Social justice conference programming

All conferences are encouraged to incorporate social and racial justice programming into their schedules. We encourage week-long conferences to include at least three activities that would relate to this category. Five-day or weekend conferences may choose to schedule one or two social or racial justice events into their programs.

Speakers, workshops, and other programs are an exciting and oftentimes an educational part of many conferences. Inviting compensated Ministers, Speakers, and Workshop leaders of color (and/or LGBTQIA+) is a great way to build diversity in a conference, especially those who will come with families with school-age kids that are likely to fall in love with the Island.

Before you start brainstorming potential speakers, think about your audience. While Star Island is a place of inclusion and belonging for everyone, recognize that people are at different places in their journey of understanding, appreciating, and advocating for racial and social justice. Reach out to coordinators and leaders in your conference whom you trust to get a sense of what needs the conferees might have when it comes to the topics of racial and social justice. Try to incorporate speakers and workshops on the topics that they would find engaging, educational, and fun during their time on the island.

Sometimes this part of listening and understanding the needs of your conferees can be the most challenging part of your programming. Keep in mind that the act of bringing anti-racist programming can potentially reinforce feelings of “otherness” by those you are trying to include in the community. To help you plan, consider the following aspects of programming:

Community subject matter experts

Whether you call them “Talks on the Rocks” or “Timely Topics,” small presentations by conferees are a great way to crowdsource the deep and impressive experience of the Star Island community. Consider asking one of your conferees or contacting Justina for a conferee contact to do a talk about a racial or social justice issue.

Book discussions

If your conference is interested, another possibility is to have a conferee lead a book discussion on a book that relates to racial or social justice. You can announce this with your welcome letter, so people who want to engage in the discussion have time to read it. Some possibilities could include “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, “In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree” by Katherine Baxter, and “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Other Activities

Some conferences have had success in encouraging conferees to write postcards or letters, for example to people recommended by Amnesty International or to people in prison. You could also present films on racial and social justice, followed by discussion. Some good candidates would include “Do the Right Thing,” “All In” (about Stacey Abrams), “13th,” “I Am Not Your Negro” (about James Baldwin), and “Mirrors of Privilege.” If your conference has regular morning and/or evening Chapels, you could encourage choosing Ministers of the Week or Chapel leaders to address these issues.

Keep in mind that these events can serve as important channels for collecting feedback from conferees about how your conference is covering social and racial justice issues. You may even want to schedule a community forum to allow conferees to discuss and provide feedback on the approaches and suggestions in this guidebook! If so, make sure a member of your conference planning team attends the events and takes notes so that, with the permission of the group, feedback can be incorporated into future conference planning and future iterations of this guidebook.

Speaker and Presenter review

If you are already considering a speaker to present on topics outside of racial and social justice, review their background for any potential conflicts with themes of inclusion. A broad scan of any news articles or social media accounts of speakers can help uncover potential issues worth further consideration.

Discussions of sensitive topics

Discussions of racial and social justice can get emotional and complicated. It is good to have leaders who have some experience with these kinds of dialogue. It is good to have the group come to an agreement about a mutual covenant during these conversations. These can include having people speak from their own experience and use “I” statements, monitor their air time (giving everyone space to speak), maintain confidentiality (“what’s said in the room stays in the room, but what’s learned should be shared”), listen to each other with interest and caring, and in general showing respect and concern for each other. For more suggestions and guidance in this area, see NYU Global Inclusion’s training video on “Facilitating Anti-Racist and Other Difficult Dialogues”.

Outside speakers/program resources

The following is a list of people who have offered to be programmatic resources related to racial and social justice for conferences on Star. Feel free to reach out to them directly if you are interested in bringing them to your conference. If you have a name you would recommend adding to this list, please email Justina Maji,

Yuri Yamamoto

Seminarian at Shaw University and Hospital Chaplain, Raleigh, North Carolina

Yuri co-edited the book “Unitarian Universalists of Color: Stories of Struggle, Courage, Love, and Faith” with Chandra Snell and Tim Hanami. It includes stories of diverse UUs. From the book jacket: “Yuri Yamamoto, Chandra Snell and Tim Hanami started a project to publish stories of Unitarian Universalists of color in an effort to lift up voices from the margins and to make our congregations more welcoming. Fifteen contributors share their stories of love, challenges, faith journeys, hope and despair. Also included is the transcript of a panel workshop based on the stories at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in 2015.”

Paula Cole Jones

Paula Cole Jones is the founder of ADORE (A Dialogue on Race & Ethnicity), a former president of DRUUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries) and an independent consultant specializing in multicultural competencies and institutional change. She lives in Washington, D.C. She served as an Interim Congregational Life Consultant for the Central East Region from 2018-2020. She is the co-author of the 8th Principle (on dismantling systemic racism and other oppressions), and could present about the 8th Principle, Communities of Communities (her Fahs Lecture at GA in 2019), and Sociocracy (inclusive decision making). For 2021, she may only be available remotely.

Meck Groot

Congregational Consultant, UUA New England Region, Boston, MA

Meck Groot has worked for many years at the intersection of faith and social change. As Justice Ministries Lead for the region, she inspires and supports congregational leaders for vital, faith-centered justice ministry within and beyond the congregation through spiritual leadership practice. She could do presentations or workshops on building Beloved Community with the practices of spiritual leadership.

Naomi Yanis

Amherst, MA

Naomi has toured the Southern United States civil rights sites through a UU programming that takes people on such tours. She has pictures and videos and ideas for programming and people to invite as speakers on Social Justice. Naomi has been coming to Star Island, especially to the International Affairs conference, for decades, and has led book discussions related to racial justice.

Woullard Lett

UUA New England Region Lead, Manchester, NH

Woullard has been the Regional Lead of the UUA New England Region for a number of years. He is active in N’COBRA (the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America) and NAACP-NH. He could speak about Reparations and other topics of racial and social justice.

Bruce Pollack-Johnson

Associate Professor of Math & Statistics at Villanova U., Philadelphia, PA

Bruce is a co-author of the 8th Principle (on dismantling systemic racism and other oppressions), Assistant Moderator and Chair of the Justice Council at the UU Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia, and is trained as a facilitator in Inter Group Dialogue. At Villanova, he created a course on Math and Fairness and a math major research seminar on Math & Social Justice. He plays guitar and sings songs of racial and social justice in church services, rallies, and marches. He could lead programs on the 8th Principle, racial justice, gerrymandering, economic inequality, and could do a Chapel service related to any of these. Bruce has been a Pelican, met and married his wife Linda on Star, was Assistant Manager in 1986, and is a member of the Star Island Corporation, where he is helping with the Beloved Community project. His family has come regularly to the International Affairs conference since the 1990s, and both children have been Pelicans.

Rev. Josh Pawelek

Parish Minister of UU Society: East in Manchester, CT (near Hartford)

Josh is a straight white male minister very active with social justice ministries. He could serve as a Minister of the Week, or could speak about his anti-racism work with the UUA in the late 90s and early 2000s on the Journey Toward Wholeness (anti-racism) Transformation Team, or about how predominantly white congregations can be active in racial and social justice in their communities, sharing successes and failures as lessons learned.

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