The statement “Black Lives Matter” originated when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin in July of 2013.
On Facebook, Alicia Garza wrote: “I continue to be surprised at how little black lives matter.” A friend of hers edited the sentence and created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
This statement does not say other lives don’t matter. It says all lives will matter when American society values black lives as much as it values white lives. I, along with the Board of Trustees at The Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno, don’t believe this is true yet.
That is why we recently decided to hang two Black Lives Matter banners in front of our church. The banners don’t say ALL Lives Matter because even though that should be true, right now it isn’t.
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As a predominantly white congregation in a predominantly white section of Fresno, we are committed to doing whatever we can to disrupt the deep roots and present reality of racism; we also know that work must start with our own congregation.
We have committed to unpacking our own white privilege and implicit bias that has been ingrained in us and to acknowledge that we have benefited from this our entire lives – knowingly or unknowingly, voluntarily or involuntarily.
For two years our congregation has been intentionally educating ourselves on the history of race in America and current racial injustice. We’ve confronted America’s Original Sin: her land was gained through the death or displacement of its native people and its economy was built on the backs of black people’s enslavement.
We’ve seen how the founding documents of our country (the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Supreme Court case precedents) excluded black people (as well as native people and women) from the American dream.
Like most majority white institutions, we’ve learned our faith tradition has its own shameful history of racism.
We believe racial inequality and systemic racism is prevalent in Fresno. There is a life expectancy gap of over 20 years between historically African American southwest Fresno (and other communities of color) and predominantly white northeast Fresno.
Those who live in southwest Fresno are likely to die roughly 20 years earlier because of factors including poverty, inadequate health care, air pollution, lack of green space, gun violence, and lack of opportunity. Fresno has the highest concentrated poverty in the entire country, largely overlapping with neighborhoods of color.
We firmly believe this reflects decades of public policies that do not value black (or Hispanic, Latina/o, and southeast Asian) constituents as much as their white counterparts.
We affirm Black Lives Matter along with hundreds of Unitarian Universalist Churches across the country because affirming and promoting the worth and dignity of all people is a core tenant of our faith. It calls us to act for justice.
The Rev. Louise Green captures this spirit: “To display the sign, Black Lives Matter, is an act of public witness . . . to keep the spotlight on the complex set of issues affecting black people in this country, dating from slavery through to 2017.
“Not since the civil rights era has there been such a sustained commitment to make broad change. Black Lives Matter is a statement about that renewed commitment, a vow to keep looking, watching, and struggling.”
Black Lives Matter is the next chapter in the civil rights movement. There was fierce white resistance to the earlier civil rights movement. There is fierce white resistance now. Our banners were first defaced and then ripped down. We’ve replaced them.
Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist group, nor is it anti-white or anti-police. It is against policing practices that lead to the death of too many unarmed black women and men. It is against mass incarceration of black and brown lives in prisons.
We acknowledge that some supporters of Black Lives Matter have said or done inappropriate things, but it would be wrong to attribute those actions to the movement as a whole.
Affirming the rights of Black people and People of Color does not take rights away from white people. There should be enough to go around.