The first time the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda displayed a large “black lives matter” sign outside its church, it was vandalized to simply read “lives matter.” The second time, the same defacement occurred.
The fourth time proved to be more successful, and the “black lives matter” sign stayed intact for a month, until the church decided it wanted to take it down and have people stand outside on Friday evenings to carry the signs themselves.
“It makes a different kind of statement when we are there holding it in our own hands and interacting with people,” said the Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, pastor at the Bethesda church at Whittier Boulevard and River Road. “People can see it is not an abstract message, but a message that we literally and figuratively stand behind.”
Ladd said the change has nothing to do with the vandalism, but says this is a more powerful way to spread the church’s message. Every Friday at 6:30 p.m., church members gather outside to hold a vigil for black lives, saying prayers, singing songs and carrying signs so those driving by can see.
The first time, about 60 people attended. The second time, last Friday night when it was raining, about 20 people showed up.
“Everyone’s been incredibly supportive,” Ladd said. “We get a lot of honks, a lot of affirmations and thumbs out the window.”
The church has now swapped its permanent “black lives matter” sign with a sign that says “Selma is now because the struggle for justice is now”– a line that John Legend said as he accepted his “Best Original Song” Oscar for “Glory,” his song with the artist Common that they wrote for the film “Selma.”
River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation has a racial justice task force, which has recently been meeting to discuss what it can do to support the leaders of Black Lives Matter’s policy agenda.
“We can’t reverse history without constructively figuring out how to act now,” Ladd said.