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Overcoming the legacy of centuries of racism is never an easy feat, but it
can be particularly challenging in less diverse communities in the rural
Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington (Indiana) congregation member
Guy Loftman says, "We have nearly four hundred members, two services on Sunday
mornings, and a growing congregation with two ministers. We are predominantly
European American, and largely oriented toward Indiana University faculty and
students. Minority population in Monroe County is three percent African
American, three percent Asian American and three percent Hispanic, and the
remainder is European American. Minority participation in our congregation is
disproportionately small for our community. This has been an ongoing concern and
But members of this Unitarian Universalist congregation haven't let those
obstacles stop them in their anti-racism work.
For eight consecutive years, the Bloomington congregation has celebrated the
Martin Luther King. Jr. holiday by showing its commitment to continuing Dr.
King's work. Each year, the congregation's choir joins forces with the choir of
one of its neighbors, the Indiana University African-American Choir Ensemble,
and visits the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison an
hour west of Bloomington.
The prison rents a 55-passenger bus for the two choirs to visit. The choirs
sing together, travel together, and have lunch together at the prison. The
Bloomington Martin Luther King Commission provides hundreds of dollars each year
for the sound amplification equipment used for the event.
Over the years, members of the choirs have shared their concerns about the
disproportionate rate of incarceration of men of color and the institutional
racism inherent in the criminal justice system. Members of the UU Church of
Bloomington took the issue to the board of the local NAACP (National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People) branch, with whom they had pre-existing
relationships The congregation has a very friendly relationship with the
predominantly African American Second Baptist Church and the choir is invited to
sing annually at their Gospel Extravaganza. Members of the two churches make up
about eighty percent of the NAACP chapter's board.
The NAACP chapter led a study of race and criminal justice in Monroe County
that was published in 2000 showing numerous racial disparities between African
Americans and whites in the Monroe County criminal justice system. The report
was highly controversial and led to the formation of the Monroe County Racial
Justice Task Force, which conducted and issued its own study, Race and Criminal Justice in Monroe County (PDF),
published in 2003 The UU Church of Bloomington's "What Color is Community?"
Racial Justice Task was expressly identified in that report.
"We are deeply involved at this time in the challenging but exciting efforts
to see more of our recommendations implemented," Guy Loftman said. "We have
already achieved official documentation of racial information in all court
records. Now we are working on getting funding to install video cameras in
police cars to document all stops and arrests."
The Bloomington congregation's work on dismantling anti-racism goes beyond
annual visits of its choir to local prisons and collaborations examining racism
in police detention and arrests. The congregation has also examined the issue of
reparations. "Repairing the Breach: The Monroe County Race and Justice Project"
is a task force formed by interested community members. Their work includes
producing a documentary film, "Living with Jim Crow in Monroe County," which
gained wide viewership in the community through the Monroe County Historical
Society, the local community access TV station, schools, and churches.
The Monroe Country Racial Justice Task Force also gained recognition of the
original segregated 'Colored School' with the placement of a state historic
marker last February at the site. The congregation and the Bloomington Black
Business Association organized a multiracial community-wide celebration, which
attracted hundreds of people. It is one of the few historical markers in the
state that deals with African American history, and only the second historical
marker on any topic in Monroe County. Since then, other community organizations
have begun planning other ways of recognizing African American history in the
The congregation's What Color Is Community? Racial Justice Task
Force, established six years ago, sponsors an annual "Journey Toward
Wholeness Sunday" event, holds anti-racism trainings and workshops, and
organizes a regular movie and book discussion series on racial justice. Other
anti-racist partnerships include outreach to local Muslims since the September
11, 2001, attacks, and an annual Ramadan fast-breaking in the church.
"What we have learned," Loftman said, "is that partnerships with groups
outside the church are absolutely essential if there is to be a community
impact. You must join with the people you want to 'help' on their turf and their
Project (TSP) is a national
leader in the development of alternative sentencing programs and the reform of
criminal justice policy. The Bloomington Racial Justice Task Force (RJTF) sought
TSP's expertise in evaluating its report and in identifying strategies and best
practices for preventing/reducing racial disparities or the perception of racial
disparities in the Monroe County justice system. Based on discussions with TSP,
the RJTF is conducting a second study to examine in greater depth the causes and
implications of arrest and sentencing disparities identified during the NAACP-UU
study, as well as to develop recommendations to remedy actual or perceived
causes of racial disparity. For further information: Guy Loftman, loftmanlaw @ choiceonemail.com.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Tuesday, August 23, 2011.
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2001 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, near Carlisle, Indiana, with members of the UU Church of Bloomington choir and Indiana University music students.
Monroe County Racial Justice Task Force recognized by the American Bar Association
The Sentencing Project
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