Recovery – Struggling to Grasp the Positive in a Violent World

Happy New Year! Happy birthday, Dr. King! And here we are in Black History Month! We at Sister Souurce, Inc. took a break to recover from the physical, psychological, and spiritual exhaustion of 2023. While there were many joys, there were also challenges – personal and societal – that tested our resilience. Twenty twenty-three will be remembered for different reasons but most of all, I hope to embrace the lessons I’m still pondering.

I sit at my desk thinking about a simple Buddhist saying to get me through the heartbreak of world affairs. “Families are filled with ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.” It is not my biological family, but the human family that I think of as I contemplate these words. In these times when the world feels like it’s on fire, I must remember that the human family is filled with thousands of joys and sorrows. Why must I focus on the negative?

There are those who turn a deaf ear and blind eye to the pain and suffering occurring around them. There are those who spew hatred, act out of the lower energies of anger, hate, frustration, greed, envy, jealousy, and violence. These individuals and groups contribute to the detriment of the world. There are those who care deeply about humanity and wish to promote freedom, justice and equality – who continue to be hopeful and act in ways that model change. They may be associated with faith traditions, or not. On the other hand, I believe there is a growing group of individuals that once identified as, let’s call them “progressives,” that believe humankind has lost its humanity, its sense of what it means to be human – the capacity to empathize, the ability to control emotions and to practice critical thinking and decision-making. I’m less judgmental of them now because I’m beginning to doubt humankind’s ability to transform. Masses of people continue to accept the tyranny of the minority that places profit before human lives. When the world appears to have gone mad, what do we do?

I am emotionally and spiritually tired. I’m growing cynical and defeated. I search for the positive while I try to hold the weight of the world on my shoulders and those suffering in my heart. My heart breaks for the millions around the world being oppressed and mistreated. So, instead of complete withdrawal from humanity, I recall my re-evaluation co-counseling partner, Horace Williams, a 90-year-old Catholic, who told me about a non-profit organization committed to supporting Israel’s only intentional Arab-Jewish village. The Neve Shalom/What Al-Salam community (Arabic and Hebrew for Oasis of Peace) was founded by Father Bruno Hussar in 1970 with seventy families. Half were Jewish and half were Palestinian – all were Israeli citizens. Located an equal distance from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaff, the residents stated goals of equality, democracy, and peace to guide them in their endeavors. I wonder how they’re doing in the midst of this horrendous atrocity on both sides – this village that committed to govern collectively as they worked and played together prior to October 7, 2023? In days past, they collectively enjoyed programs that included a primary school, a school for peace, The Spiritual Center and Oasis Art Gallery, and the Humanitarian Aid Program and Youth Club.

Haled, a person who has early memories of the village community reminisces about his childhood days. He has since moved from What al-Salam-Neve Shalom to live in Haifa. He commented that when he left the village he learned about racism, among other things.

He says, “The most important thing I got here [the village] was an ability to understand the other side … I can put myself into another’s shoes, and that is useful. If I had been born Jewish in this country, I would have served in the army; in Gaza I would belong to Hamas. When I speak with someone from Kiryat Malachi [a southern district in Israel] I know how to overturn that mantra in his head that says – they are like this, they are like that.”

Rawnak Natour, a civil rights activist who focuses on equality in employment and education, while advocating to end discrimination against minorities, serves as co-executive director of veteran New Israel Fund grantee, Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, a shared organization of Arabs and Jews in Israel. She seeks to effect change in government ministries, public agencies, local authorities and among the public, and to encourage better government policies toward Arab citizens while creating a new reality of a shared and equal society.

She says, “Every day, the village gives us proof that building knowledge and trust is essential if we really want to reach agreement at the end of the day. It gives us proof that peace is possible.”

As I struggle to regain my perspective amid current world affairs, I invite you to offer up what you do to stay sane and centered during such devastating events. I close with the following quote:

Outside the Circle of Care

“The ground is shifting beneath our feet. Old truths are falling away. Old stories are collapsing … A movement, led by Black people and young people but welcoming to all races, gender identities, religions and generations, has done the work of imagining a radically different and more beautiful world, and they are already fighting for it.” ~ Naomi Klein, journalist and author – Ware Lecturer, Unitarian Universalist General Assembly 2020

Warmest regards,

Elder Rev. Qiyamah A. Rahman

“War is humanity’s ultimate failure.”

“It is not just the failure of one nation over another, it is not just the failure of one leader over another, and it is not simply the failure of one diplomatic strategy over another. It is the failure of us all.”

The news of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is devastating. Whether I have friends and colleagues in or from either country is not the issue. Neither is it a matter of choosing sides. There are men and women, mothers and children, elderly and disabled people – on  both sides – who are suffering and dying.

