Living the Cause of Justice at MVUU 

Compiled from contributions by
Emily Ricketts, Debbie Gessaman, and Anne Leonard

MVUU’s long history of advocating for social justice has seen our congregants working both as individuals and through social action teams. Even before we became a congregation, when our founding members were UUs attending UU Congregation of Tucson—UUCT—they were planning new justice activities.

In the very beginning with the decision to establish a second UU congregation in northwest Tucson, the charter members knew that although they were few in number, they could feed the hungry and homeless. While still members of UUCT, they cooked together in the kitchen and took meals to a homeless shelter for about 100 men. The new congregation had too few members to feed that many, so it created teams to work together at individual homes and delivered a monthly dinner to Primavera’s Five Points shelter for about 30 persons.

Emily Ricketts chaired the Social Action Committee until 2014. A second focus in those years was supporting the precursor organization to Youth on Their Own—YOTO—a local organization that helps teens who cannot live at home to complete high school. MVUU received a grant from UUA Boston in the 1980s of more than $1000 for YOTO. Special drives to support YOTO, such as contributing McDonald’s gift cards, continue.

Emily was also the MVUU liaison with UUSC and encouraged MVUUers to become UUSC members and support their programs. We purchased UUSC holiday cards and contributed to the holiday Guest at Your Table program, which sought to increase global awareness about rights of displaced persons throughout the world.

While the Reverend Susan Manker-Seale was our minister, the Committee was budgeted to donate $100 a month to various organizations suggested by Social Action or other members. In the early 2000s, we began a second offering at Sunday services called Charity of the Month or Woven Baskets. These collections continue today, allowing the entire membership to contribute to a selection of social action partners.

With the advent of a new minister—the Reverend Ron Phares—in 2013, the Social Action Committee took a new direction and adopted a new name: Justice Outreach. In 2014, the Justice Coordinating Committee (JCC) consisting of five people plus the minister expanded Justice involvement to more of the church membership. The Justice Issues Assembly, led by Debbie Gessaman as facilitator, redefined advocacy responsibilities, including:

  • Locate community non-profits with whom to coordinate
  • “Build bridges” and locate potential projects
  • Seek educational and advocacy opportunities
  • Get training in congregation-based community organizing

Our ongoing MVUU teams continued to feed the homeless through the Primavera Foundation. The congregation also selected additional agencies on which to focus: the Interfaith Community Services Food Bank, Arizonans for a New Economy, UU Justice Arizona (UUJAZ).

In 2018, the JCC adopted another approach by surveying the congregants to select three major concerns from a lengthy list of current issues, followed by a Sunday Service where the attendees selected three main issues from eight. Four major issues emerged:

  • Environmental Concerns: Focused specifically on Climate Change.
  • Democracy: Included many interrelated issues: Economic Inequality, Education, Healthcare, Racism, Patriarchy, and Voting.
  • Immigration: Concerned with both direct help for immigrants seeking asylum and long-term changes in immigration law and policy.
  • Gun Violence/Gun Safety: Followed on-going events and supported proposed legislation.

Strategic Change Agents included Pima County Interfaith Civic Education Organization (PCICEO) and the Unitarian Universalist Justice Arizona (UUJAZ) Network.

When Debbie Gessaman retired in 2019, Anne Leonard took over the JCC facilitator position. Meanwhile, MVUU called an interim minister, the Reverend Samantha Wilson. In her second year, when we went into Covid-19 isolation, more changes to our Justice Outreach efforts evolved.

The pandemic forced MVUU’s issue-oriented teams like Primavera Foundation and ICS Food Bank to become recipients of our monthly Woven Baskets donations.

As the pandemic continues, our dedicated Justice Outreach Teams formed for 2021 are:

  • Contigo/With You—Our immigration team actively supports asylum seekers during and after detention. Its base of support includes other Tucson organizations.
  • Our Neighborhood—Our newest team formed in 2021—seeks to support two neighboring Flowing Wells schools near our new building on Orange Grove Road.
  • Environmental Concerns—Focuses on climate change.

While we continue to evolve, change, and grow our Justice Outreach, we also provide direct services to people in need and also to those organizations that advocate for structural changes.