Transcript and video of prayer for May 31, 2020

The message and prayer below can be viewed on St. John’s YouTube channel.

Good morning.  I am the Reverend Mitra Jafarzadeh and I am gathered with lay leaders at St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church. 

Joetta Prost, Phyliss Flanagan-Cox, Anjali Dutt, and I want to share this time with you now because of our anger over the deaths of two more people who were killed by police because of the color of their skin.  And we are aware that there are other people who have died for the color of their skin even in this past week, we just don’t know their stories.

Along with the others, Sarah Siebert and John Kachuba helped write these words, but they were not able to be with us today.

George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed by police.  That is to say, they were killed by the state.  Under our democratic system, government is supposed to be by the people and for the people; but who is included in that dream of democracy and who has always been left out? 

These United States were built on the backs of people who we kidnapped and enslaved.  We enacted laws which limited the acknowledgment of their innate humanity.  These laws echo through our modern culture, preventing people of color from fully participating in our democracy and often taking their lives.

As Unitarian Universalists we affirm the worth of every person, all colors, all origins, all genders.  No one is left out. Everyone’s life is sacred.

 Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity.

We hurt everyone when we continue the culture and violence of oppression.

Our language shapes our culture.

So let us be honest with our words.

When citizens, even in police uniform, kill people because they think their victims are guilty of a crime, the word we use is “Lynching”  — which is murder.

Our American history of lynching is tied up with our history of slavery.  There is a flow to history…Slavery gave way to forced labor …  ongoing segregation, violence, and hatred.

Jim Crow laid the foundation for a legal system quick to cage people of color.

The flow of history has brought us health and educational inequities, voter suppression, and radical differences in the distribution of wealth, as well as other harms – the most violent of which is still lynching.

“Lynching” does not require a rope and a tree.  Pursuit can happen in a pickup truck and the weapon be a shot gun and the victim be a jogger.

 Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by men who no longer wore a badge, but had all the power of connections in a system that values white lives over black lives.

This system allows white men and women to employ the power of racism for our own comfort. 

If we don’t pay attention to men like Christian Cooper, the bird watcher in Central Park, who was threatened by a white woman calling the police and telling a lie – if we don’t pay attention to 

  • Botham Jean
  • Atatiana Jefferson
  • Jonathan Ferrell
  • Renisha McBride
  • Stephon Clark
  • Jorden Edwards
  • Jordan Davis
  • Alton Sterling
  • Aiyana Jones
  • Mike Brown
  • Tamir Rice
  • Trayvon Martin
  • Sean Bell
  • Oscar Grant
  • Sandra Bland
  • Philando Castile
  • Corey Jones
  • John Crawford
  • Terrence Crutcher
  • Keith Scott
  • Clifford Glover
  • Claude Reese
  • Randy Evens
  • Yvonne Smallwood
  • Amadou Diallo
  • Walter Scott
  • Eric Garner
  • Freddie Gray
  • Samuel DeBose

And the nine people killed in Chareston SC. In 2015:

  • Clementa Pinckney
  • Cynthia Hurd
  • Susie Jackson
  • Ethel Lee Lance
  • Depayne Middleton-Doctor
  • Tywanza Sanders
  • Daniel Simmons
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
  • Myra Thompson

Maybe we will pay attention to a burning Minneapolis police station.

Or a blocked I 75 highway. 

Broken windows in the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Small explosives in the lobby of the Atlanta CNN building. 

The anger is justified. 

Trust is broken.

The moment to change is upon us……

This same virus that has so badly hurt marginalized communities has chased many of us into our homes and given us time to consider what we will do with our lives? What if our lives are shortened by illness – what if your life were shortened – what would you like to have contributed to justice?

What will we do?  What will we do together?

Will we take this moment and change?


At this hour of anger and anguish, let us turn to our inner light of conscience in prayerful meditation

And remember that what is good and true is always available for us.

We give thanks for those who risk their safety for the cause of justice. 

And for a faith tradition that emboldens us in the work of challenging the systems we have inherited. 

These same systems trap us in a history of oppression and unequal power.

We too often believe the myth that racism is over

 Too often we have not believed people of color when they tell of the oppression they experience.

 Too often we default to thinking of individual incidents instead of systemic oppression.

Too often we have demanded video proof. 

Too often we have justified our privilege at the expense of our neighbor’s well-being.

Too often we unconsciously contributed to our culture where lynchings continue to happen

May our hearts be open to understanding how racism impacts all of us, and some of us much more than others.

May the people who work in our police departments employ the fullness of their humanity when serving everyone.

May we understand the systems that hold us, the histories which we inherit, and the power we have to change the future. May this understanding start within each heart and grow to touch the world.

May each person come to understand the value of life. Everyone you encounter is precious, is holy. May we all respect and revere life as the gift it is.

Let us not be deceived by the myth that racism is over or the lie that any of us is wise enough to see the whole picture without needing each other. Therefore, let us listen to one another with faith in their stories.

We commit ourselves to engage in relationships with people whose experiences differ from ours.

To have the courage to confront white supremacy by learning the history, speaking up, and taking action.

Let us speak truth to power.

And recognizing our own complicity in oppression, we will actively work for liberation of the human spirit.

And in so doing, may we add our weight to bending the arc towards justice.   

So may it be.  Amen.