The Other Side – An All Ages Service

The Other Side – An All-Ages Service
By Rev. Ellen Quaadgras
Westminster Unitarian Church
March 11 2018

Story: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Part I: Where We Were
There was a time, in this country, right up until the 1960’s, when segregation was a thing – Segregation, which meant, keeping kids separated from each other and adults apart too.

It can feel odd to think about it now, how there were laws that made it illegal for black children to go to some of the same restaurants as white children. Or sit in the same part of the theater. Or the same section of the bus.

That there were fences and railroad tracks that divided towns in two and people were told not to go to the other side. It was dangerous, you could get hurt, don’t go there.

And there were laws that made it illegal or very difficult for people of color to vote – to have a voice in big decisions in their own towns and states. There were laws that made it illegal for a white person and a person of color to get married, and made it illegal for people of color to go to some stores or some schools or some hospitals…

Separate but equal, the laws said. We want to keep people separate but we also want it to be equal.

It was definitely separate. But it was definitely not equal.

It hadn’t been equal for a long time. There was no balance in that imbalance. There was no equal in that “equality” – schools for white people had more money, more books, and teachers with more education. The hospitals for white people had better equipment, more rooms, more nurses and doctors with more training. And the neighborhoods – well, the neighborhoods that had the nicest houses – some of those neighborhoods would only sell houses to white people.

Separate, but not equal. Not balanced. Not good.

The racism that had been used for hundreds of years as a justification for slavery, the racism that said that one race is “better” than another, that one skin color somehow makes a person more worthy of good things…. this is how that racism showed up – even 100 years after slavery ended. It showed up as: divided, but not even. Not fair, not right. Not good.

So that’s the story behind this story. That’s the moment in history that sets up what’s happening here.

But Clover and Annie don’t talk about all that. Maybe they don’t even know all that. What they do know is what their moms tell them. Don’t cross the fence, don’t go to the other side. You could get hurt. It’s not safe.


But… there’s something in us humans, isn’t there? That still just feels a pull.

Something in us, whatever age we are, that looks back [slide], even as we are tugged forward. That looks over [slide] curious, wondering, interested, who are you, there, on the other side of that fence? Who are you, on the other side of this big wide field? Who are you, [slide] there, so far away from me, splashing in those puddles, laughing in the rain?

There’s something in us humans, isn’t there? That wants to step [slide] outside, feel the sun, be brave, be vulnerable, reach out. [slide]

Follow that tug to the edge. [slide]

Song: All We Have Ever Loved by Rev. Leslie Takahashi

All we have ever loved
and all we have ever been,
stand with us on the edge
of all creation

Amen (4x)

Peace going deeper
Love growing wider
Hope getting stronger
And joy here together

Amen (4x)

Part II: Where We Are
Segregation – legal segregation – when there were laws enforcing separation by the color of your skin, some would say that was a long time ago. If you’re 10 years old, that would be 5 or more lifetimes ago. If you’re 6, nine or more lifetimes.

Sure sounds like a long time.

And, a lot has changed since then.

A lot of people worked to change it.

The Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader and radical thinker, he led a movement to change those laws. And, although his tactics were controversial in his day, a lot of people stepped up. A lot of people. A lot of black people and other people too: Asian people, white people, native people, many kinds of people from many different places.

You’ve probably heard some of the stories. Like the marches in Selma, in 1965, for the freedom to exercise the right to vote – for people of color to have their voices heard in their towns, in their country. Or maybe you’ve heard of the children’s march, often called the Birmingham children’s crusade, also in Selma, in 1963, all young people 14, 15, 16, and some as young as 7 or 8, marching for freedom, to change laws, and change minds. Or maybe you’ve heard of Ruby Bridges, the 6 year old black girl escorted by police marshalls into an all white elementary school in 1960. As soon as she came in, the white parents took their children out and white teachers refused to teach her. Except for one. Who taught Ruby, alone, for a year, before slowly, one by one, the parents and other teachers opened their eyes and their hearts and came back in.

