The Board and staff of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM) recently released a statement calling systemic racism a pandemic and pledging an increased financial commitment, additional programming, and a larger focus on advocacy work to end systemic racism. The statement was issued at the end of the Board’s virtual Zoom meeting, held June 1-3, 2020.
“The violent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are only the most recent manifestations of the ugly legacy of white supremacy, which goes back before the founding of our country,” the statement reads in part. “The disproportionate way in which COVID-19 is affecting communities of color, as well as others who are the most vulnerable in our society, is another indicator of injustice in our nation.”
Sent out as a communique to all CHHSM members, the statement references the unique history of the United Church of Christ in “responding early and bearing witness in the midst of social injustice,” noting that CHHSM’s vision of creating a just, caring, and compassionate world requires work.
During its meeting, the Board and staff felt compelled to take a stand against the systemic racism that pervades U.S. institutions. “Now more than ever, we must stop and change the way we think, feel and act toward racism,” says Abbreial P. Drane, CHHSM Board chair and president and CEO of Seven Counties Services and Bellewood & Brooklawn in Louisville, Ky. “Our friends and neighbors have been treated unjustly and have a right to be safe and not live in fear. I’m committed to open my eyes to injustice and together we can make this a safer world for our black and brown neighbors.”
The statement continues, “We are in a time of crisis, which requires a bold response. Unlike COVID-19, we know that systemic racism is not caused by a novel virus, nor will a vaccine cure it. It is much more intractable and insidious” and requires widespread system reform, sustained ingenuity, and courage.
“Events of recent days indicate how far we have to go to achieve CHHSM’s vision of creating a just world,” says Michael J. Readinger, president and CEO. “The CHHSM Board and staff are releasing this statement to publicly declare our stance and commitment to the work that lies ahead.”
A series of commitments, both programmatic and financial, end the statement. It is the first in an ongoing series of communications that will provide updates and resources on CHHSM’s work to achieve racial equity.
Here is the full text of the statement from the Board and staff of CHHSM:
“For the past three months, we have been writing regularly to provide updates and encouragement as you address the COVID-19 pandemic. Events during those months have revealed in starkest terms another pandemic, and that is the shameful and troubling disease of systemic racism. The violent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are only the most recent manifestations of the ugly legacy of white supremacy, which goes back before the founding of our country. The disproportionate way in which COVID-19 is affecting communities of color, as well as others who are the most vulnerable in our society, is another indicator of injustice in our nation.
“We left our Annual Gathering in early March with renewed hope for ‘Justice and Grace—Together.’ Events since then have shown us how far we have to go as a nation to find justice or grace, much less hold them together. Indeed, much of what has occurred is the absolute opposite of CHHSM’s vision of a just, caring, and compassionate world.
“Part of the heritage of the United Church of Christ is responding early and bearing witness in the midst of social injustice. Many of our CHHSM organizations were born by the church in response to crisis—whether it was the cholera epidemic, the Spanish flu, or children who lost parents due to war. All of our organizations were born of need and continue to respond to basic human needs for shelter, food, health care, human connection, or spiritual care.
“We are in a time of crisis, which requires a bold response. Unlike COVID-19, we know that systemic racism is not caused by a novel virus, nor will a vaccine cure it. It is much more intractable and insidious. Though many have been working on this issue for years, we still need all hands on deck for widespread system reform, which will require sustained ingenuity and courage.
“For our sisters and brothers who are African American, and all communities of color, we see you and we hear you. We understand if you are not OK, and we want to say that racism in any form is unacceptable.
“We as the CHHSM Board and Staff recommit ourselves to fighting systemic racism and white supremacy. At our meeting this week, the Board and Staff made the following commitments:
- CHHSM will make a financial commitment to one or more organizations that work to eliminate systemic racism.
- The Board and Staff pledge to live out our commitments to racial equity personally and in our local communities as well as organizationally.
- The Staff will develop a plan for a racial equity audit of the organization and engage the Board in that work.
- We will develop a list of resources to assist you. These include Sacred Conversations to End Racism, the UCC Just Peace Network, and Our Faith/Our Vote. We will also be announcing a Zoom book study group in the very near future (more details to come).
- This will be the first of an ongoing series of communications focused on racial equity efforts.
“We recognize the hard work that many of our members are already doing toward bringing about racial justice. We invite you to share with us your stories, photos, and resources you have found helpful. We encourage you to visit Our Faith/Our Vote to ensure those who are elected nationally and locally are committed to this work.
