Report of the Social Justice Group’s January 15, 2024 Workshop and Retreat

The Social Justice Council of the First Unitarian Church of Chicago invited members and friends to participate in a three-hour retreat and workshop to consider how to restructure itself. Seventeen people attended in person, and two took part by phone.

All attendees participated in a series of exercises to recommend social justice areas for action during the coming year and beyond.

The following report sums up the discussions that took place over the afternoon.

Submitted by,
Barbara Jean Walsh
Workshop Facilitator


Social Justice Events and Activities

We want to organize and participate in various social justice events and activities throughout the year. We want to coordinate with the church to create a continuing calendar that will rotate and highlight each of our social justice initiatives. We also want to host community workshops that want to connect local organizations and advocates that fit our vision and mission. We also want to invite people to share their stories and experiences during the service and showcase their social leadership. We also want to have an open house and ongoing after service sessions with tables for each task force, where we want to provide information and literature about our work. We also want to dedicate each month to a specific social justice theme, such as climate change in April.

Community Engagement and Outreach

We want to engage and outreach to our community in various ways. We want to foster intergenerational partnerships, especially between seniors and younger generations, where they can exchange ideas, experiences, and potential projects. We want to have a monthly game and sharing evening, where we can have fun and learn from each other. We also want to practice asset-based community development, or ABCD, which is a method of empowering communities by focusing on their strengths and resources, rather than their needs and problems. We also want to seek affiliations with other churches in the area that share our values and goals. We also want to reclaim our social justice bulletin board, where we want to post updates and announcements about our work. We also want to put up notices in stores and restaurants in our neighborhood, to spread the word and invite people to join us. We also want to get our positions out to the media, by writing and publishing in print, social media, testimony letters, and opinions. We also want to use the website as a platform to share our work and connect with other UU congregations. We also want to boost the weekly and monthly issue of UU ANI or other resources that cover UU news and issues. 

Music and Culture

We want to celebrate and appreciate music and culture in our community. We have already invested in a new sound system that will enhance the quality and experience of our music. We should participate in the Hyde Park jazz festival, which is a annual event that showcases local and national jazz artists. We could organize social gatherings that want to feature music from different genres and eras, such as young hip hop and old jazz. We might wear name badges with symbols that indicate our social justice area of interest, so that we can easily identify and connect with each other. We do want to use music and culture as a way to express and promote our social justice values and vision.


Growing and Developing Black Younger Leadership

One of our main goals is to grow and develop black younger leadership about the issues that affect our communities and the world. We believe that by empowering and mentoring the next generation of leaders, we can create lasting change and social justice. To do this, we need to partner with black-led and grassroots organizations that share our vision and values, and partner with individuals who have the skills and passion to support their programs in achieving their goals. We also need to talk to young BIPOC folks and ask if they are want toing to work together on this with support from us and other allies.

Defining and Understanding Systemic Racism

Another important aspect of our work is to develop a clear and common definition of what systemic racism means and how it impacts our lives and society. We want to educate ourselves and others about the history and present of racial oppression and discrimination, and the ways we can challenge and dismantle it. To do this, we need to host a discussion/workshop to get on the same page of systemic racism, and utilize the UUA website for resources and guidance. We also need to center the question: How do we end/minimize BIPOC racism? and explore the possible answers and actions.

Promoting and Celebrating Multi-Racial Unity

We also want to promote and celebrate multi-racial unity and solidarity among people of different backgrounds and identities. We believe that by building bridges and understanding across our differences, we can create a more inclusive and harmonious society. To do this, we need to produce a series of films highlighting multi-racial unity and the stories and struggles of diverse communities. We also need to host community/interfaith anti-(implicit) bias trainingto raise awareness and reduce prejudice and stereotypes. We also need to show up to other organizations’ events and actions and make connections with them and support their causes.

Taking Action and Making an Impact

Finally, we want to take action and make an impact on the issues that matter to us and our community. We want to be part of the solution and not the problem, and to use our voices and power to create positive change. To do this, we need to select a specific societal issue/program to focus on, such as advocacy, activism, education, or direct service, and plan and implement our strategies and activities accordingly. We also need to take public positions, i.e. letters to the editor, etc., to express our opinions and perspectives and influence public opinion and policy. We also need to host sign-making parties before events/actions to prepare our messages and slogans and show our presence and solidarity.


Advocating for Environmental Policies

One of the ways we can make a difference in the world is by taking a visible public position on global warming and other environmental issues that affect us and future generations. We can do this by participating in online forums and raising awareness among our friends, family, and networks. We can also join lobby days organized by environmental groups such as Faith in Place, Sierra Club, and Southwest Environmental Center to advocate for policies that stop or reduce CO2 emissions and protect the planet.

