For nearly a year, three Neighborhood Church members have been doing just that. The nearest detention center is 75 miles away in Adelanto. One morning a month, these folks pile into a mini-van and make a two-hour drive to the high-desert town. After stopping for lunch, they proceed to Adelanto Detention Center with a list of undocumented immigrants (male or female) to see. They register at the desk and wait to be called. Then they are escorted into a visiting room, where they greet their “friend”. The pairs sit together and chat. The detainees are mostly from Mexico or African nations, and speak a bit of English. Some have been in the U.S. only weeks, others for decades with families and deep roots here. Some are charged with minor crimes, others simply had the bad fortune to be caught without documents. Some have modest resources, others have none, and request legal information or a Bible or another small item to be sent. For a few, this is their first friendly visit in months or maybe ever at Adelanto. All seem grateful for a stranger’s concern. After an hour, the visitors say “goodbye”, sign out, and return to their vehicle for the drive back to Pasadena. They leave with new perspectives and are transformed in ways that only come from real-life, personal experience.
These three NUUC members are part of an interfaith collaboration with Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meeting (OGFM), called Small Group Social Change Ministry (SGSCM). OGFM launched the project in 2016, and NUUC joined in Fall 2017. With a shared history of activism and compatible values, UUs and Quakers are natural partners, and such collaborations exist elsewhere. They are based on a curriculum developed by Rev. Deborah Holder of UUA Pacific Northwest Region–which creates support networks to prevent activist burnout and weaves spirituality into justice work. They also approach social change via an accompaniment (aka companioning, following) model, lifting up the powerful work already going on and led by communities most impacted by injustice.
As SGSCM approaches its first anniversary, we are preparing to open the group to new members in September. While this is an innovative and rewarding project, it does require a significant degree of commitment and time. It is not for the merely curious or casual advocate. In addition to Adelanto trips (encouraged but not required), the group gathers twice a month to plan and discuss our social justice experiences, check in personally, and share spiritual practices. Meetings are on first and third Tuesdays 7-9 pm. Location alternates between Neighborhood and OGFM a mile east on Orange Grove Blvd. We always include snacks or potluck dinner. Sometimes immigration experts are invited to speak. On special occasions we may go out together for a celebration or a training.
If this project resonates with you, please let us know! We’re happy to have a conversation and/or arrange for you to meet current SGSCM members. With the immigration crisis heating up, it is an ideal time to make a difference. Contact Stephanie Ballard at 626-449-3470 x18 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Australian Aboriginal Activist Group