Over the first weekend in November, Beth and I were in Denver at the annual conference for the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA Fall Con), a gathering for UU Religious Educators with more than 200 religious educators from around the country. The theme this year was on creating Brave Spaces, and we sure went there as two of the primary speakers embodied white supremacy and patriarchy. As Annie Scott, LREDA Board President, said, “of course that was not our intention, but once again we learn that intention is not what counts, it’s the impact of our decisions and actions that matters, and our actions led to pain for our colleagues of color and others.” Our time together was blessedly complicated, full of hurt and full of hope. One of the ways to address white supremacy culture is to be willing to stay in the discomfort and not rush to solutions. I know this is hard for me–I already want to be able to tell you all about my experience and to turn it into useful learnings–though I can also tell that I will be processing everything that happened for a long time to come.
After a rocky start on Friday night, feedback was given to the presenters, and they resumed the program on Saturday morning, apparently not integrating the feedback into their presentation. After a few more exercises, many people spoke out their discomfort with the facilitation. The tension continued to build as participants didn’t feel like the facilitators were truly understanding what felt so hurtful and problematic to them. Someone asked the presenters to step down, and the LREDA President offered a prayer and created a space for the LREDA Board and any people of color who were hurt and interested in finding a way forward to meet together. The presenters were ultimately asked to leave, the schedule was rearranged, and by Sunday, we moved into spaces of truth-telling, restorative circles, and racial identity caucusing, to be able to name our hurts and begin the process of moving toward healing.
So many differing emotions come up for me around the experience–as a participant, I noticed my own frustration with the program and how much of my frustration I assumed was about where I was at and not about the presenters or the presentation, meaning that I waited until my colleagues of color stood up yet again to create a shift in the programming. As a facilitator of a restorative circle and racial identity caucus, I am holding the complexity and diversity of experiences people had–people who were enjoying the workshop, people who were new Religious Educators and weren’t getting what they wanted out of the conference. As a fellow presenter and a fellow human, I have compassion and empathy for the presenters–I know what it feels like to really miss the mark sometimes. It is so painful to see well-intentioned people fall far short of what they hope to do for a community,
I stayed afterwards, along with about 60 other participants, for an additional three days for a training on multicultural education, which was a great transition into continuing to unpack the conference and to explore ways to make our religious education program more explicitly multicultural and antiracist. I am so excited about the new resources and ideas I have for this work and would love to hear from anyone who’s interested in thinking about and supporting bringing this lens to our lifespan religious education programs. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.