Tough stuff. Many white people felt threatened by what was happening. They didn’t want change. They were mad, and some of them were mean. They did things that were meant to scare and intimidate the people who wanted equality, who wanted to right the balance.

But. Because of the courage of Martin Luther King and Ruby Bridges and those young people in the childrens’ crusade and many many others, people in power were convinced, or forced, to change the laws and the way the laws were carried out. The people who stood up against injustice succeeded in making change, in fixing some big problems with the way things were. They helped make things more equal.

By the time I was born, in the late 60’s, it was over. Or well, that’s what I was taught, anyway. I was taught, when I was in elementary school and in high school, that the civil rights movement successfully changed this country. So, we’re done. All set. Phew. Thank goodness. That’s over.

But now, another 30 years later I see, well… some things are over….

The civil rights movement helped knock down some fences. Ended legal segregation, made it possible for people of color and white people to marry, made it possible for black and white children to go to the same school or sit together at the movies or go to the same hospital, made it more possible for black people to exercise their right to vote.

Even so, the truth is, things didn’t change nearly as much or as deeply as I was led to believe at the time.

Maybe 50-some years isn’t all that long ago afterall.

Because these days, parents of young black girls and young black boys, they still warn their kids about the other side of town. Tell them they’d better not play hide and go seek in their neighbors’ yards, on the other side of some fence. What they’re doing could be misunderstood. They could get hurt. It’s not safe.

And, you know, even though white children and black children can go to school together, and no state marshalls are needed to escort them into the building, the fact is, most schools in this country are either mostly white, or mostly people of color. Most neighborhood in this country are either mostly white or mostly people of color. Most. We’re still separate. We are still segregated. And the fact is, the schools with mostly white people, still tend to have more money and more books, and teachers with more education.

And the neighborhoods with the nicest houses, they still tend to mostly belong to white people. Who tend to have more money. And can pay for better health insurance and can afford more tests, and better hospitals, and doctors with more training.

And black people in this country are more likely to be suspended from school, more likely to go to detention centers, more likely, even if their crimes are very similar to those of white people… black people are more likely to go to jail. And once they’ve been to jail, they can no longer vote, they no longer get to have a say in what’s happening, in their towns and in their country.

Things are still not equal. Things are still not right. Not balanced. Not good.

What are we going to do about that? What can we do?

Song: All We Have Ever Loved by Rev. Leslie Takahashi

All we have ever loved
and all we have ever been,
stand with us on the edge
of all creation

Amen (4x)

Peace going deeper
Love growing wider
Hope getting stronger
And joy here together

Amen (4x)

Part III: Where We’re Going

Martin Luther King led an incredible, world-changing, movement. Controversial, in his day, but many people stepped up to join him, anyway. And because of all those people who got involved, who spoke up and marched and took risks, because of all those people who followed King’s lead, who heard and came and made coffee and offered rides and made signs and donated money, some fences came down. Some things changed. Laws changed. Thank goodness for all those people, what they did is really really good.

And. Things are still not right. Things are still not right.

That negativity, that racism, that idea that people with one skin color are better than people with another, that some lives matter more than others… that feeling is still around.

It’s crazy when you think about it – that an idea, that has been proven wrong, an idea that has no basis in reality, an ideas that is hurtful to so many people – it’s crazy, but, somehow this idea keeps coming back. Like a flu that returns again and again, one strain after another. Or like a believable lie, an ugly rumor, a bad ghost story, that, for some reason, people just keep telling over and over, changing it a little each time. They tell it, even though they know, on some level, that it’s not true.

This racism that divides and imbalances us is still showing up, in schools, in healthcare, in jobs, in neighborhoods. It’s still showing up and it’s showing up in different ways.

So we need to show up too, and in different ways.

Fighting the racism of yesteryear was about changing laws that kept people separate and unequal. Fighting the racism of today is about changing hearts and minds and systems, that keep people separate and unequal.