In my despair, I came to wonder how many places in the world there are human beings at war with one another. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker, there are currently twenty-seven ongoing conflicts worldwide; 2 billion people currently live in conflict-affected regions. In her 2022 Global Citizen article, “13 Heartbreaking Facts About Ongoing Conflicts Around the World,” Tess Lowery outlined the three categories of conflicts as identified by the Council: worsening, unchanging and improving. I would agree with the Council’s classification of the conflict between Israel and Palestine as “worsening.”

The United Nations stated that “peace is more under threat around the world than it has been since WWII.” The most vulnerable among us, i.e., women, children, the elderly, and the disabled, are disproportionately affected, and are often referred to as collateral damage. That is, they were not the intended targets, but were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tragically, “One child dies every ten minutes in Yemen,” according to a 2021 United Nations report.

Prevailing notions of patriarchy also exacerbate the vulnerability of women during wartime.  This culturally perceived dominance of men over women puts women at greater risk of experiencing sexual violence. Acts of rape, one of the most common violations against women during wartime, is a most brutal expression of male dominance. Women’s bodies are weaponized as instruments of war. For example, the intentional raping of women in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda was part of a military strategy to emotionally demoralize the opposition.

Rev. Lee Barker’s observations on UUism and the struggle for peace appear in the anthology, In Time of Need: Sermons & Essays from the Meadville Lombard Theological School Community. While Rev. Barker’s sermon, “War is Humanity’s Ultimate Failure” focuses on Iraq, his observations apply equally today:

The news from Iraq can be heart[-]stopping. But it doesn’t have to defeat our spirits, not if we are willing to act in a manner that is suggested by this great religious tradition of ours [Unitarian Universalism]. Hope will come to all of those who make a room in our church for persons of each and every opinion. Peace will come to those who open a place in our church for people of every stripe. There is a better way of dealing with human difference. In our church we can both prove it and make some peace with a warring world … If we are going to paint for ourselves a new, complete world, then we’d better be prepared to put together a reflection of that new complete world, in our lives, in our here-and-now lives. And if we are searching for that new, peaceful world where people of difference are reconciled to one another, despite those differences, then we’d better be prepared to put together a personal world where we are so reconciled to those who are different from us.

Some who supported the Iraq war were present in the audience when he preached the above sermon. Addressing those parishioners, Barker stated: “In my life you represent humanity’s best hope for peace for you are here. In this church, worshipping in a place where you are the distinct minority.”

While Barker’s sermon was delivered eighteen years ago and focused on Iraq, it is equally relevant today, given the Israel-Palestinian conflict. We pray for peace in the world, and the day when people of all nations can get along. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that warfare kills, maims and devastates not only human lives, but also destabilizes a country’s economy, causing increased poverty.

Let us pray and work for peace in the world! May it be so and blessed be!

Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

• • •


Lee Barker, “Making Peace with a Warring World,” in In Time of Need: Sermons & Essays from the Meadville Lombard Theological School Community. 1st ed. Meadville Lombard Reader 2005. Edited by Tina Porter, (Chicago: Meadville Lombard Press, 2006), 74.

Christina Lamb. Our Bodies, Their Battlefields: War Through the Lives of Women (New York: Scribner, 2020).

Lowery, Tess. “13 Heartbreaking Facts About Ongoing Conflicts Around the World.” Global Citizen. April 1, 2022. www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/facts-about-world-conflicts.

UNICEF USA. “Remarks on the situation in Yemen” by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the 8840th meeting of the UN Security Council 23.


Awareness Leads to Action: Reflections on Cuba June 2023

In 1972 I traveled to Cuba under the auspices of the Venceremos Brigade, an international organization focused on solidarity with the Cuban people. Most recently I returned to Cuba on April 23 – May 7, 2023, fifty-one years later under the auspices of the National Network on Cuba (NNC). I had the opportunity to revisit Cuba as a Unitarian Universalist minister, activist and historian. I engaged in a fact-finding trip with the intention of presenting the information upon my return.

The most harmful policy I soon learned is the six-decades blockade that has created harsh conditions and imposed immense suffering on the Cuban people and its government.  The sixty-year blockade has essentially become an act of genocide and includes:

  • Limitations and access to credit to Cuba in order to maintain control of the distribution of energy and fuel and other essential services;
  • Foreign banks’ denial of services to Cuba. European banks are afraid of doing business with Cuba and incurring fees for violating US sanctions. Those that do are imposed high interest rates;
  • Insecurity in food availability–rice and milk, two staples, have increased in cost by 80%;
  • Medical services are stretched and a shortage of medical supplies exists;
  • Loss of tourism and recently slow recovery in tourism;
  • Sugar cane industry and markets drastically impacted by the blockade. Cuba has to sell its sugar cane at very low prices since it lost it natural market, the US, after the revolution and agrarian reform;
  • Shortages and lack of raw materials exist as a result of the blockade; if a ship makes port in Cuba they are fined by the US;
  • Lack of access to international scholarships to train scientists and other professionals due to the blockade;
  • Inability to obtain payment by venders abroad due to blockade; and
  • Fuel, oil, and equipment shortages.

