Posts By Racial Justice Task Force

Anti-Racism Workshop

Ken Wagner will lead an 8-session workshop at First Parish called “Being White in a Racist Society” on Thursday evenings from Feb 16 to April 13 (note date change due to Feb. 9 storm), 7:00 to 9:00pm, with no session on Feb 23 during school vacation week. This is an exciting opportunity for us at First Parish.  Ken’s workshop is highly recommended by other UUs, and is free! The only requirement is that participants commit to attending all eight sessions, as each session builds on the work done the previous week.

The workshop is primarily focused on helping white people understand the racial component of their identity, and learn how to live with authenticity and integrity as a white person in a society grounded in white supremacy.  It involves understanding the structural foundation of racism quite apart from the bigotry and discrimination that flows from individuals and how it exists almost independently of individual racist people.  Racism itself is the source of great confusion among white folks because there are so many different definitions and conceptions of what it is and what it is not.  Thus, one encounters claims of “reverse racism” from individuals who have an entirely distorted concept of what racism is or is not.  We work through what the role of white people can or should be in racial justice movements, what our role in Black Lives Matter might be, what it means to be in solidarity with people of color and what it looks like to exhibit ally behavior.  We discuss situations and responses, i.e., things we commonly hear but are sometimes frustrated in responding to in an effective fashion.  Each week, Ken will send out reading material for use in the following session.

The session dates are Feb. 9 and 16; March 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30; and April 6. You can come to the first session on Feb. 9 to see if you would like to sign on with no obligation.  Also, during the fourth session, on March 9, a film will be shown followed by a discussion.  It is possible to attend that session without going to the others.

Ken Wagner preached at First Parish on Jan. 22 and is an active UU with a long history in lay leadership. He is the former president of the Clara Barton District, the District Presidents Association and First Parish Church of Stow & Acton. He is married to Laura Wagner, Executive Director of UU Mass Action. Laura and Ken are both members of the UUA’s Allies for Racial Equity and are committed to anti-racism/anti-oppression/multicultural work. He has led anti-racism workshops for UU congregations, including Lexington and Groton.

If you want to participate, please sign-up with Marianne McGowan.


FP Conversations About Race

The Racial Justice Task Force invites you to conversations from January to June to deepen our understanding and our commitment to help ‘bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice’ in our own time.  Whether what works for you is a movie night, a Lyceum, an in-depth workshop series, or holing up with a book, please join in!  Now more than ever, it’s clear that we are all in this together – how can we live into our UU values in an unjust world?  Here’s the line-up for January and early February — look for more detailed info on each event elsewhere in the Bell Notes and  The Bellman:

Please Note:  The Icons art exhibition scheduled for March 4-5 has been postponed, but will be rescheduled.


Screening of “13th” Followed by Pizza and Discussion

Sunday, Jan 29, 4:30-7 pm
View the outstanding new film, “13th”, followed by pizza and discussion. Critic Ty Burr wrote that “13th” is “among the very best movies of 2016…and probably the most important.”  The film illuminates the crucially important and little-known history of the 13th Amendment to our Constitution, passed in 1865 and intended to abolish slavery.  A crucial loophole in its language is playing out in our lives today in the form of mass incarceration.  Directed by Ava DuVernay, who also directed “Selma.”

Black Lives of UU

Conversation with Kenny Wiley
Monday, January 9th, 7-9pm in the Parlor

Join the Racial Justice Task Force for a conversation with UU World senior editor Kenny Wiley about Black Lives Matter from a Unitarian Universalist perspective. Wiley is a leader in Black Lives Matter: 5280 of Colorado and the national Black Lives of UU movement; he also serves as the Director of Faith Formation at Prairie UU Church outside of Denver.


Discussing this year’s Common Read: Between the World and Me

This year’s Common Read is a short, powerful book by recent MacArthur “Genius Award” winner Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. The book won the 2015 National Book Award for Non-Fiction; Coates is an American writer, journalist, and educator, and the national correspondent for The Atlantic.  As one reviewer put it:   “In a media world populated with pundits, so-called experts and public intellectuals driven by ego and familiar agendas, Coates’s voice stands nearly alone — a black man raised in the streets of Baltimore who narrowly escaped the violence that lurked around every corner and dodged the clutches of the prisons and jails that were built for him, and who now speaks unpopular, unconventional and sometimes even radical truths in his own voice, unfiltered. He is invariably humble, yet subtly defiant. And people listen.”  Written as a letter from father to son, it is touching, engaging, and challenging.  This is an important book for our time.  We invite you to join one of these discussions to talk about the book and the meaning it holds for us as individuals and as members of our community of Greater Boston and beyond.

