“Ecowomanism is discourse, dialogue, a conversation that centers the voices, experiences, and sociological perspectives of women of African descent and women of color on the environment.” – Rev. Dr. Melanie L. Harris
On January 12, 2019, the Starr King community gathered at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland for our 7th annual Symposium. This year’s theme was “Ecowomanism: At the Intersection of Courage & Faith” and the day served as an urban retreat for learning, dialogue, food, music, and celebration.
This year we were thrilled to have the Rev. Dr. Melanie L. Harris as our honored teacher!
Dr. Harris is American Council of Education Fellow at the University of Denver and Founding Director of African American and Africana Studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. She is the first African American woman to earn the rank of Full Professor at TCU. Dr. Harris is the author of several books and numerous scholarly articles, including Gifts of Virtue: Alice Walker and Womanist Ethics and Ecowomanism: Earth Honoring Faiths. She teaches in the areas of Christian Social Ethics, Womanist Theology, Inclusive Excellence, and Environmental Justice.
After a continental breakfast where folks had the chance to catch up with friends and fuel up for the day ahead, Symposium began with words of welcome from President Rosemary Bray McNatt and SKSM Student Body President Elle Parks, along with the traditional Unitarian Universalist chalice lighting by faculty member Rev. Dr. Sheri Prud’homme. The morning ingathering included music from SKSM community members, students, and faculty and a reading from student E.N. Hill. Board Trustee Linda Laskowski, along with President McNatt and Dean of Students Chris Schelin, presented Dr. Harris with the honorary Sacrae Theologiae Doctorate.
In her thought provoking and touching keynote address, Dr. Harris provided an overview of Ecowomanism, ecoautobiographies, and ecomemory. She went on to discuss the intersectionalities between the Earth, race, and religious/spiritual realms.
She provided a helpful way to start the discussion of Ecowomanism:
“[Ecowomanism] is inherently interdisciplinary and inter-religious, but when foregrounding the religious and spiritual aspects of Ecowomanism, three questions serve as an entry point for dialogue:
Utilizing song, art, and small group sharing, students were invited to mine their own ecomemories, integrating elements of the ecowomanist model presented earlier in the day with their own lives, social locations, and connections to Earth and Spirit.
How do we connect with the earth, and the little slivers of earth upon which we live, minister, move? In this embodied practice, a “walk to the park,” we will get outside the church and pay attention to the space around us. We will observe both the world around us and the responses of our own bodies to this space as we move through it and digest the day’s teachings. We will gather in a nearby park to discuss what we have observed and how this practice may be transferable to ministries anywhere, and we will ground ourselves in ritual that reminds us of our connection to the earth.
Inspired by a commitment to future generations, and empowered by front line communities of color, the environmental justice movement to realize the human right to water in California is poised for a significant breakthrough in 2019. We will share stories and strategies, times of struggle and success from the journey to access safe, affordable water for all. When confronted with very powerful interests, what sustains hope for the long haul?