Despite the severity of the blockade the Cubans have been able to accomplish some of the following:

  • Highest ratio of doctors to patients in the world–every community has a doctor and a nurse;
  • Almost complete elimination of illiteracy;
  • One of the lowest rates of infant mortality in the world;
  • Health care and education are free;
  • Sugar cane industry has diversified to include bio products, animal feed, sanitizer, rum and medicinal gels;
  • Only 8,530 deaths occurred over four years due to COVID-19 or 0.17% (the world’s rate of deaths is 1.54%);
  • Unemployment rate is 1.5%;
  • Five vaccines manufactured by Cuba have been created but not recognized because of the blockade–three are injected and two are breathed through the nose. The fatality rate from COVID-19 is the lowest in all of Latin America. 98% of people have been vaccinated, including children;
  • Life expectancy in Cuba is 78 years old;
  • Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, established in 1999, provides a tuition-free medical education to applicants. The only condition is graduates must commit to practice medicine in poor and underserved communities after graduation. Two hundred and twenty of its graduates are currently working within the US healthcare system without the crippling burden of medical school student loan debt;
  • An extension of the country’s internationalism is its health care ambassadorship which sends doctors and other healthcare workers to the world’s most underserved areas. They are currently serving in 32 different countries around the world; and
  • Cuba recently updated its Constitutions Family Code that now recognizes same sex marriages and other family structures previously excluded from the benefits of marriage.

Cubans possess an unrelenting tenacity despite the hardships suffered due to the economic blockade. Furthermore, they welcome solidarity with Americans such as our delegation. They distinguish between the aggressive policies of the US government and individuals who desire to promote peace and solidarity between the two countries. The Cubans have experienced immense suffering because of the sixty-year blockage. COVID-19, combined with US sanctions has been devastating to Cuba. The US government has used the blockade to try to destroy the Cuban people and to prevent the success of socialism. However, I believe the right of a people to self-determination and sovereignty should not be dictated by the US. In addition to the blockade the US has unjustifiably placed Cuba on a list of state-sponsored terrorists. It appears that the US has no immediate plans to relinquish its chokehold over the Cuban people. We must realize that the Cuban people have a right to a socialist Cuba and to declare their form of government without fear of repercussions.

It is impossible to fully relay what I observed and the amazing accomplishments this tiny island of about 11 million has achieved despite an illegal and immoral economic blockade for over 60 years.

The country could do so much more, and the people of the United States and the rest of the world would benefit, if the blockade–a relic of the cold war–were ended. Removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and returning Guantanamo Bay back to the island as a piece of its sovereign land would demonstrate the desire to re-establish peaceful relations between Cuba and the U.S.

Recently the DC council voted on and passed a resolution to end the over 60-year US blockade against Cuba. This sentiment represents a growing international movement. Of 193 United Nations members, 185 voted to condemn the blockade last year. The only two dissenting votes were the US and Israel.


The Cuban people are making a great effort to survive an economic crisis that is unparalleled. Solidarity with the Cuban people is on the rise. Even the majority of Cuban Americans oppose the blockade. Attempts by the US to undermine the cultural identity of Cuba are unacceptable and represent acts of aggression. The approach to the big problems of the world cannot be resolved with hostility and aggression. There is no basis for such extreme policies such as the six-decades blockade.

The spirit of independence of the Cuban people will not be swayed by acts of aggression or other forms of intimidation by the US government. We should be building bridges of communication instead of animosity among our respective populations. Tension and conflict characterize the current relationship between Cuba and the US. It is not a crime to be a proud, industrious, and resilient nation.

It is our hope that Unitarian Universalists will affirm our role as a beacon of justice and join efforts condemning the blockade against Cuba, the removal of Cuba from the state-sponsored terrorists list and the return of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba. For information about mobilization efforts in Washington on June 25, 2023 demanding the end to the Cuban blockade visit National Network on Cuba. Please write President Joe Biden requesting immediate attention to these demands at: President Joe Biden, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20500.

Featured image above: Nubia Kai, Chas Simmons and Qiyamah A. Rahman (self-named “Detroit Posse”) at an organic farm during their May 2023 International Tour with the National Network on Cuba.


Participants in the May 2023 International Tour with the National Network on Cuba


“The Woman King” Film Review October 2022

by Rev. Qiyamah A. Rahman

The Woman King tells a fictionalized story of the Agojie, (pronounced ah go gee), an all-female military regiment in Dahomey, now known as the Republic of Benin, in West Africa. The Agojie existed in the 1800s, and were renowned for their bravery, grueling training, and skillful fighting. They represented the last line of defense between an enemy and the King, thus they were prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect him.

