March 2017

First Unitarian’s Black Lives Matter Banner Stolen, Not Silenced

We placed a Black Lives Matter banner on First Unitarian over a year ago. On February 15th, it was gone—no vandalism, no letter, just stolen and silenced. On Sunday, February 26, we placed a new banner on our church to speak again our commitments and our faith. As Noah Notch, a 17 years old member of our church, responded, “They can steal our banner, but they cannot steal our values.”

We are called to address systemic racism and injustice towards black people specifically as we work to realize our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people.

We know that 26% of people in Iowa’s prisons are African American in spite of the fact that African Americans represent only 3.2% of Iowa’s.

We know that, in Iowa, an African American is 8 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person even though evidence shows that black and white people use marijuana at about the same rate.  The 2013 ACLU report on marijuana found that Iowa had the worst disproportionality in the arrest rate for African Americans in the nation.

We also know that racial profiling and implicit bias impacts African American children. In the Des Moines public school system, black youth are over-represented in all areas of discipline, from out of classroom referrals, to out of school suspensions, to expulsions by more than twice that was expected to be when compared to other racial ethnic groups. A 2014 state report showed that suspension rates from 2010 to 2014 declined overall by 27%.  During that same period, suspensions for black youth actually increased 54%.

To allow injustice to go unchallenged would violate our Unitarian Universalist values.

We are proud to be partnering with Des Moines Public Schools which has recognized this problem and established a goal to eliminate disproportionality.

As members and leaders in AMOS, A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy, we work with the school district and six middle schools to create restorative justice and mediation programs to end the school to prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts African American youth. (

As leaders of the Ant-Racist Collaborative of Des Moines, we are working with other churches and the Des Moines Public School system to show a film and open dialogue among teachers and community members about racism.

Our Black Lives Matter work and banner is part of our congregation’s legacy of standing on the side of love.  We’ve been doing this kind of work for 140 years and I expect us to be doing it way beyond that into the future. By placing this banner on our church, we affirm once again the inherent worth and dignity of Black people and rededicate ourselves to the work of racial justice.

In gratitude for our shared ministry,

Rev. Erin Gingrich


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