Celebrating and Enjoying Nature

Another way we can express our love and appreciation for the natural world is by celebrating and enjoying nature in various ways. We can do this by organizing group camping trips and hikes to explore the beauty and diversity of nature and foster a sense of community among ourselves and with other living beings. We can also engage in worship and spiritual development through worship services and poetry slams that celebrate the natural world and inspire action to protect and restore it.

Educating Ourselves and Others about Environmental Justice

A third way we can contribute to the environmental movement is by educating ourselves and others about environmental justice and how it relates to our values and principles. We can do this by utilizing the resources provided by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to learn more about the concept and practice of environmental justice and how to apply it in our daily lives. We can also create a month-long series of activities in April, coordinated with Earth Month, to expand knowledge and participation in environmental causes among the group members and the public.

Taking Practical Actions to Reduce Environmental Impact

A fourth way we can show our commitment and responsibility to the environment is by taking practical actions to reduce our environmental impact and help others do the same. We can do this by continuing to recycle as a way of reducing waste and saving resources. We can also address the issue of lead pipe contamination in water systems, which poses a serious health risk to many communities, especially low-income and marginalized ones, and demand safe and clean water for all.


Community Service and Outreach

One of the ways we can serve our community is by providing food, meals, and clothing to those in need. We can also connect with existing groups and agencies that are already doing this work and learn from their experiences. Another way we can show our solidarity is by supporting migrants and undocumented folks who face many challenges and barriers. We can do this by being more active in the Chicago Coalition of Churches, which advocates for their rights and dignity. We can also connect with The Resurrection Project, which runs volunteer services to help refugees and immigrants to get work permits. Virginia is already in conversation with this group and can share more details with us.

Education and Mentoring

Another area where we can make a difference is by providing education and mentoring to various groups of people. We can do English tutoring with migrants who want to improve their language skills and integrate into the society. We can also mentor a person leaving prison who may need guidance and support to rebuild their life. We can also do tutoring and mentoring with at risk high-school students who may be struggling academically or socially. We can work with existing groups that do this and offer our time and skills. We can also educate ourselves and others about various issues and topics that are relevant to our community and our values. We can also engage with youth programs regarding UU Activities and inspire the next generation of leaders and activists.

Economic Development and Advocacy

The third area where we can contribute is by supporting the economic development and advocacy of our community. We can become familiar with and learn how we can support the local community based on association (63rd st etc), U of C’s programs, city programs, foundation programs for how we can help grow local businesses and wealth. We can possibly hold a job fair for unskilled job seekers and assist them with resume writing and interview skills. We can also form a task force to address affordable housing, which is a pressing issue for many people. We can create a library of curated books on welfare with a way online for folks to share their thoughts and opinions. We could organize a task-force to advocate for universal health care, which is a human right that everyone deserves. We can offer more forums and events to bring awareness to unjust incarcerations and demand justice and reform. We can also work on community economic development, jobs, and wealth creation, which are essential for the well-being and empowerment of our community.


Reproductive Justice Task Force

We want to form a reproductive justice task force that want to coordinate and lead our efforts in this area. We want to utilize resources under reproductive rights to inform and inspire our work. We also want to host and/or sponsor women coming here for abortions, especially those from out of state who face more barriers and risks. We want to partner with and work with Midwest Action Coalition, which is a network of abortion funds and providers in the region. We also want to seek out and help other groups, such as Chicago Abortion Fund, MAC, Personal (?) PAC, that are working on reproductive justice issues.

Education and Awareness

We want to expand our understanding of gender equality to include gender minorities who are not CIS women. We want to participate in actions addressing black maternal mortality and infant mortality, and find out who is doing this. We want to join organizations that advocate for pro-choice legislation, such as NARAL or Planned Parenthood. We want to take visible positions in public media, such as writing op-eds, letters, or social media posts. We want to create and host first forums and educational opportunities, and bring in local organizations to share their perspectives and experiences.

Public Engagement and Action

We want to participate visibly and vocally in public events, such as rallies, marches, vigils, or protests. We want to convene First U representation at public witnesses, such as testifying at hearings, lobbying lawmakers, or speaking at press conferences. We want to support out of state groups that are facing challenges or threats to reproductive rights, such as donating, volunteering, or campaigning. We want to show our solidarity and commitment to reproductive justice in our words and deeds.

NOTE: A full transcription of the work sheets generated during the retreat is available online.