Some of the women that were conscripted into the ranks of the Agojie were throw-aways – women considered unmarriageable because they could not be controlled, those with “bad manners,” and girls that were not deferential or feminine enough. While these women were not subject to the same cultural norms for women of that time, they were governed by rules to which their male warrior counterparts were not subjected. According to Sylvia Serbin, author of the book, The Women Soldiers of Dahomey, the Agojie began their training as teens. While celibacy was not a requirement for male soldiers, the Agojie were not allowed to marry or have children. They lived their lives apart from their people behind a walled enclosure in the King’s palace. When the Agojie were in public, the people were required to avert their eyes.

While the movie is heavily dramatized, the Agojie warriors did, in fact, exist. However, the film takes some liberties, beginning with the main character. Nanisca, the general of the Agojie played by Viola Davis, is not based on a real character, yet Davis brings this fictional gladiator to life with the honed skill of her craft. At 57 years of age, Davis masterfully performs over ninety percent of her rigorous stunts. Her performance expertly juxtaposes the fierce warrior with the woman who ultimately faces her demons, and discovers the collateral beauty born of her brutal rape.

So, what is historically accurate? The Agojie warriors represent the only documented front-line female soldiers in modern warfare history. At one time, the Agojie numbered 6,000, and existed for over a century. The last known surviving Agojie woman, Nawi, was interviewed a year before her death in 1979 at over 100 years old. Nawi is played in The Woman Kingby Thuso Mbedu, a South African actress who was nominated for an international Emmy for her role in the drama series Is’Thunzi. She also starred in the Amazon limited series, The Underground Railroad.

The character King Ghezo, played by John Boyega, ruled over the Dahomey Empire from 1818 to 1859. He came to power when he replaced his brother Adandozan, who ruled from 1797 to 1818. The coup to bring King Ghezo to the throne was successful due to assistance from the Brazilian slave trader Francisco Felix de Sousa. This provides a glimpse into the complicity of the Dahomey people, who participated in the slave trade along with their archenemies, the Oyo people.

Although King Ghezo was a young and inexperienced King, he demonstrated a radical inclusiveness not only with his acceptance of General Nanisca’s counsel, but also by welcoming the participation of females in his cabinet. In his book, Black Women of Antiquity, John Henrik Clarke comments, “Africans had produced a way of life where men were secure enough to let women advance as far as their talents would take them.” The Dahomey society did in fact hold a progressive view of women, and evidence of this is demonstrated in the presence of a woman King.

The film does acknowledge the Dahomey Empire’s participation in perpetuating chattel slavery among their own people and other tribes. What is not revealed in the movie is that Dahomey continued to engage in the slave trade even after both the French and English had abolished slavery (in 1794 and 1833, respectively).

While the Dahomians never ceased their slave trade, during King Ghezo’s rule, the human sacrifice of slaves was abolished, and the death penalty for certain non-fatal offenses, such as adultery, was eliminated. Furthermore, King Ghezo discontinued the trade of Dahomians, which had occurred under his brother’s rule. In the movie, Viola Davis’ character, Nanisca, encourages King Ghezo to cease the trade of humans, and to instead invest in palm oil production to generate revenues.

Oyeronke Oyebanji, a Nigerian public health professional, states in her recent review of the movie: “The sad truth is that the Dahomey people built their kingdom’s massive wealth by capturing and selling other human beings long after the British declared the slave trade to be illegal.”

The movie depicts this ugly truth but presents such compelling dramatization of the Agojie fighting the French and the Oyo people that the duplicitous nature of the Dahomians is minimized. While the Dahomey Empire’s battles against the Oyo Empire were real and illustrated their long-time enmity, the fact that both Empires participated in the selling of their people is downplayed.


Critics boycotting the movie cite several concerns. One such viewpoint is that the Agojie were violent, and do not deserve to be valorized. One critic stated the movie is “nothing more than two hours of Black women murdering Black men.” It is important to note that different cultural lenses create vastly different interpretations. Africans viewing the film see tribal wars between the Dahomey Empire and the Oyo Empire. African Americans, applying a cultural construct based on different realities, perceive a gender war, not tribal wars. African American critics seem to have reduced the ancient enmity between two powerful empires to race and gender, thus ignoring African cultural mores.

Other critics have stated that the film is a propaganda tool of feminists. These African American critics are applying a cultural perspective that emerged out of the theoretical conflicts between Black feminists and Black nationalists. Many Black women in the 1960s did not participate in the white women’s movement because of white women’s inherent racism, and due to white women’s failure to prioritize racism over sexism. Their failure to understand that while Black women suffered from sexism from Black men, Black women and their families, which included men, also suffered from white supremacy. They were therefore committed to work in concert with Black men and their communities, rather than to separate from them as many white feminists were wont to do.

