When First Unitarian Church of Dallas moved from downtown to the Park Cities in the early 1940s, the congregation was the only one listed in the phone book as other.
“There were white churches in the phone book. There were black churches in the phone book. And then there was our church,” the Rev. Daniel Kanters said about the congregation’s decision to integrate in 1945.
(ABOVE: First Unitarian Church members add their signatures beneath a statement on racial equality. Courtesy photo)
However, still, more than seven decades later, the subject of racial equity remains a timely topic.
“We don’t have to go too far from where we’re sitting to encounter lots of problems – from police issues to the way people are treated in stores, gas stations, and banks,” Kanters, the church’s senior minister, said. “We see racial issues surfacing everywhere, and it’s concerning, and it can be life-threatening for some people.”
In September, the church asked its members to sign a pledge to take on the work of racial equity as individuals in the community. The pledge asks white members and members of color to take personal responsibility when they encounter prejudice in themselves and their lives.
“We don’t have to go too far from where we’re sitting to encounter lots of problems – from police issues to the way people are treated in stores, gas stations, and banks.” -The Rev. Daniel Kanter
A racially diverse group of 10 is leading the initiative.
Darryl Brown, a black member of the racial equity committee, said it’s essential for the church to have this discussion now because members need to be whom they say they are every service.
A core tenant in the church’s theology is that every human being has dignity and worth and it is their faith perspective to lift that up, meaning where racism exists and dehumanizes any single person it dehumanizes them all.
Brown said the conversation, at first, might be hard to have because people are afraid to talk about race.
“I personally want to hear other people’s race story,” he said. “And I want you to hear mine. I’m thinking that if you hear (my story) and I hear yours, that’s a way we’re going to be able to communicate.”
Carrie Stewart, who also serves on the committee, said one of the primary lessons they’re trying to teach the congregation is that race doesn’t have to be a taboo subject.
“The conversation kind of went underground and what that did is both people (white and black) lost a capacity to discuss race in a meaningful way,” Stewart said. “What we’re hoping to do is equip our congregation with the skills and tools to have that conversation. Because we know racial equity wasn’t solved by integration, or the Voting Rights Act, or the Civil Rights Act as we see with the things that are happening today.”