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Barbara Coley

Children remove the tarp covering the sign in front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook. Adrienne Lauren Photography

A Three Village community group once again is taking a stand against injustice.

On Sept. 9, after their Homecoming Sunday service, members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook unveiled a sign that asserts the congregation members stances on social justice and human dignity issues. The unveiling wasn’t the first time the congregation declared its beliefs for all to see. In 2016, the members erected a Black Lives Matter sign. During the months it was displayed, the sign was vandalized numerous times and residents against it sent various emails, according to the Rev. Margie Allen. The sign was eventually taken down.

Visitors attend the unveiling of the sign. Adrienne Lauren Photography

Allen said the current sign, just like the former, is located in front of the building and placed so drivers traveling north on Nicolls Road can see it. The sign reads: “Love is Love; Climate Change is Real; Black Lives Matter; No Human Being is Illegal; Women’s Rights are Human Rights; and All Genders are Whole, Holy & Good.” A different color of the rainbow highlights each line on the sign.

The UUFSB acquired the sign from the Unitarian Universalist Association, according to Allen. Town hall meetings were held at the sanctuary to discuss whether or not to erect a sign, and the congregation was able to choose it from several options and then modified the colors and changed the order of the declarations.

“This banner is the fulfillment of multiple votes of the congregation to put up a sign that will let our community know that we believe — we affirm — the worth and dignity of every human being,” Allen said, adding while it includes the black lives matters message, it broadens the example of who deserves access to the American Dream.

On the day of the unveiling ceremony, Allen said the congregants sang and held a procession from the sanctuary to the sign, listened to a few introductory words from Barbara Coley, co-chair of the Racial Concerns Committee, and then children cut the ropes of the tarp that was covering it. Each statement was read by an individual, and the crowd echoed it. Before heading back to the sanctuary, Allen led the group in a dedication prayer.

“I’m just really proud that the congregation as a whole has made a powerful effort to figure out how to have the kinds of conversations that we actually need in every community in our country and nationally,” Allen said. “The kind of conversations in which people who have different views come to understand the places where their views overlap and then agree to stand in those places that overlap as a community so our voices as a whole can be heard.”

Chris Filstrup, president of the board, said the board members strongly supported the installation of the sign, and congregation members were discussing a new sign for a year. He said he hopes drivers passing by will read it, enjoy it and think about the points.

“It’s a statement,” he said. “It’s our statement. These are the things which are important to us.”

He said he admires Allen for encouraging the congregants to do something, and he said the board is committed to it staying.

“We have a policy,” he said. “We’re not putting it up to invite vandalism or anything, but if there is, we will involve the authorities. We’re going to keep this sign up one way or another.”

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In a celebration on the July Fourth weekend, a Black Lives Matter banner is dedicated. Pictured are, Racial Concerns committee co-chairs Kay Aparo and Barbara Coley, Janet Hanson, John Lutterbee and Sara Lutterbee. Photo by Barbara Coley

The congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook took a stand in favor of equality the day before the country’s Independence Day.

They held a ceremony to celebrate the placement of a banner below the fellowship’s identifying sign at its entrance on Nicolls Road.

“Unveiling the Black Lives Matter banner on the Fourth of July weekend,” said Barbara Coley, co-chair of the congregation’s Racial Concerns committee, “reminds us that one reason we cherish our country is that we have the freedom to call attention to the struggle for justice for all.”

The idea for the banner originated with fellowship member Laura Lesch.

She attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation where a similar banner was displayed while visiting Florida in January. She took a photo and showed it to Coley upon her return. The photo spurred congregants to do more than just talk about the topic.

A Black Lives Matter banner is dedicated on the July Fourth weekend. Photo from Barbara Coley
A Black Lives Matter banner is dedicated on the July Fourth weekend. Photo from Barbara Coley

Coley presented a proposal to the board of trustees that UUFSB display a Black Lives Matter banner.

“The board wanted to make sure that the congregation learned about the BLM movement,” said Coley, “and had opportunities to express their support and/or concerns about displaying such a banner at a predominantly Euro-American house of worship.”

The question the Rev. Margie Allen posed to the congregation was: “Does our congregation consider itself willing to display the Black Lives Matter banner?”

“We stand with African American citizens in support of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Allen said.

“And we want the surrounding community to know that we support this 21st century civil rights movement – as does the Unitarian Universalist Association.”

Members and friends were invited to express their opinions at two forums.

One concern voiced was a mistaken notion that the BLM movement is anti-police. Another, that it might invite vandalism, was deemed valid.

“But when banners were defaced or destroyed in other places, congregations replaced them and used the attacks on banners as teachable moments,” said Coley, “by inviting community members to participate in discussions where they learned the history, purpose and goals of the movement.”

The banner was approved by a large majority – 92 percent of the congregation – June 1.

The design includes the Unitarian Universalist Association’s standing on the side of love symbol as well as the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’

This tangible expression of support is in keeping with a long history within the Unitarian Universalist tradition of working to advance civil rights as individuals and as congregations.