Black women who embraced feminism and womanism instead chose to call Black men on their bullshit. Black feminists were comfortable with casting their Black gaze on the violence against Black women committed by Black men along with other forms of sexism. When movies like The Color Purple and Waiting to Exhale debuted, many Black men and women felt Hollywood was legitimizing the attack on Black men, thereby using the media to humiliate and debase Black men. These same critics view The Woman King as “Hollywood theater propaganda targeting an audience of feminists.”

While film can be used to reach a wide audience to inform, inspire change, and promote cultural norms, it can also promote and foster negative cultural beliefs. Hence, nationalists often view strong independent Black women that challenge Black men as ball-busters committed to destroying Black men. Some of the same critics assert that the film’s white writers and producers are subtly fostering hatred and rivalry between Black men and women. They point to Nansica’s archrival. While they focus on the fact that he is a Black African, they fail to recognize that he is an Oyo, the hated enemy that has overpowered the Dahomey people for years. While some feminists see a Black female sexual assault survivor and a Black male rapist at odds, and Black nationalists see rivalry between Black men and women, many Africans and African Americans see two competing and historically antagonistic empires competing for dominance.

Other critics point to the fact that Viola Davis was the producers’ second choice to play Nanisca, the Agojie general. Their first choice, Lupita Nyong’o, refused the role after traveling to Benin and conducting research that revealed the Agojie warriors were brutal to their people. For the movie’s supporters, however, this knowledge did not warrant sufficient reason to boycott the film.

Some of the same critics maintain that Hollywood should not be in the business of telling Black history. And that may be a valid criticism. However, a documentary is very different from a feature film based on true life. Hollywood has long been accused of mixing too much fiction with reality and is guilty of distorting history when exercising their white privilege to narrate Africans’ history.

Still other critics point to the feminist plot in the narrative. Boyce Watkins, an African American author, political analyst, and social influencer notes that he is all about girl power but asserts that the movie is theater propaganda that targets an audience of white and Black feminists, and LGBTQ. Watkins points to a “gender war” that is subtly being waged.

Let’s be clear. This is not a documentary. Hollywood is not in the business of producing Black or African documentaries. I personally liked the movie and was intrigued enough to do my own research to determine how much of it was based on historical fact and how much was fiction. I liked the diverse cast that included African Americans, South Africans, West Africans, and Londoners. I enjoyed the action of the fight scenes and the glimpses into the lives of the Agojie.

Viola Davis was recently interviewed about the film and her preparation. She recounted her journey to learn about and understand the Agojie by watching videos and reading books. One of her comments speaks volumes about her role in this and other outstanding performances. She states, “A life is measured by the footprints one leaves behind.”

Viola Davis and the cast of The Woman King are leaving behind some powerful, poignant, and profound footprints!

Note: The Woman King premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and debuted in the US on Friday, September 16. The Woman King was produced and directed by Maria Bellow and Cathy Schulman, written by Dana Stevens with contributions by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball), and produced by Tri Star Pictures, Nelle Entertainment, JVee Production, and Entertainment One Ltd. Music by Terence Blanchard and Lebo M. (The Lion King).


Rev. Qiyamah

The featured photograph above is from my personal collection, taken at The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/



Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Breaking the Silence about Ministerial Misconduct June 2022

A 1992 UU Women’s Federation survey revealed that policies on clergy sexual misconduct among the majority of religious organizations do not exist. Ministerial misconduct is so egregious in that it takes advantage of the trusted relationships between clergy as authority figures and congregants who are predisposed to being open and vulnerable. It is a violation of all that is sacred and holy in the faith community. If one cannot be safe within the folds of one’s faith community, then where can safety be found? Great harm is done to the offended party that can result in self-blame, shame, loss of community and friends, spiritual crisis, loss of faith, family crisis, and divorce. Psychological distress such as depression and even suicide are real risks that these victims face.

Our perceptions about a phenomenon are often reflected in our language. Erroneously referring to abuses of power as “affairs” rather than ministerial misconduct is an example of misnaming a behavior. This is particularly important in educating congregants, as even the offended party may mistakenly refer to the abuse as an affair. Equally important are professionals such as therapists who work with individuals that were offended/abused by a clergy person. A congregant once informed me that she did not feel like a victim because she was a fully consenting adult. Yet, she did not understand the power imbalance between herself and the pastor, and how this negatively impacted her ability to function as a fully consenting adult. Diana Garland, Dean of Baylor University School of Social Work asserts, “It is not an affair. It is an abuse of power. Regardless of who intended what, the religious leader is the one in the position of responsibility.”

We also cannot allow offenders to rush to reconcile with the appearance of contrite behavior and remorseful behaviors. We cannot confuse restorative justice with honoring victim survivors and women fighting for autonomy over their bodies. We cannot allow the apologies to drown out the voices of victim survivors. In some cases, the abused congregant was viewed as having brought “a good man down.” The offended individual plaintively stated, “We should be getting this right,” referring to the disparity in how offenders and the offended are viewed and treated; the rush to forgive the offender and the push back against the offended. It was as if they were telling her, “He said he was sorry. What more do you want?” To which the resounding reply is “Justice!” And what does that look like? That is a subject needing a future post on its own!