  • Sunday, March 20, 9:15 am in the Parlor. A Needham Lyceum moderated by Gretchen Cook-Anderson.  No sign-up required.
  • Thursday, March 24, 7:30 – 9 pm at Amy Cicala’s home, Needham.  Sign-up required.
  • Monday, March 28, 10 – 11:30 am at Linda Davis’s home, Needham.  Sign-up required.

To sign up, email with your NAME and which DATE you are signing up for.  Final details will follow.

Group Forming to Discuss Waking Up White

A group facilitated by Susan McGarvey and Wendy Blom will meet on January 12th and January 26th from 7:30 to 9 pm in the church parlor to discuss the impact of reading Waking Up White by Debbie Irving. Would you like to join us?

  • We will ask ourselves the questions below to see if we are truly awake to our role in systemic racism and what we need to do about it.
  • Did you discuss race in your childhood home?
  • When did you become aware of your privilege?
  • Have you been moved to “help” the disadvantaged?
  • When did you learn that race is a construct?
  • Debby Irving says: “The only thing needed for racism to continue is for good people to do nothing”?

Please contact Susan at with questions or for more information.

First Parish Book of the Year: Between the World and Me

between-the-world-and-me LargeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the 2015 winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction, has been chosen as First Parish’s book of the year for 2016.  Discussions of the book will take place during the month of March.  It was selected because of its importance to the national conversation about race and social justice that has grown out of the Black Lives Matter movement.  

The book, written as a letter to Coates’ teenaged son, discusses the feelings and realities of being black in America today.  Inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 work The Fire Next Time, Coates, a writer for The Atlantic, wrote his book after a meeting with President Obama.  He explores the history of violence against black people and focuses on the over-policing of black youth.  He himself lost a close friend who was shot and killed by a police officer as he walked down a street unarmed.  

The New York Times calls Between the World and Me a “powerful and passionate book” that “often reads like an internal dialogue or debate.”  We look forward to meaningful discussions and conversations inspired by Coates’ words. 

Click here for a dialogue about the book sponsored by UU World.

January 10: The New Jim Crow screening & discussion

The book, “The New Jim Crow” by legal scholar Michelle Alexander traces the huge surge in the U.S. black prison population to racist policies and politics. The book has been extremely influential in the movement for change in the justice system to begin to eliminate racial bias.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP says, “Michelle Alexander’s book offers a timely and original framework for understanding mass incarceration, its roots to Jim Crow, our modern caste system, and what must be done to eliminate it. This book is a call to action.”  

The First Parish Racial Justice Task Force has a DVD of Alexander speaking to an audience at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem in 2012. Her engrossing talk summarizes the information and conclusions in the book. The Task Force will show the DVD on Sunday, January 10 at 5:00pm in the Sanctuary. Following the hour-long screening, we will move to Parish Hall for pizza and a discussion about the topics presented. Youth Group members are encouraged to participate before their evening meeting.

 All are welcome! Join us! Contact Wendy Blom for more information:

Waking Up White Discussions: January 12 and 26.

Last year, the First Parish Racial Justice Task Force members read the book “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” by local author Debby Irving. Over a few weeks while reading the book, they got together several times in small groups to discuss the evolution of each participant’s own racial consciousness. Everyone enjoyed the process and learned a lot about how life experiences affect one’s ideas about race and how those ideas may help perpetuate structural racism in our country.  

As Irving writes: “As I unpack my own long-held beliefs about color, I reveal how each of these well-intentioned mindsets actually perpetuated my ill-conceived ideas about race. I also explain why and how I’ve changed the way I talk about racism, work in racially mixed groups, and understand the racial justice movement as a whole.”

This winter, as part of the Connect2Respond initiative, the Task Force will hold more discussion sessions about the book in the hope that more First Parish folks will read it and join the conversation.  Then, on February 4, there will be a follow up presentation and conversation with Debby Irving herself in Wellesley. The event is being sponsored by the group The World of Wellesley and the Wellesley Village Church.

The book discussion sessions, to be led by Susan McGarvey and Wendy Blom, are on Tuesdays, January 12 and 26 in the parlor from 7:30 to 9:00pm.  The books can be purchased at the New England Mobile Book Fair or or downloaded to a Kindle. Please RSVP to

G.R.A.C.E. = Growing Racial & Cultural Equity

You are invited to the 5th annual G.R.A.C.E. Summit!
Saturday, May 16, 2015 – 9am to 4pm in Hudson, MA

As movements build to confront such racialized injustices as police brutality, immigrant deportation, mass incarceration and threats to voting rights, UU congregations committed to racial justice are asking how to respond meaningfully, wondering if they are ready to respond and asking what readiness looks like. Continue reading…

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