BLUU Presses Pause in Order to Press Forward

Rev. Mykal Slack, BLUU’s Community Minister for Worship & Spiritual Care, sings at the Harper-Jordan Symposium in 2019.

When a group of Black UUs first met in Cleveland at the Movement for Black Lives Convening in 2015, what would become BLUU was just a dream. BLUU’s co-founders wanted to support Black people with both a desire for spiritual community and a heart for collective liberation. BLUU’s founders had no way of knowing that this dream would blossom into an organization creating virtual worship experiences for Black people, sustaining regular programming for children and youth, and organizing to fundamentally change material conditions for Black people impacted by systemic anti-Blackness.

Because our work fulfills significant needs in our community, we’ve been doing this work at a rapid pace without any substantial pause in our work since BLUU’s founding.

Our leadership team, the Organizing Collective Board, have decided it’s time for us to take that collective pause this year. BLUU turns six this July, and we have so much to celebrate about that six years. We must also do some reflection — about what we’ve learned, where we’ve succeeded, and where there’s an opportunity for us to change and evolve.

On July 1, 2021, we will be slowing down or pausing most BLUU programming so we can reflect on our work this past six years and focus on organizational strategy for the future.

To our Black UU family and all those who hold us close, it’s important to us that you know that we are not dissolving BLUU. We are not folding, and we are not stopping this vitally important ministry we have been called to bring forth into this broken world. We have always taken the future of BLUU seriously — even as we’ve wrestled with what it means to be both a spiritual community and an organizing force for Black and collective liberation in the world. We have always been about building with intention, forethought and purpose. BLUU has been called to urgently address the injustices impacting Black people, and we’ve been able to answer that call.

We are now called into a moment of evaluation and reflection so that we may be able to learn from our earliest beginnings and fashion a future that is even better. We are living most deeply in this moment into our principles of thriving and experimentation. Thriving requires and necessitates moments of reflection, especially after periods of intense productivity. Experimentation also requires us to look back on our work and think carefully about things we want to carry into the future and things we want to put to rest, with our gratitude for the lessons they’ve taught us.

“The BLUU leadership team is being wise to take a pause at this point,” said Rev. Bill Sinkford, former UUA president and BLUU Advisory Team member. “New organizations, especially those with a record of such great success, often need a space for leadership to breathe, dropping back a bit from the urgency of delivering week after week, in order to clarify the way forward. The Financial Advisory Team (a working group within the Advisory Team) is entirely supportive of this decision.”

We want to move forward and continue building in a way that is more sustainable for the people moving the work of the organization — the staff, the OCB and our dedicated volunteers. We can’t continue our work at the current level and complete an entire restructuring effort. It is in this spirit of building a bright and bold future, where we can continue working to be the best we can be, that we endeavor to pause some of our outward programming so that we may focus inward for a bit. We pledge to give updates as we make progress, and to bring you all along with us on the journey. As part of this restructuring process, we will be imagining ways to communicate even more effectively with our Beloveds. For now, make sure you’re subscribed to our email list where we share the most important BLUU news monthly. It is the best way to stay in the loop with BLUU!

During this time, we will focus on BLUU’s organizational structure, restructuring to build clear lines of power and authority, while maintaining the intention and spirit of collaborative governance. While we’ve been having preliminary discussions about this work for years, this is the first time we’re intentionally slowing down programming to focus on restructure work.

We want our BLUU community to know what this pause means for the upcoming year. Here are some ways this pause will impact our ongoing work:

Every year, BLUU takes a break from worship in July, and we will take this July off from worship as usual. Starting in August, BLUU will have virtual worship once a month on the first Thursday of the month at 9 p.m. Eastern until further notice. (Those who regularly attend worship are used to having worship twice a month.)

The BLUUBerry and Berry Youth Saturday jams will continue on Saturdays through June 19. After June 19, BLUUBerry and Berry Youth programming will be on hold until 2022. A relaunch date for our youth ministry will be announced at a later date.

