As an Activist

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On the steps of the First Parish Church in Beverly, about to deliver the benediction concluding a Multi-Faith service on a very cold Martin Luther King Day.

I have been attending protests, rallies, and vigils the whole of my life. It was part of the culture of my family of origin, and of my home congregation. Somewhere along the way, I went from attending them to organizing them. The first time I joined a protest that had a direct ask, we were a small group, asking the management of a large hotel to hire back the workers they'd fired for trying to unionize. When we went back two weeks later, I was one of the only people who'd been there on the previous trip; so I was elected as the person who would actually speak to the management. Seventeeen years later I continue to find myself at the front, back, and middle of groups calling for justice not because I particularly like chanting and walking at a slow pace in a large group, but because the world still needs changing, and because I am in it, I have to add my name into the fight for it. Below are a few examples of things I have said and done in the public square in the course of my ministry:

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In November 2018 a question appeared on the ballot in Massachusetts, intended by those who proposed it to roll back public accommodation protections for Transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the commonwealth. This is a recording of my remarks at an event organized by the Beverly Multi-Faith Coalition presenting trans folks telling their stories combined with faith reflections from local clergy explaining their support for "Yes on 3." (Somewhat counter-intuitively, the wording of the question meant that preserving the law as it already stood required a yes vote.)

With my children at the Justice for All march in Washington, DC.

Printed in The Salem News, July 11, 2014:

              I was sad to read some days ago that Michael Lindsay, President of Gordon College, had signed a letter to the Obama administration asking that it include a religious exemption to an executive order banning from federal contracts all organizations which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. I disagree with his letter and the intent of it at every possible level: the practice it seeks to protect, the legal reasoning it relies upon, and the interpretation of both faith and scripture that underlies it. President Lindsay is a voice of religious leadership in our community. The standing of all religious people and communities are diminished when faith leaders practice or speak out in defense of dehumanizing policies. What message could denying a person the opportunity to work or to learn on the basis of whom they love send, other than that they are somehow less than fully human.

              I found an even deeper dismay in his subsequent statement, however (“Gordon head: Letter on hiring gays ‘misconstrued’”, Salem News, 7/9/2014). President Lindsay appears to be arguing that the negative attention and loud dissent garnered by his original letter is somehow unfair or unwarranted.  Yet, trying to carve out a special protection for anti-gay bias implies that discrimination is not an incidental matter for those doing the discriminating. It is a declaration that mistrust and disdain for gay, lesbian and bisexual people is a core value of the faith which President Lindsay and the institution he leads espouse. Again, I disagree with Mr. Lindsay on what public policy should permit and what scripture demands, but only he can speak to the truth of his heart. With respect, and from one faith leader to another, I would counsel President Lindsay to turn to the 21st chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, verses 12-19. If the God of his understanding requires of him and his institution such discrimination, let him testify to it plainly, and face with courage the consequences of public opinion.

Sincerely,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

Beverly

[Rev. Kelly serves as minister of the First Parish Church in Beverly, Unitarian Universalist. The views expressed here are his own.]

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Speaking at an action of the Essex County Community Organization during the lead-up

to a successful campaign to pass a criminal justice reform bill in Massachusetts.

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Teaching "Meditation on Breathing" to clergy  gathered for a march against white nationalism in Boston, one week after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA where Heather Heyer was murdered.

These are the words of a benediction I delivered at the conclusion of a multi-faith memorial vigil to mark the 5th anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT:

         The world we share is afflicted by suffering and pain, as sure as the night is dark. For people of faith, or of goodwill, or for anyone else for whom the truth matters, there is no escaping this reality. So let us be determined not to run from it, to flee into the numbness of forgetting. Not to cast aside the memory of the lives that have been lost because we lack the courage or the strength to swim the ocean of our grief. To face the world and to change it, we must refuse to grow hardhearted, staying soft and tender, even though it hurts. We must be willing to look out upon the darkness of these times and say, honestly, “I cannot see.”

         But though the sky at night is dark, it is not empty. It is populated not by a singular light, but by millions. The stars of the heavens burn for as long and as bright as they can, and by their brilliance, we here on earth may see a little ways, even in the night. So if we would keep the memory of all that has been lost – and all WHO have been lost – alive in us, we need not only soft hearts, but a determination that burns. A will that declares, “I will make a light of my own, until there is enough for everyone to see the truth by.”

         So as you go out into the night, from this hour and this place, may it be with a tender, broken heart and the determination to shine.

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With colleagues (and Representative Ayanna Pressley) outside the federal building in Boston during a protest against family separations at the US border.

In late June, 2020, a Black Lives Matter march and rally in Beverly drew several thousand attendees. (If you're not familiar with Beverly as a community, it may be difficult to explain what a significant moment that felt like to those of us who live here.) The Beverly Multi-Faith Coalition was asked by the youth of color who organized the event to supply a speaker. My colleagues nominated me, and this is the liturgy I led the crowd in on our behalf:

CALL: With a fierce and terrible grief, we come to this hour, together.

RESPONSE: None of us are free until all of us are free.

CALL: Grief at the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Auberry, Tony McDade and far, far, far too many others. In anguish over the killing of Black lives, our determination is to act on and affirm a simple truth, by coming together:

RESPONSE: None of us are free until all of us are free.

CALL: We are hardly the first to affirm it. Our voices only echo those of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. Of Langston Hughes, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King. Honoring these and other Black prophets, unheeded in their own days, we join with them:

RESPONSE: None of us are free until all of us are free.

CALL: None of us are free, so long as any of us must live with the fear that our children or our parents will not come safely home to us.

RESPONSE: None of us are free until all of us are free.

CALL: None of us are free, so long as any of us cannot ride in a car or walk on the street or sit in our own homes without the prospect of being targeted for harassment or assault or death.

RESPONSE: None of us are free until all of us are free.

CALL: None of us are free until all of us have the freedom simply to be as we are: to have the beauty and the power in our voices and in our bodies, in our cultures and in our traditions, appreciated and celebrated instead of being denigrated and interrogated.

RESPONSE: None of us are free until all of us are free.

CALL: Faith and science both affirm the common origin and the shared destiny of all humankind. The cinder-ash of stars, blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear, hearts that beat and break and love. We are bound together in a seamless garment of mutuality, our fates conjoined in ways not even death can break.

RESPONSE: None of us are free until all of us are free.

CALL: Because Black lives matter, but our nation keeps failing to act like they do, we are here today. For the white folks here right now, we who inherited the privilege of a system that largely works for us at everyone else’s expense, let us particularly remember that at the banquet table of justice, the hungriest must eat first. So, let us say together, one more time:

RESPONSE: None of us are free until all of us are free.