As UUs, we extoll individualism and rail against authority. We do not like to be told what to do, so the idea of boundaries is sometimes met with mixed feelings. Yet, boundaries exist in almost every aspect of our lives, whether they are ground rules, covenants, or simple guidelines. The belief that we are “all adults” without need for boundaries makes us particularly vulnerable to boundary violations. The power that ministers hold is real, and we do ourselves a disservice when we disown it or minimize it. Congregants and boards hold power, but we cannot deny the power of our organizational and institutional backing—along with our training and credentials that confer authority—especially when navigating the relationships that we develop with our congregants.

Warmest regards, Rev. Qiyamah


Reflections on Transparency and Vulnerability May 2022

The following is taken from a 2000 issue of the Thomas Jefferson District Connections, a publication of the TJD of the UUA. Qiyamah Rahman was serving as district executive at the time of publication:

I am aware that a number of UUs of European descent in the TJ District are very upset about the use of the term “racist.” I cannot know what it feels like to be called a “racist,” but I do know what it feels like to struggle to name parts of myself that were almost too hideous for me and others to identify, name and embrace.

I grew up in an abusive family. My mother was a battered woman and my siblings and I were battered by my parents. When I first became a parent, I beat my children when they misbehaved. I deliberately do not use the word “spank” here, although that is how it was referred to by everyone, including those from whom I sought help to change. The language allowed me and others to justify this behavior and normalized the behavior. We have learned to sterilize our acts of violence through such neutral language. The act of naming the behavior for what it was, was part of my self-education and my decision to step outside the conspiracy of silence. In seeking to change I had to remove myself beyond the reach of those who would seek to aid and abet my behavior.

My name is Qiyamah A. Rahman and I am a child abuser. Those words allowed me to move toward healing and to non-violent parenting. To call myself a child abuser seemed extreme to some, but in the face of a society that sought to accommodate my behavior I needed to rename my use of corporeal punishment as violence. It was painful to name myself a child abuser. But one cannot begin to heal until one speaks the truth, as painful as it may seem.”

You can find the above text on pages 336-337 in the book, The Arc of the Universe is Long: Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary. This massive six-hundred-and-fifty-one-page book represents one of the most extensive resources on Unitarian Universalists’ journey and reflections on anti-racism efforts beginning with the 1992 General Assembly in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This carefully researched book “recounts events and reactions through the middle years of the first decade of this century.”

How did it happen that in a book of this size with so many quotes and references from numerous individuals that mine portrays me in such a negative impression? And more importantly, why did I choose to say yes to including my experience? In retrospect I am not sure that I fully internalized my decision in the moment. In the end I had to live with my decision to be transparent, to be vulnerable and speak a truth that was so hideous and ugly. I have had some moments of regret having said yes to Leslie Takahashi when she called me one evening and requested permission to include the quote in the book. I did not instantly say yes but as I thought through my reason for my transparency and my efforts to work on vulnerability issues, I said yes moments later. What I did not fully realize is that there would be some challenges once I granted permission. I did not realize that in a book that numbered six-hundred-and fifty-one pages long that the index containing my name takes the reader to pages 336-337 where my confession is visible to any and every reader. My ego, my pride would have wanted folks to also be able to see the person and parent I evolved into and that we sometimes stumble as we plod along life’s journey.

Another moment that I experienced some regrets about saying yes was at a UUA General Assembly after the book was published. A white female minister shouted across the room in an excited voice, “Qiyamah, didn’t you say you were a child abuser?” I could see her husband nudging her and trying to quiet her. Knowing this particular person, I knew she was not being mean-spirited but she tended not to have much of a filter and she apparently wanted to confirm to her husband what she had evidently read. I could see the embarrassment on his face from across the room. In that moment my mind was racing. I knew others had heard her. She clearly did not have a discreet bone in her body. I did not and could not lie. But I felt like I wanted to disappear. I was not prepared to stand in the midst of all these white ministers and declare what I had so easily written and shared in a book. But neither silence nor a lie were options. So in that moment I decided to speak the truth and to hell with the consequences. “Yes, I said that.” And I mumbled something else trying to explain the context as they moved closer. But I had won! In the face of shame, embarrassment, and possible ostracism I had not acquiesced. Life hands us small victories sometimes. When I said yes to Leslie those many years ago, when I look at my tattered and worn copy of the book and when I reflect on my journey towards transparency and vulnerability, I know I have miles and miles more to go. But I am so proud of who I am becoming as I approach 74 years of age. It has taken a lifetime and I am still not there.

When I recently opened the book for a reference it fell open to page 588. The page includes a quote from Rev. Patricia Jimenez, then chaplain in Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She states, “There was an acknowledgment of the indigenous ancestors who were there. There was something about white people who came later. There was absolutely no mention, anywhere, that Texas was part of Mexico, that there are probably more people in that city who were Mexican or other Latinos, before then or even now. So—I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Where are we?’ This is Fort Worth, 2005. What have we really done?”

Rev. Patricia recently died and transitioned to the ancestars. May she rest in power. She reminds us that we have so much more work to do on ourselves, in our congregations, in our homes and in our beloved faith of Unitarian Universalism.

Below her quote were the words of another ancestar, Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson. Her words bring me comfort and are a reminder to keep on keeping on in my state of imperfection and flaws. She states, “You have to get over not making mistakes—we don’t accept the fact that we can make mistakes. Perhaps it is our individual roots. We are still learning to be in right relation one with one another, so that we can honestly say ‘I love you. I made a mistake, let’s fix it.’ Sometimes we just need to understand that we screwed up and yes, it is hard. For me it is wonderful for all of us to be able to stay at the table of Unitarian Universalism.”

Thank you, Rev. Patricia, thank you Rev. Hope, for your courage and legacy that inspire me to continue to strip away the layers of oppression. It will continue to feel uncomfortable, embarrassing and even painful. But in retrospect, I do not regret saying yes to Leslie. I hope I continue to say yes to the Universe every time it provides me an opportunity to grow and stretch and to stay at the table of humanity.

Warmest regards, Rev. Qiyamah

P.S. We are working on rolling out (in time for 2022 UUA General Assembly) the newest feature on our website, where we will introduce many more ancestars we want you to know about.


Reflections on Ageism August 2021

Looking back at 2018, it was filled with several major transitions including my 70th birthday. To mark the occasion my three children put together a weekend that included: a Friday night sweat lodge where we sweated and burned away our toxins and negative energy causing blockages and burdens in our lives, a Saturday evening reception featuring great food, family and friends and Sunday morning worship service. The worship service was held at Abundant LUU in historic SW Atlanta. I reflected on elderhood and shared some of my spoken word pieces. I was surprised with a foot washing performed by my daughters, daughter-in-love and my granddaughter. Omelika Bynum, a long time friend and founder and director of Giwayen Mata, Atlanta’s premier female percussion and dance group, called us to worship with the ancient sounds of African drumming. Another friend, Imani Williams, serenaded everyone with a beautiful gospel hymn. 

Four months earlier I had relocated stateside to Marietta, GA after residing in St. Croix, VI for six years. I had served as the minister with the small UU congregation and became heavily involved with non-profits such as the Women’s Coalition and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council’s Faith Based Committee, both addressing domestic violence and sexual assault. Another interest, interfaith dialogue, was channeled through St. Croix Interfaith Coalition. As I age I have grown more interested in issues of aging and elderhood as evidenced in my membership in the St. Croix Council of Elders. I would have been hard pressed to say which transition, turning 70 or relocating from STX was the most challenging in 2018.

Having sold or given away all my belongings except my car, clothes and a few personal and sentimental items, I was starting all over again. I had done this at least twice in my life time so this was not a big deal. However, it is always a challenge to make choices about our belongings and to make decisions about our attachments. At times it was almost overwhelming to sort through six years of possessions that I had acquired assuming at that time that I was going to be living in STX indefinitely. 

I successfully relocated from one environment to another attending to all the details to make that happen. I accomplished turning seventy with great joy and celebration. 

What has not happened and what is a source of consternation is being unprepared for the ageism I experienced in Atlanta. Since the time I relocated from St. Croix on June 1, 2018 to the time I returned on September 15, 2019 I had been unemployed. I had completed close to 100 applications for various positions that netted me only one interview. I lowered my expectations and applied for positions requiring a Bachelor’s in Social Work. I applied for several administrative assistant positions. I did not get any call backs from my efforts. Out of desperation I applied to teach ESL in Japan. When the recruiter called they informed me that the legal retirement age in Japan was 65 and that I was too old for the position.

 I was a 70-year-old active woman still experiencing good health that wants to and needs to work.  I had pursued social work positions with no success. So I thought, let me turn my attention to ministry, which I was sure there were opportunities for me in the Atlanta area where some six congregations exist. While not all of them were in search I pulled out my ministerial packet and updated it and completed paperwork online with the UUA. I was called and interviewed for two congregations. I decided that I was not going to leave it to chance. I made it known on my ministerial packet that I was looking for a congregation that was already doing work around anti-racism, anti-oppression and multiculturalism. And if they were not, they would be willing to make a serious commitment. I thought the two interviews went as well as could be expected. The final decisions were not in my favor and someone else was called. I then turned to the Interim Ministers Search process. I was the first District Executive to participate in the intensive and rigorous training years ago. Other Field Staff followed my suit. My rationale was that I wanted a deeper understanding of Interim Ministry to be able to assist and support the Interims in the then District, now Region. To that end I was successful. 