Existing BLUU Havens will continue to build opportunities for local connection, and we will still be accepting Havens applications.

BLUU Harbor applications are on hold because we need the time and capacity it will take to hold the extensiveness of the Harbor application process, and we don’t have that capacity right now.

Our BLUU community will still receive Daily Affirmations and receive as-needed pastoral care. We will also continue to send email updates on an as-needed basis, including monthly reminders about worship.

We are excited to offer a week of BLUU programming during the week of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly. Come worship with us, take a writing workshop, meet Black seminarians, or learn about our housing initiative or Havens and Harbors communities. Registration for BLUU GA programming is free and open now. Our workshops about the Havens and Harbors and Housing Initiative are open to all. All other programming is Black sacred space.

This chart explains the programming implications for BLUU’s upcoming organizational pause. A link to an audio version of this chart is available in the captions.
This chart shows the ways BLUU community spaces will be impacted by the upcoming organizational pause. For an audio version of this chart, visit bit.ly/BLUUPauseAudio

Although we are pressing pause on much of our programming for this restructure work, we are still moving forward into a bright and bold BLUU future. Here are some additional updates about BLUU’s infrastructure and ongoing work we want you to know as we head into this programming pause:

A bright future requires capital! And it is towards this end that we share with you that our endowment grew last year by about $855,000 dollars. We are proud to have established the BLUU Endowment within the UU Common Endowment Fund. BLUU currently holds $4.5 million in our endowment. This is a good position for us to be in financially. We’re hopeful that on the other end of our structuring process, we’ll be able to have more regular financial updates for our community. Transparency has always been a value of BLUU. Please sign up for leadership updates to find out when you can apply to be on the Financial Transparency Group.

We launched The BLUU Northside Cooperative Housing Initiative in 2019 to help build permanently affordable housing for Black and Indigenous families in North Minneapolis. Through a hybrid land trust and cooperative housing model, we’ll be constructing about 30 new townhomes for families to live in and build long-term wealth. We’re excited to be partnering with the City of Lakes Community Land Trust and Urban Homeworks and for forthcoming partnerships with two other organizations to be able to make this plan a reality. In January of 2021 we applied for financing assistance from the City of Minneapolis to be able to build on one of our sites. We are still awaiting the decision of that assistance, but if we receive it, it is likely that we could break ground this year. Stay tuned to BlackLivesUU.org for our most recent updates about this project.

We enlisted the help of The Black Tech Guy to help us with a website project that was delayed during 2020. The Black Tech Guy partnered with our Communications Director, Marchaé Grair, to get us to the finish line with that project. The website will launch this summer. We hope you’ll enjoy the streamlined information and improved accessibility of this new website when it launches!

Committed to the healing and spiritual growth of our people, and to a Unitarian Universalism that centers Blackness, we are thrilled to be under contract with Skinner House Books to publish a book of meditations, poems, songs, and reflections by Black folks in our movement. We’re in the process of finalizing the list of contributors with the hope that it will be published and ready for distribution by the end of 2021! A second work, an edited volume for the Voices series, has been approved for publication in the near future. We are grateful for the dedication of OCB members Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin and Rev. Mykal Slack who are serving as co-editors for both of these projects.

During this time of rebuilding and restructuring, the OCB and Team Sankofa are exploring ways to dream together about the possibilities for change-making and engaging in supported and sustainable base building organizing trajectories. We are grateful to Team Sankofa for the dedication, commitment and hard work in the BLUU community and we are excited about what is yet to come.

We are taking time to engage in this critical strategic work because we want BLUU to exist for a long time. We’re excited to come back from this pause with clarity about our work together and a renewed dream about what BLUU will be in the years to come.

If you have questions about this time of pausing and planning, please feel free to contact us. Please send us an email at blacklivesofuu@gmail.com.

Dreaming of our future,

The BLUU Organizing Collective Board

Black Lives of UU is an organizing collective of Black UU's working to expand our role and visibility as Black people within our Unitarian Universalism faith.