It started the way that so many Unitarian Universalist actions start: with a question.
One of our members asked on a progressive social media site, why there had not been any response in Fort Collins to the most recent shooting death of a Black man by police officers – in this case, Stephon Clark in Sacramento.
Just a few days later, the event seemed to be well on its way. Conversations were happening across various communities, speakers were being booked, permits were being pulled, objectives were being outlined. Some of the organizing was messy – most of us didn’t know each other. But we were figuring it out. The Facebook event went live. It was happening.
To be honest, I have been waiting for this moment. I knew it would come, hoped it would come. This moment when the right someone would ask the right question, at the right time, and movement would begin. We could show up, as allies, and supporters with our presence as a predominantly white faith community to support the voices and leadership of people of color.
When it comes to race and racism – we are not well practiced at these conversations in Fort Collins, at least, not in the white community. But in other spaces, amongst people of color, and sometimes across trusted friendships, it’s generations-long. Before I lived in Fort Collins, I first heard about it from one of my favorite artists, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, who wrote a piece about a stay here in 2008. He described the city as “one of the most racist places” he’d been in the U.S., and went on to describe a series of harassing anti-Mexican racist interactions he and his friend had while in town.
It’s long past time for all of us to be having this conversation, and to do the work to make change.
As the team started to discern its plans, it reached out to a core group of leaders of color in the city, hoping to invite their participation and engagement. Instead of positive reception, however, this group expressed serious concerns and resistance. First, at the focus on Stephon Clark and national issues. They felt it perpetuated a myth that racism happens somewhere else, not here. And second, that a single rally or event might help white people feel they were doing something, but wouldn’t necessarily make actual change for people of color in the community. They asked the group to put the event on hold so that greater conversation, relationship building, and strategizing could occur.
I already said that the early stages of this process were messy. But this was something else. This was – painful. Confusing. There was a plan in place, a lot of publicity. Already a group of volunteers being recruited. No one disagreed with the need to address race and racism – and yet it matters how, and with whom. As the Black Lives Matter organizers have said it, we need to move at the speed of trust. And these relationships, this partnership, it didn’t have the trust yet. We realized, we needed to start there.
So the lead organizers put the event on hold. There have been hurt feelings as a result, and some angry words – especially coming from white activists invested in the event. It’s been even messier than those first conversations.
And yet ultimately, I’m grateful that we aren’t moving forward with the event. Because an event is not the end we’re after. The event was just a means towards the bigger end, which is racial justice – and a Fort Collins where all people, including people of color feel welcome, and included, seen, and heard, and valued – for who they are. That end is going to take a lot of messy conversations and a broad coalition of partners. And it’s going to take a willingness to put things on hold when key leaders of color in the community ask for a pause, to slow down to build that trust. It’s going to mean listening, and re-assessing, and learning together, and privileging relationship over publicity, or facebook events – even when they have gotten many likes, and many people indicating their desire to attend.
With the event on hold this weekend, we are re-assessing our plans, and stepping back into that critical relationship-building work, and strategizing together in the way the group of leaders asked for. We’re engaging some help from community leaders who have walked this path before, and we’re taking a breath. We’re committed to the long-haul work, and to doing our part to build the Beloved Community. Most of all, I am grateful to get to be a part, to listen and learn, and to be on this journey, together.