During my job hunting stint in 2018-2019 I signed up for Interim Ministry and applied to a couple of congregations whose ministers had left. I was unsuccessful once again. At this point I had begun to rethink my whole reason for returning stateside. A few months later dialogue with my family made it clear that settling on our Ancestral Land as I anticipated was not an option. 

Interspersed in between my job hunting I was fortunate to be able to spend time visiting family in Atlanta, Virginia and Detroit. These memories would become even more precious when I later decided to return to St. Croix in the face of opposition from some family members.

Reflections on Aging (and Ministry)

I had never thought about aging until my job hunting experience in Atlanta when I returned stateside. Previously, I have had the luxury of aging gracefully (and still do) and I was employed in positions and situations that did not penalize me for aging. That changed when I relocated to Atlanta. Technology has changed the entire job hunting process. The ministry search is very time-sensitive and since I thought I had plenty of time I focused on social work or human service positions. While it is illegal to ask an applicant’s age, the new question is, “When did you graduate from high school?” In the course of over one hundred applications I had one interview. Ironically, it was the one position I really wanted, a counseling position at the Pulaski State Women’s Correctional Institute. I really worked hard and contorted myself to convince them to hire me and to recognize what a gift I would be. It did not happen. I had all my friends and prayer warriors praying for me and I visualized myself working with the women and living in Hawkinsville, the same town that our family’s Ancestral Land was located. But it was not to be. 

For a period of time I stopped job hunting. I recognized that the constant rejection would sooner or later take its toll on my self-esteem and confidence and I did not want to fall prey to these subtly destructive messages that I was no longer of value because of my age and that I had nothing to offer. I never believed that but it was clear that I was fighting a losing battle. At least one person said I was running when I made the decision to return to St. Croix. Others said I didn’t give it enough time. Still others insisted that I simply did not engage in the kind of networking that would have gotten my resume in front of the right folks. 

In hindsight, none of this matters now. I am back in St. Croix, VI. While I am not doing parish ministry I was employed as a Disaster Case Manager helping individuals, mostly senior homeowners, who did not access resources two years ago to repair damages to their homes. In this second cycle we are stepping into the gap along with other non-profits to help individuals and families in their recovery. There is a lot of work to be done here. I did that work for a couple of years. I am now working part time as the Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator for the Territory. As a survivor of early childhood violence and a survivor as a battered woman and sexual assault, this work has called me over the years and now I am resuming this work again. 

Once again I feel needed and am engaged in my call, to serve the needy and marginalized of society. My employers did not care about my age. My reputation preceded me and I was hired and immediately put to work. 

No matter what our age we want to feel our lives make a difference and that what we do adds value. In a capitalist society the profit margin is the bottom line. As a senior, I am not a lucrative investment. I want to live out the remainder of my years in a community where being an elder is not a deficit. I want to be valued for my competence and ability to contribute. For me, I would rather be in St. Croix among friends that see past my age, past my wrinkles, past my grey hair and take the time to review my resume and decide based on the merits of my experience and not my age. 

Black Women in Chicago January 2021

On May 23, 2019 I met via telephone from Detroit, MI with thirteen Black women from First Unitarian Church in Chicago, IL. They had been meeting for a number of years. At one point we counted thirty (30) active Black UU women in that one congregation. In this particular gathering there were thirteen (13). In their check-ins and over food, they talked about what was going on in their lives and sometimes some of the things they were doing to cope.

Since that time, several have died, several have moved away. At one point in their history they were informed that they could not meet at the church as an exclusively Black women’s group and that it had to be open to all women. There was a men’s group and a “women over fifty group” but Black women for some reason could not meet exclusively. Instead of creating a scene they merely moved their meetings outside of the Church.

Noam Chomsky stated, “The future of humanity is at stake…We have to get rid of this malignancy and therefore, everything else pales in the face of it.” The “it” that he was referring to was racism – white supremacy – systemic racism, the kind we witnessed on January 6, 2021 and the kind that kidnapped Africans, crossed the Atlantic with them; stopped off in the West Indies, leaving some to work in the sugar plantations and the remaining enslaved peoples were carried to the Colonies where many toiled for generations before freedom was declared.

This work of centering Black UU Women and Girls is about decentering whiteness. It is about breaking down old paradigms and building up a new world. Not only are we targeting Black UU women and girls but those 26% in 2017 who the Pew Research Center identified in their survey as spiritual and not religious. In 2012 19% identified as spiritual. Some of those individuals are UUs that have not yet discovered they are UUs. Among that number that identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) it is important that we clean up our act so that UUism is more embracing to BIPOC. I wonder what it will take to get us there!