I have always been “book smart,” but finding a way into the deeper elements of how we live in relationship was an essential lesson I needed to learn. That lesson was seeded from my earliest years. My mother did not discriminate based on skin colour when she hired musicians for her backing band, but the rest of the world did. When I would visit my mother on tour, I witnessed how dark-skinned band members were treated differently than their white bandmates by police and other authority figures. But while I saw the problem, my book smarts never told me what to do about it.
My time at Neighborhood Church and at the multifaith seminary Claremont School of Theology made me “heart smart.” What I found at Claremont was many others who also lived with various forms of oppression and marginalization—more often than not far worse than anything I had ever experienced—and witnessed their desire to rise up and work for a better world. Those students, with the encouragement and example set by the administration, made me feel loved in a way that few people ever get to experience. It was an example of what is possible when intersectional, living justice is lifted up and supported by those in power. I wish to share that feeling with, to make it reality for, the rest of the world.
That community also made me “body smart.” My time there reminded me how integral our bodies are to our experiences of love and justice. I recognize now what I do to and with my own body, and how the systems in place in our cultures celebrate some bodies at the expense of others. The culture of intentional community at CST taught me to be careful with my body and with the bodies of others, to be careful with my words and stories, and to use my body—including my loud mouth—to fight the good fight whenever and wherever I am able.
It’s also important to remember that the work of anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism includes me educating those who have privilege. We must never forget that they, too, are humans beings who must be loved.
I use all my smarts—book smart, heart smart, and body smart—as part of my ongoing assessment of how I engage as a minister with my congregation, the communities in which I live, and the larger world. As a person who has privilege when it comes to skin color, social and economic class, and education, it’s my obligation to educate myself about the needs of the oppressed, educate the privileged around me about what I’ve learned and what those marginalized populations have told me and asked of me, and to deliberately and consciously make safe spaces for marginalized voices to be recognized and felt.
The knowledge I have both earned, and been given due to my privilege, requires me to show up, pay attention, and to support the endeavors of marginalized people by acting in accordance with what they tell me they need, not what I might think I should be doing. I am called to speak truth to power and show up when it comes to oppression—sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, transphobia, homophobia, bi-erasure, prison reform, and all the rest—because unless I do so, I cannot be in covenant to affirm and promote our seven Unitarian Universalist principles.