“We know many of you are very weary. We hope that we can provide encouragement as you navigate your way through both the coronavirus pandemic and the pandemic of racism. Please let us know how we can support your ministries.
“Together, let us work together until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24). Together, let us create a just, caring, and compassionate world.
- Abbreial P. Drane, Seven Counties Services, Bellewood and Brooklawn, Louisville, KY—Chair
- Michelle Just, Beatitudes Campus, Phoenix, AZ—Vice Chair
- Jay Biere, LaGrange Park, IL—Treasurer
- Rev. Dr. Monica Dawkins Smith, Executive Associate, UCC Wider Church Ministries, Harrisburg, PA
- Stephanie Franklin, UCAN, Chicago, IL
- Rev. Jason Emmerson, Evansville, IN
- Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota Conferences, UCC
- Rev. Dr. Sheila Guillaume, Union Congregational UCC, West Palm Beach, FL
- Rev. Monica Wedlock Kilpatrick, National Benevolent Association of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Conyers, GA
- Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, United Church Homes, Marion, OH
- Rev. Dr. Laverne Joseph, Retirement Housing Foundation, Long Beach, CA
- Rev. Dr. Kirsten Peachey, Chicago, IL
- Sandy Sorenson, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, Washington, DC
- Rev. Robert Symanski, Thomasville, NC
- Kenney Washington, Back Bay Mission, Biloxi, MS
- Kyle Zanker, Crossroad Child & Family Services, Fort Wayne, IN
- Michael J. Readinger—President and CEO
- Rev. George R. Graham—Vice President
- Rev. Dr. Elyse Berry—Associate for Advocacy and Leadership Development
- Paula Barker—Executive Assistant for Events and Administration
- Barbara A. Powell—Communications Consultant
- Tyler Hoffman—Digital Solutions Consultant
- Essence Ellis—Jerry W. Paul CHHSM Scholar
“CHHSM Members and Friends:
- Rev. Tara Olsen Allen, Pilgrim United Church of Christ, Brentwood-Kingston, Brentwood, NH
- Rev. Dr. Dawn C. Berry, Racial Justice Mission Group of the New Hampshire Conference, UCC
- Rev. Elisa Baptiste, Miami, FL
- Nancy Berry, St. John’s Community Care, Collinsville, IL
- Rev. Joanna D’Agostino, Senior Minister, Lakewood Congregational United Church of Christ, Lakewood, OH
- Anne and John Elder, First Church in Oberlin UCC, Oberlin, Ohio
- Richard Ellerbrake, President Emeritus, Deaconess Health System; Chair Emeritus, IFM Community Medicine; St. Louis, MO
- Rev. Alice Graham, Ph.D., Executive Director, Back Bay Mission, Biloxi, MS
- Rev. Randy Hyvonen, UCC pastor (retired), South Hadley, MA
- Lani Jackson, Monona Meadows, Monona, WI
- Rev. Samantha Jewell, Chaplain Bellewood and Brooklawn, Louisville
- Rev. Becky King, Fairhaven Community, a United Church Homes Community, Upper Sandusky, Ohio
- Melissa Leathery, Hoffman Homes for Youth, Littlestown, PA
- Karen E. Lehman, President/CEO, MHS, Goshen, IN
- Rose Malcolm, Peace Memorial Manor, Downers Grove, IL
- Jerry Martin, Chapel Hill Community, a United Church Homes Inc. Community, Canal Fulton, OH
- Elaine McDuff, Bethel UCC, Kansas City, MO
- Peggy Mullan, Nollau Faculty/Postscript Consulting, Phoenix, AZ
- Kathy Berzins, Postscript Consulting, Phoenix, AZ
- Rev. Dr. Arlene K. Nehring, Senior Minister, Eden United Church of Christ, Hayward, CA
- Alissa Paolella, United Church Homes, Marion, Ohio
- Rev. Dr. Bruce Roller, United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM), Wyoming, MI
- Rev. Janet Ross, Pastor, Amistad Chapel United Church of Christ, Cleveland, OH
- Gayla Sherman, Charles Hall Youth and Family Services, Bismarck, N.D.
- Gayle Klopp, Charles Hall Youth and Family Services, Bismarck, N.D.
- Rev. Donna Smith-Pupillo, Deaconess Nurse Ministry, St. Louis
- Lee Syria, United Church Homes and Services, Newton, NC
- Frederick Trost, UCC pastor (retired), Sheboygan, Wisconsin
- Rev. Michelle Wilkey, David’s UCC, Dayton, Ohio
- Leslie Yerkes, President, Catalyst Consulting Group, Inc., Bratenahl, OH“