Dear Beloved Community,
It is with heavy, grateful hearts that we write you. After fourteen beautiful years of serving the greater New Orleans area, the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal is closing its doors on November 30th, 2019.
This decision has not been easy. Our organization was born in a hot August, directly after Hurricane Katrina, when the federal flood water of 2005 had receded. We were founded by the three Unitarian Universalist congregations in our area: First UU, Community Church UU and Northshore UU. The international Unitarian Universalist community answered our urgent call for support. They showed up. YOU showed up!
Initially, our work was about direct service. The most vulnerable members of our community told us what they needed, and we got volunteers to their door. Throughout rebuilding, it became clear that a more systematic approach was necessary. We built deeper partnerships with nonprofit organizations across the city, funneling support and rebuilding efforts into communities neglected by city, state, and federal officials. We were born out of an unjust crisis, and as the pace of the work picked up, so did our number of mistakes.
Our partners gave us some serious feedback. We learned that helping and solidarity are two different things. We learned we had to deepen our anti-racist analysis, open ourselves up to a mutual liberation framework, and rethink the kind of organization we wanted to be. We strengthened our partnership with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, and building on their decades of racial justice work, we crafted our own transformational, anti-oppressive learning opportunities for people wanting to support the New Orleans community. We made our own curriculum and facilitation team. We created a driving tour to contextualize rapid gentrification throughout our community.
The work took on a life of its own. We found that folks from all over the country—from UU churches and youth groups to high schools, colleges and community organizing collectives—were itching for this analysis. What started as hosting conversations about the history of white supremacy and classism in New Orleans’ rebuilding efforts quickly grew into complex political education workshops. Through partnerships with the UU College of Social Justice, we began hosting week-long racial justice intensives for youth from around the country. We tied more guided reflection about internalized white supremacy into the work. We shifted our focus to groups that were ready to build with us long-term. We met you, maybe over a shared traditional New Orleans meal, over a long conversation about what we dream of for our communities, sometimes over a shared can of paint to dip into.
You have brought our organization gifts we never knew we needed.
As rebuilding related to Katrina became less of a focus bringing volunteers to the city, the number of out-of town groups staying at the Center steadily decreased. While the Center’s important work continued, its form shifted toward more work with local partners and organizations, hosting or providing workshops, education and trainings, and collaboration with others to enhance access to resources in the New Orleans community. Without the revenue from room and board on which our initial model of service was built, as the flow of volunteers housing with us slowed, so did our financial stability. Despite our efforts, we have been unable to maintain the financial resources needed to sustainably support our work.
And yet, within all that we have created together, the work is still not over. The Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal lives on through the many facilitators, organizers, dreamers and movement builders who’ve shaped our work. The Center lives on through the free Community Resource Guide, seventy-seven pages of annually vetted organizations that support people without insurance, formerly incarcerated folk, trans and gender nonconforming people, families needing language translation services, and many other members of our community. The Center lives on through the work of three Unitarian Universalist churches that first opened our doors, through the organizers we’ve trained with who exist all over the world.
We even dream of living on in a more tangible way. In recent years, we have created partnerships with collectives throughout New Orleans that want to dismantle white supremacy within their own spheres. We dream of a world where our organization’s debt no longer holds us back; a world where racial justice organizing is financially sustainable and maintained through fair and equitable labor practices. We dream of becoming a Mutual Aid Liberation Center, a framework created by Southern Movement Assembly. We dream of addressing white supremacist cisgender heteropatriarchy systemically through continued partnerships and learning opportunities with our facilitation team.
And as we dream, so must we act. We need your support.
Here is how you can support The Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal in our final three months of being a non-profit organization:
- Help us BURN OUR DEBT! The funds we receive will first go toward paying staff who are finishing out the work, but have been doing so without pay since August. This is urgent. Our staff, first and foremost, must have their needs met. Once our staff is made financially whole again, funds will be used to resolve out our organization’s debt.
- COME to our next fundraiser! Join us for Smart Slut Autumn September 29! Join us for a homemade pasta-making event with fantastic wines in October. BYOS: bring your own sauce, y’all!
- SHARE our Burn the Debt Campaign! Please share our donation page with your congregation, organizing community, family, and friends. Heck, throw that link in your Instagram bio! Why not?
- Or maybe you want to go the extra mile and HOST your own fundraiser to share with your community about the effect CELSJR has had on your life. We will happily welcome all you brilliant fundraisers to join us in this process.
- Schedule a DIALOGUE with us! Our facilitation team is here to support your organization through the end of November. Reach out to Coleen Murphy at celsjrNOLA@gmail.com to make your arrangements.
Lastly, keep an eye out for updates in the coming month.
Closing an organization with a fourteen-year history of racial justice organizing, led for and by New Orleanians, is something we want to do right. We want to celebrate our time together, cry together, create a magical container, together, to hold the immeasurable legacy of the work. We are planning to hold space for this remembering and honoring during the first week of November and sincerely hope to see you there.
We could not have done this without you. Thank you for supporting us while we start the process of mourning and celebrating an organizational life well lived.
With gratitude and a renewed commitment to the movement,
The Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal