At a time when many Blacks are being killed by their own as well as the police officers that are supposed to serve and protect them, and students are protesting and making demands for the removal of college administrators who turn a blind eye to racism in their educational institutions, one predominantly White North Hills church decided to join the fight and display a “Black Lives Matter” yard sign in hopes of taking a stand for the movement and starting a conversation to better the community.
Unfortunately, the Franklin Park borough of North Hills, where Unitarian Universalist Church is located, did not share their same sentiments because the first yard sign the church board voted to put up was stolen after a week and a half. Then the next five signs put in its place were also vandalized and then stolen.
While the signs being stolen are a tiny injustice, Unitarian Universalist’s Pastor Rev. Scott Rudolph said the injustice that those signs represents is much greater.
“Our country is built on a platform, a legacy of slavery, racism and oppression, and it’s a problem and it’s alive and well in our country and it’s alive and well in the North Hills of Pittsburgh,” said Rev. Rudolph of why the Black Lives Matter signs were put up in the first place.
“What has been happening in our nation or in the Black Lives Matter (movement) is just a new attention to a continued oppression and injustice against, specifically, the Black community. And so as a church, as a religious body, we feel that we have a moral obligation to try to do what we can to stop White supremacy and Black oppression and also to do what we can to be apart of that movement towards ending injustice in our country that we feel is quite clear and apparent. It needs more voices and it needs a lot more people involved.”
Reverend Rudolph said before the signs went up, he and his church had began to think of ways to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement and some of the injustices that have taken place around the country against the marginalized Black population. For approximately a year they had been doing work to be an educational piece inside the church for its members. He admits that they had “some people in the church that have been doing anti-racist, multicultural work for some years, some that were brand new to it and some that were resistant to it.”
The question remains whether the yard signs, which were posted near the road the church sits off of, were taken by teens “just having fun,” an adult or even a member of the congregation. While Rev. Rudolph is not quick to speculate who took the signs, he does believe that whoever took it was a person with a “limited view” who either felt threatened or was just “outright racistly motivated” to not let the sign and that statement stand” in the community.
Reverend Dr. Ronald Hoellein, the pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and chairperson of N.O.R.T.H. (Neighboring Organizations Responding Together for Hope), which consists of a number of diverse congregations, organizations and justice groups in the North Hills area, sent a letter last week to the New Pittsburgh Courier and other media, on behalf of the group, lending support to what Rev. Rudolph and his members were trying to do as well as shed light on the greater issue.
“We could chop it up to kids being kids, but (this is) also a teaching moment. If they are kids, that reflects some of the attitudes they have learned or perceived (at home). It’s more than just vandalism. There is an attitude behind it,” Rev. Hoellein said. “
He went on to say that it’s time for there to be more conversations about race, especially in North Hills, which is predominantly White, but has a growing minority population that is not just African American, but Asian and Indian as well, and that there needs to be more conversations within the school systems, congregations and a wide variety of other community groups.
“This is a significant conversation to have with one another. We realize in American culture that there’s a couple things hard to talk about—sexuality and racism are some of them yet they’re common to all of us. All of us have an orientation and racial identity,” said Rev. Hoellein. “It always profounds me that that’s hard for us to talk about with one another. Not talking about it creates the problem.”
Theresa Orlando, of the North Hills Anti-Racism Coalition, a member of N.O.R.T.H. and who signed the letter, said that this is a White person’s issue.
“We have to speak up and stand up for justice… It’s up to us to change the attitude. We need to talk to each other; that’s the only way things change. It’s just a sad state of affairs.”
As for whether new signs will be going up or what he will do next, Rev. Rudolph said he is unsure. While he’s not expecting further retaliation, he said the church is taking precautions. He also said he has received emails from people in the community protesting the sign or using the rhetoric, “All Lives Matter,” to challenge the signs. One thing he is sure of is that his congregation will continue to hold conversations among their congregation and with the community; he plans to reach out to African American organizations here in Pittsburgh who are working with the Black Lives Matter movement. “…it’s clear (the movement) is the voice of the Black community crying out in a specific way—calling for action, calling for solidarity. In hearing that, we’re called to respond.”
Echoing the sentiments of Rev. Rudolph, Rev. Hoellein said, “The signs aren’t the issue. The issue is how do we find a way to really talk about race and differences, and how do we lift up the value of all people. The immediate reaction that came from many non-African Americans is that All Lives Matter; of course they do, but African Americans have experience numerous more difficulties.”
The police have been notified of the theft, but Rev. Rudolph said there is no further information in the investigation.
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