Assembling the Myriad Bits

Lots of essays in my computer waiting to edit for the website. I welcome being able to share them on the website with others. Today began with a worship service at All Souls in DC, followed by a Re-evaluation Counseling session, a quick lunch and then another zoom call. A Come to the Table is The Anthology on Black UU clergy women and it is on the editor’s desk, Mary Benard, at Skinner House Books.

I have to blame it on Mark Morrison-Reed’s book, Black Pioneers in a White Denomination that was published in 1980. The book was released a year before the first Black woman, Rev. Yvonne Seon was ordained and fellowshipped. I am always intrigued by the fact that Black males were welcomed as clergy into Unitarians and Universalists almost one hundred years before Black women. Nevertheless, that was the motivating factor for my interest because I wondered where and who were the Black UU women? My efforts began, to initiate and assemble ideas, research and create something that would be inviting.

During the pandemic I began to think about all this and how to assemble all the myriad bits and pieces of information and how to be in conversation with other writers, researchers, academicians, etc. that were actively writing and researching UU women. I also realized very recently that if there was almost no information on Black UU women, then there was even less, if non-existent, on Black UU girls.

As the Fall, 2020 Minn’s Lecturer I presented a series of three lectures at General Assembly, First Unitarian Church in Chicago and the UU Congregation of Atlanta. In addition, I have done several homilies that allowed me to continue to hone my research. One lecture and panel discussion, titled “Racial Justice & Unitarianism from Reconstruction to WW I,” really pushed me to more deeply explore Black Unitarian women’s roles in the suffragette and temperance movements.

Aha, so much to do and so little time!

Black Women in Chicago

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!

Answering the Question

Hi Joseph, Mark, Mark, Takiya and Michelle:

I trust each of you is well and safe. I have chosen each of you very carefully because of who you are and because I admire how you show up in the world.

I would like to pick your brains about an idea that I have had for some time. It is a website devoted to Black UU women’s artistic and scholarly pursuits. It would be a “gathering” place for their/our voices and works. I see it as the premier location that would draw UUs and others that want to contribute to the small but growing body of works by/for/about Black UU women and girls. It would become a place that would include: research and funding sources, interviews, advice column, music, art, a roving camera, blogs, and different genres of Black women and girls’ expressive works that provide a glimpse into our lives.

My question is, at this point and time in UU history, should I restrict it to Black UU women and girls or should I create a website for UUs of Color and Latinx women and girls?

I need to pose this question before I get ready to hit the go button. I am actually “interviewing” freelancers to build the website. But I decided to pause because I realize this is bigger than me and I do not want to look back years from now and regret having claimed too small or too large a vision. It never occurred to me to do a personal website because that is too small and I want to gather Black UU women’s and girls’ voices.

It is time. It is past time. I cannot tell you what it felt like to research white women’s entry into UU ministry and to find so much history they have documented and books they have produced about their journey. The envy I felt as a writer and researcher, knowing how I had to scrape to find the smallest bit of info about Black clergy women. And not even having benefit of basic information like how many of us there are. And finally realizing that we would have to create what I was looking for because it did not exist.

Even as I am writing and reflecting I am getting clearer that I must devote this website strictly to Black UU women (femme, transgender, womxn, non-binary) otherwise, the tendency is to go broad and compromise the depth and richness. And that is not what I want. I want deep, deep, rich, rich conversations and research and thoughtful analyses. Going broad will not produce that.

When I say this is my legacy work I am not just saying some words. This is what I am creating and leaving as a representation of my life. Besides my three children, the work I am doing as a writer, griot and researcher is my next most important contribution. Just as I am reading and poring over others’ works I know one day others will discover my words and read, reflect and form an opinion of who I was and what I attempted to do. I want to know I left something of quality. I want others to feel what I feel when I discover information that broadens my understanding and awareness about Black UUs and their presence. I want them to feel that pride and connection that I feel when I read about the champions and superstars and everyday individuals that came before me.

Another practical reason to restrict and narrow the focus on Black UU women and girls is the data base in my brain and on my laptop is becoming so extensive that I cannot stay on top of it. I cannot manage it. I must organize all this information while the neurons are still firing. I was going to share the basic “proposal” I had put together but I cannot find it. None of the possibilities that come to mind have caused it to surface. Right now this is a matter of having too much info in my head and needing to empty some of it out. The website allows for that. But I have been around long enough to speak to elders that I interviewed in the early 2000s who now have some memory loss due to the natural aging process or are suffering from dementia. I do not want to leave it to chance that my efforts will be catalogued.

I should probably delete this email because I have answered the question for myself that I originally posed to each of you. But sharing my thoughts helps me stay connected to each of you in ways that this pandemic seeks to sever.

Blessings!
Qiyamah A. Rahman

Rev Qiyamah Rahman in St Croix

Introductions

Q’s Blogs highlight reflections about my life and my work. And so I begin.

I am the third oldest of ten siblings. Two of my older siblings (Betty and Freddie) and I were born in Hawkinsville, Georgia in the same house that our mother was raised with her parents and siblings. We were all delivered by our Aunt Judy Bell, who was the local midwife. Our amazing mother managed to hold onto 31 acres of that same land which she has now passed on to her children.

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister and social worker and teacher (graduate of University of Michigan) and research activist (Clark Atlanta University). Over the course of my life, I have had many jobs. I worked at Meadville Lombard Theological School as the Director of Contextual Ministry and Senior Lecturer. At that time, I lived in Chicago, Illinois where I resided from 2007-2012. Previously I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina for seven years and prior to that in Atlanta, Georgia for thirty five years, on and off. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. I expect to retire some day. At one point I was thinking about our ancestral land in Hawkinsville and possibly building a home for myself. I have three adult children, Libra, Kaleema, and Muhammad, one grandson, Brandon, and a granddaughter named Malia. I used to have a cat named Lili until she died suddenly.