Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Beloved Conversations

Beloved Conversations – a Final Report

The image from Meadville Lombard website for Beloved Conversations

The image from Meadville Lombard website for Beloved Conversations

Several months ago I mentioned a program in which I participated at The Unitarian Church in Westport called “Beloved Conversations.”

Beloved Conversations is a program created at Meadville Lombard, the Unitarian Seminary in Chicago.

The program includes, “a 1.5 day retreat that launches the curriculum, followed by 8 weeks of guided dialogue/experiential exercises. Each session in the 8 week curriculum is two hours, and highly structured.”

There is an expectation, a goal, for these conversations. “Beloved Conversations is an experiential curriculum that provides a space to re-form/fuse the brokenness of racism into new patterns of thought and behavior ushering in social and spiritual healing. New ways of being are learned through the actions of conversation and probing dialogue.”

During the 1.5 day retreat and the eight sessions following, a group of people talk deeply about race and racism. The participants also take part in exercises that foster an understanding of racism.

We were twelve in my group for Beloved Conversations. Another group of twelve was going on at the same time.

Five participants from the joint meetings between our Unitarian Church and Messiah Baptist Church

Five participants from the joint meetings between our Unitarian Church and Messiah Baptist Church

At the conclusion of the sessions, a few people from our congregation met several times with people from a Black Baptist church in Bridgeport, the city just north of us. These conversations were facilitated by the head of the Greater Bridgeport Council of Churches.

Did We Learn from Beloved Conversations?

The final step was an exchange of visits between our church and the Baptist Church. In each congregation participants spoke about their shared experience, applying the lessons of Beloved Conversations.

Yesterday during our service we welcomed three women, Patricia, on left, Cierra, center, and Mary-Ellen on right from the Messiah Baptist Church in Bridgeport. Two of our own members, standing in between, and two of the three guests spoke briefly about what they had learned from their conversations together.

Cierra said, “Through the conversations we became not only neighbors in faith but also neighbors in truth.”

Mary-Ellen added, “We need the younger generation [like Cierra]. We older people bleed from so many cuts it’s difficult to live lives of hope.” I found her words sad and especially touching.

Both Randy and Ellie, white members of our almost-all white congregation, spoke about white privilege. “Our job is to be in touch with our white privilege. We have to learn to use it to get across the barriers,” Randy said.

I know members of our group were enriched by the process. I hope other members of our congregation were educated by yesterday’s speakers.

There will be more Beloved Conversations sessions next year so more people can participate. Do you have programs like this in your church or community?

Igbo Names and a Response

I watched this video that someone had posted on Facebook. I love it!

I kept wondering why she looked so familiar. Of course! Uzoamaka Aduba plays Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black. She is brilliant. She has won many awards for her acting.

Uzo Aduba from Glamour posting on Instagram

Uzo Aduba from Glamour posting on Instagram

Her pronunciation of Uzoamaka is very close to correct. She hasn’t quite got the tones right. I’d be happy to help her, though I’m sure her mother has tried!

Still, she makes the point that anyone can learn to say this name fairly accurately with a little practice.

When she was young and asked her mom for an easier name, her mom said, “If they can learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka!”

At my book talks, I almost always introduce the audience to the pronunciation of Onyemelukwe. The person who has to introduce me tries to learn it, but when he or she stands up to do the introduction, they invariably get it wrong! I assure them it’s all right.

And when I have the audience repeat the name, I start without the tones, then add them. But I don’t expect non-Igbo people to get the tones right.

Care for the Environment in Nigeria’s Osun State

Plastic bags are ubiquitous in Nigeria. In March I wrote about a program in Yola in northern Nigeria to recycle bags.

Osun State in southwestern Nigeria

Osun State in southwestern Nigeria

Vendors sell water and other products in plastic bags along the roads, and people toss the bags after use. And not only plastic bags litter the environment. There is garbage along every road.

Most people keep their own compounds clean, but have little regard for public space.

Now one of the southern states, Osun, has signed an agreement to implement improvements in care of the environment.

“The partnership will create jobs, expand the economy, create a new dynamic economy in tourism and as well keep the environment clean,” the press release says. I’m not so sure about the tourism. But I wish them well.

The recycled products, they say, will be used, “for valuable products such as tissue papers, plastics and organic manure (fertilizer) for farmers.”

“Today marks a new beginning as we take the solemn commitment to protect our environment,” the company, America Green Environmental Global Solution Nigeria Limited (AGEGS) says.

“We have to do our best not to litter the streets but to recycle everything coming out of our homes and work places.”

According to the article, “Every household will purchase various containers from AGEGS for different ‎items from the household for which they can recycle. These containers will be picked up from your homes on designated days of the week.”

I wonder if everyone will readily agree to purchase containers. What will happen if people refuse?

Maybe this will be a model for other Nigerian states. The need is there, no doubt!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

2 Comments

  1. Liked the name story, Catherine. When I visited the Rockefeller Foundation office in Nairobi and admitted that I was having trouble remembering and pronouncing African names, one staff member said gently, “We’re struggling with your name too, Judith.”