Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

International UU Women’s Convo at Asilomar


Candidates's forum with three women running for President of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Candidates’s forum with three women running for President of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

I’d heard great things about the beauty, the serenity, and the ocean scenery at Asilomar on the Monterey Peninsula in California. I came yesterday for the International Unitarian Universalist Women’s Convocation.

When I checked in, Jose, the desk clerk, said, “Do you know Sherry? She’s your roommate. And you have an ocean view.” I didn’t know Shari, but she’s lovely. We do have an ocean view, but we had a day of rain.

The forecast for tomorrow is not much better. Sunday the same, though a little warmer. Maybe there will be a break. I’d at least like to  walk to the ocean a few hundred feet away.

Couldn't resist the music

Couldn’t resist the music

Music for a Rainy Evening

An amazing group of musicians played for this evening’s Happy Hour. They entertained us, making us forget the weather. And they chased away the rain!

Celtic and Irish tunes got several of us up and dancing. One woman was a real expert at Irish or Celtic step dancing. She was a joy to watch.

The dulcimer player was also the percussionist.

The dulcimer player was also the percussionist.

But best of all was watching the dulcimer player! I walked up close to see her and take a picture. Then I sat next to a woman in the front row of the audience and mentioned how much I enjoyed her playing. “That’s my daughter!” she said. She couldn’t have been prouder.

Phoebe Hearst

The mother of the dulcimer player, so proud and happy!

The mother of the dulcimer player, so proud and happy!

I was surprised to find that Asilomar has Phoebe’s Cafe and Hearst Social Hall, both named for Phoebe Hearst. When I spent an academic year in Sacramento for my Master’s in Education degree program, our two older children attended Phoebe Hearst Elementary School.

Asilomar was founded as a YWCA Camp and Conference Center in 1913. Phoebe Hearst was considered the ‘fairy godmother’ to the YWCA Pacific Coast Branch, I read in the Visitor’s Guide. She held a conference at her estate nearby. Then she invited other influential women to hear about the plans. She was instrumental in raising the funds.

After the site was completed she was honored with the spaces named for her.

Too Obtuse on Right Relations

I volunteered for the Right Relations team at the International UU Women’s Convo. The statement of our work: “If any participant feels that they have encountered behavior, structures, or processes that are not respectful of their inherent worth and dignity, that person is encouraged to inform a member of the Right Relations Team.”

So today a woman told us she was offended by a few people’s actions. The woman is of color, the offenders were white. One person touched her hair, and two others asked if it was real.

For women of color hair is a sensitive topic. Images of long blond hair as the ideal of beauty are prevalent in our society.

Many black girls, my mixed-race daughter included, played with towels or other fabric that would drape over their heads so they could “flip back” the pretend straight hair as white girls did. Yes, I know some white girls too pretended to have long hair. But they had a chance of actually growing long straight hair.

The history of slavery and discrimination makes the idea of a white person touching a Black woman’s hair unacceptable. Likewise questioning its authenticity.

When our team gave its report this afternoon, I said, “When I was first in Nigeria in a remote village, a child touched my skin out of curiosity. But today we don’t touch others without permission, or ask if hair is authentic.”

Afterwards my roommate said, “I didn’t know what you were talking about!” Should I have said a Black woman was offended?

My Workshop on Saturday

I’m presenting a workshop, “Living in Community, Lessons from Nigeria,” Saturday afternoon. I hope people will come.

I asked for a projector, but I’m not certain there will be one. If there isn’t, I’ll talk without! Wish me luck!

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.


  1. Catherine – It was wonderful spending time and getting to know you. i , too , felt the conversation was a special event and being there among all those terrific women has certainly altered my approach to some of life’s issues.
    Be well and I do hope we will connect again some time. Thanks for the pictures. they remind of the good times and the new friends.

  2. I’m sure you will do great, with or without a projector.