What do I mean?

Here’s the thing. Once you divide people – once you divide people and say some lives are worth more and some less, once you give some people more money and some less, give some people more support and some less, systems get built that keep that belief going. Neighborhoods get built for people with more money, with schools that provide better education. Which gives those children a better chance at jobs that pay more. So when they grow up they can buy nicer houses in neighborhoods with better schools. And the cycle continues, and it stays unequal.

And once you divide people and say some lives are worth more and some less, and treat some people better and some worse, so that some groups are more successful and some less, stories get told that are used to justify the differences we see.

And once you divide people and we don’t see each other every day, and we don’t know each other really, we don’t *know* whats going on with others *really*, not in our hearts, then we are vulnerable to believing the negative stories. We’re vulnerable to believing those old rumors and ghost stories and lies that say – yeah, the reason they’re not doing well is because they’re just not as good as we are – not as smart or as hardworking or as whatever – forgetting the history that got us here and the systems that keep us here. Or maybe we don’t believe those lies but we feel kind of helpless. Or just disconnected, we don’t know who they are, or we don’t really know what to do and we are so busy anyway.

When people are divided, have been divided for a long time, we are vulnerable to believing misinformation, we’re vulnerable to feeling disconnected and we’re vulnerable to letting wrongs stay wrong, on our watch.

Racism may well still be showing up, but we can show up, too.

And we’ve been showing up. You’ve been showing up to events sponsored by the race discussions team, events to prepare us to pass an anti-racism resolution, and take a stand. 35 of you came out to watch Race, the power of an illusion two week ago. Over 40 people attended the movie last Friday. You’ve been coming to chapel chats and talk backs. You’ve been reading the e-blasts and bulletin inserts, and, you are here, today.

You, we have been showing up and taking a second look at the lies and half-truths that are out there in our society. We’re showing up and talking about what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard and what we’ve been led to believe – and learning that some things are not what they appear. That there’s more to the story. Where we’re part of the story. And looking what we can do, to change things.

And the invitation continues. Expands. Widens. Beyond this place. There is a larger invitation, in this country, to participate in a new movement for racial justice. Different from the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King. A movement with new leaders to follow, a movement for our day.

A movement for black lives. For justice. A movement that says, no, no, black lives don’t matter less. A movement that says black lives matter too. That says: black lives matter. A movement that addresses the worst injustices aimed at a people most oppressed and in doing so, beginning to dismantle the fences that still divide us all.

Because the tricky thing about racism – it doesn’t just divide us by skin color – when we start talking about it – any group can feel divided about how to handle it, about how to address it, what words we should or shouldn’t use, about whose fault it is and who should do something to fix it & what that something is. Racism can divide white people from white people, and people of color from people of color too. Racism divides us all.

We humans, we weren’t meant to be divided.

We humans, we weren’t made to be separate.

We weren’t made to be restricted to one side of a fence or another.

Clover and Annie, the heroines of that story that Debra told, Clover and Annie, they may or may not know all the history of racism in this country, but they know we weren’t meant to be divided.

They feel that “something,” that’s in us humans, underneath all of these crazy self-perpetuating made-up nasty lies. Underneath all that they know “something” that just feels a pull.

That wonders, that’s open and brave and wants to reach out.

This something that asks, who are you, really, there, on the other side of this fence? Where are you coming from? Who are you there, really?

Isn’t there just something, in us all, that wants to step forward, offer a hand, accept a hand, and be, in the balance, looking out, looking forward, together?

Reading by Kimberly Quinn Johnson

We are the ones we have been waiting for
We are not perfect, but we are perfectly fitted for this day.
We are not without fault,
but we can be honest to face our past as we chart a new future.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
May we be bold and courageous to chart that new future
May we have faith in a future that is not known
We are the ones we have been waiting for.


For resources to talk with children (or anyone) about race, click HERE.

To dive deeper into this month’s theme of balance, click HERE