacked the imagination to see the intangible gifts.

Mutual relationship, where both parties give and receive, lead and follow, learn and grow: this not only is an essential building block of Partnership; it’s an essential building block of social justice.

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of the urgent justice work of making Black Lives Matter in our North American society. When Black Lives Matter burst onto the scene in 2012 after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, I was one of the ministers at the UU congregation in Appleton, Wisconsin. For me, Black Lives Matter presented a moral imperative to rethink how I’d been working on anti-racism and anti-oppression. Too often I charged into situations of racism and oppression with an attitude of “I know what we need to do...”

So I found myself searching for how I as a white person could be a better ally in this work. I suddenly realized that I had an ongoing, deep experience that might provide me with what I needed: mutual partnership with my congregation’s partners in Transylvania and the Philippines. I had learned over the years and through trial and error about walking with partners. I had learned that often what was most needed from me and my congregation was not telling our partners what they should do as we threw money at them. Instead we needed to be quieter and listen more to what our partners wanted to do. We needed to follow more than lead.

This is the outlook that guides my engagement with the Black Lives Matter movement: listen, follow, walk with, support. Partnership not only enriched my life and the life of my congregation beyond measure; it helped us do some very urgent work right there in Appleton, Wisconsin.

“The Most Radical Thing We Can Do Is Introduce People to One Another”—this saying graces the UUPCC’s home page and many of our car bumpers. I want to add one more thought to this saying: And then we need to act on the insights and lessons from this radical thing wherever we live.

Partnership can help us build a better, more just world near and far. Partnership, it turns out, is indeed about social justice.