SUMMIT, NJ — In response to recent fatal encounters between police officers and members of the African-American community, the Unitarian Church of Summit, in partnership with the Fountain Baptist Church, also located in Summit, marched down Springfield Avenue on Sept. 25 to raise awareness and show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Upon arriving at UCS, a Black Lives Matter banner was raised and placed on the front of its building. Close to 500 people took part in the event.
Fountain Baptist Church also raised a banner, and both congregations have invited other houses of worship in Summit to do the same.
The event comes on the heels of several fatal incidents, including the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, 40, in Tulsa, Okla., who was killed by a police officer on Sept. 16, and Keith Lamont Scott, 43, in Charlotte, N.C., shot by police officers just five days later.
Members of UCS and Fountain Baptist, in addition to the larger community, were invited to the march and the banner-raising, which was be led by the ministers of both congregations. Local dignitaries, clergy from other houses of worship and youth from the Stand Together Against Racism program were also there to participate.
A joint Black Lives Matter team of more than 20 people, headed by Claudia Cohen of UCS and the Rev. Vernon Williams of Fountain Baptist Church, coordinated the event.
Summit Unitarian Universalists voted unanimously on April 10 to take a stand against racism. The congregation has expressed their public support of the BLM movement in response to what they believe to be the disproportionate loss of black lives, systemic racism in our country, and police violence.
The vote followed the congregation’s participation in a UU curriculum on race, as well as a series of book discussions, films and interracial dialogues sponsored by the Summit Interfaith Council’s Task Force on Dismantling Racism.
The partnership between Fountain Baptist and UCS developed out of these Task Force-sponsored events, which began in 2015.
The Rev. Emilie Boggis, of UCS, expressed her hope of unity and healing in communities throughout the United States. “We learned firsthand through the Dialogue Circles how life-transforming talking about race and privilege can be,” said Boggis of the Unitarian congregation. “Our banner is a symbol of our ongoing commitment to the healing and transformation needed in our country in this time. We hope people will look beyond the divisive rhetoric to the real work we’ve done.”
The Black Lives Matter team expressed their thoughts regarding racism, as well as the many lives lost within the African-American community. “We are called to bear witness that this loss of black lives is tragic and must be interrupted, they said in a statement. “We pledge, humbly, to engage with dismantling systemic racism whenever we encounter it. Fountain Baptist raises a banner in order to invite others to join with us in creating a more equitable, just and non-racist society.”
The Black Lives Matter movement was created as a hashtag for social media in response to the death of teenager Trayvon Martin, who was killed in 2012 by a Neighborhood Watch volunteer in Florida. The movement has chapters throughout the U.S. and across the globe and involves a wide-ranging strategic approach to issues facing black communities. BLM website reads: “We are committed to collectively, lovingly and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and by extension all people. We are committed to acknowledging, respecting and celebrating differences and commonalities.”
The group emphasizes the fact that the BLM is not exclusionary, and that their ultimate goal is All Lives Matter.
The BLM team noted that Unitarian Universalists believe in social justice, and have supported marriage equality, highlighted the human cost of war during the Iraqi and Afghan wars, and have advocated for sensible gun laws. Banners have been raised in support of these issues as well.