Wednesday, July 13, 2005


A letter from an African-American Usher at GA that was posted at FUUSE

Dear Mr. Rickter:

I read your open letter to those who attended GA this year with special interest. You see, not only am I a person of color, but I was also privileged to usher for most of the large events.

I was one of the ushers at the Closing Ceremony, and therefore it was interesting to read about the incident that I witnessed first-hand. You stated:

"We have been disturbed by reports of other unfortunate incidents during General Assembly within our own Unitarian Universalist family, in which some UU youth of color were made to feel that they were not welcome. There was an incident outside the hall during the closing ceremonies at the Fort Worth General Assembly. Based on the reports of witnesses, the incident involved several UU youth of color, a UU adult who questioned their right to be there, provoking an angry response from the youth, a UU minister who intervened in support of the adult, and another white youth who defended the youth of color and verbally attacked the minister, who responded in like fashion with similar inflammatory language."

For whatever it's worth, here is what initiated that event.

I was ushering in the balcony and was greeting and handing out programs at the far right entrance. You will remember that many people came in after the program began, since many had gone to get dinner before it started. It was therefore not unusual that three young black persons walked in about 15 minutes after the program had begun. What was unusual is the manner in which they were dressed and their body language.

I have been a school teacher and school counselor for 25 years, so I know that, in the kid's vernacular, they were dressed in "gangsta'" fashion (low slung, oversized clothing, bandanas on head, wraparound sunglasses, even though it was evening, etc.). I must admit that my first thought (since they were not wearing their name cards) was that perhaps this might be local youth that might have seen some of our protests during the week and came to check us out. I had not seen them at any of the other programs.

Instead of looking for a seat, they stood in the walkway separating the lower balcony from the upper balcony and watched the program for about 10 minutes, then they began walking toward the center of the balcony. I smiled and them and offered them a program. Only one of the young men stopped and reached for one, after which he took two steps to follow his friends and made a big show of throwing the program on the floor. Then they proceed toward the next entrance, where this same young man asked that usher (Brenda) for a program, and proceeded to do the same thing.

At this point, my husband Jim (also an usher upstairs) went over to them and asked them if there was a problem. I later found out that the youth replied, "What's it to you, Man?"

The induction of the candidates was beginning, so Jim suggested that if they were not interested in watching the program, perhaps they should go out into the lobby so they would not disturb others. Although the three youth proceeded down the stairs to the lobby, another young man, (Brian Kuzma) came down from the upper balcony and proceeded to scold Jim for being a "Racist" and anti-youth. Jim suggested they go discussed this in the lobby since it was disturbing the audience. They went down to the lobby, and at this point, the young man who had been disrupive came in again at my entrance (without his friends). Again, he asked me for a program. Again, I smiled and said I hoped he would keep it this time. He mumbled something, took the program, pitched it to the floor, and proceeded toward the other usher.

At this point a woman who happened to be standing in the walkway came to me and said, "Those guys are obviously trouble-makers and need to leave."

I told her that Jim had already called the head usher on his radio and the situation would be handled. As we then turned to the center entrance, however, the young man had gotten another program from Brenda, and was now tearing it up and throwing the pieces down.

Mr. Rickter, I have worked with youth for 25 years, and I know when I am being "baited"-- so I knew that he was itching to be confronted, something I was not about to do. But the woman who saw all this walked up to the young man and asked him what his problem was. He replied, "Get out of my face, bitch." Another man overheard this, and so we all followed the youth to the lobby where Brian proceeded to argue with everyone that we were acting "just like the Fort Worth police." The woman and man kept trying to explain to him that it was the behavior of the young man (and not his race) that being called into question.

At this point, other young people that had been out in the lobby the whole time began screaming and crying that everyone was being unfair! Then, some of the youth sponsors, as well as people from the Planning Committee came on the scene, so I went back to my post where the ushers were being told to block people from going into the lobby until things were calm.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Overall, I 'd had such a wonderful experience at GA the previous days that the whole incident was like a splash of cold water. I was especially sad to learn that the young man who incited this was "one of us." I couldn't understand why he would choose to be unruly and disrespectful and disrupt the closing ceremony. I am told it was because he was harrassed during the week, but I cannot understand why he would feel that it gave him license to take it out on the whole group.

Believe me, having grown up as a person of color in Texas, I would be the last one to be an apologist for racist behavior. But this was not the case in this particular incident. The youth will need to understand that they, also, need to examine what I perceive as reverse racism, on their part. It was an unfortuante incident all the way around. As you say, I hope we can all learn from it.

Esther Ford, Member
Live Oak U-U Church
Cedar Park, Texas



chutney said...

Only one of the young men stopped and reached for one, after which he took two steps to follow his friends and made a big show of throwing the program on the floor. Then they proceed toward the next entrance, where this same young man asked that usher (Brenda) for a program, and proceeded to do the same thing...

At this point, other young people that had been out in the lobby the whole time...

Was this whole thing planned??? Was this a set up??

contribUUtor said...

CC - Thank you, you rock.

chutney - If I may be so bold, I don't think speculation on the motives of the ushers was particularly productive conversation. Maybe it's worth waiting to hear from a youth and avoiding speculation on motives?

Oversoul said...

As someone who makes a living sorting out fact from perception/assumption/fiction, I am not one bit surprised by this woman's letter.

People are too quick to overlay their assumptions on a given situation before assessing the facts.

chutney said...

Point taken. Mea culpa.

Jeff Wilson said...

Boy, I thought the sh*t had already hit the fan, but if this does turn out to have been a set-up (one reasonable interpretation of this new data, just as the idea that it was a racist incident was one reasonable interpretation of some of the previous data), then we ain't seen nothing yet. Amazingly, I find myself almost hoping that this turns out to have been a garden-variety example of white racism, rather than the enormous ugly can of worms that would be opened by allegations that some UU young people and minorities are actively fabricating confrontations. I don't want to think that of us; I want to think it even less than I don't want to think of us as racist. However this thing plays out now I know I'm gonna be heartsick.

PeaceBang said...

The most unintentionally funny comment on the FUUSE site was the person who vehemently proposed that we IMMEDIATELY VERIFY the identity of THE USHER.

But really, the whole ridiculous mess makes me feel like vomiting.

Chalicechick said...

After Dan Rather, I can't say I 100 percent blame them, but you're right that the whole mess is icky.