"For a very long time, now, I have been swamped by my UUA work. I refuse to abandon it, however, because I believe the UUA is truly committed to the worth and dignity of all persons, strives for justice, equity and compassion in human affairs, encourages spiritual growth, and envisions a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all."
~ Dr. Norma Poinsett, General Assembly 2001
Racial Justice Educator
Children's Writer and Educator
Steadfast Unitarian Universalist Lay leader
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Poinsett for one of my seminary classes. In the process, I was awed by her indomitable spirit and incredible life. Whenever I knew we were both invited to an event, it was my absolute pleasure to provide her transportation and accompany her. I only wish I had more time with her before I moved out of the area. I am honored to name her as my peace hero!
Dr. Norma Ruth Miller Poinsett has been an African American Unitarian Universalist for 63 out of her 93 years alive. Born and raised in Mississippi, Poinsett has lived in Chicago for the better part of 68 years. Poinsett contributed a great deal to Unitarian Universalism at both the congregational and national levels. At First Unitarian Society of Chicago, Poinsett served on the nominating committee, as vice-chair of its board of trustees, and as the church librarian. At the national level, Poinsett served on many committees and on the Board of Trustees.
Because of her years of national service, Poinsett received the Unitarian Universalist Association President’s Award for Volunteer Service in 2004 (only one award is given each year). The Rev. William Sinkford, the first Unitarian Universalist Association President of color, described her as an example of “faithfulness, integrity and accountability.”
These formal gifts of service alone would qualify her as a distinguished recipient of this award. But Norma has always brought more to the table. Faithfulness: Following what we call the “Black Empowerment Controversy,” when so many African Americans, including myself, left our faith, Norma stayed and worked tirelessly for a change of understanding and of heart. Integrity: She has spoken truth to power and used the power of her positions to serve the truth. Accountability: Norma has held this faith's feet to the fire not just on issues of race, but across the board as we have struggled to live up to the principles we affirm.
While Poinsett’s decision to stay and work towards change after the “Black Empowerment Controversy” of 1967-1972 is recorded in our Unitarian Universalist history, her contributions to children’s education, within and outside of Unitarian Universalism, deserve attention and should be celebrated in our history as well. In 1995, Poinsett co-authored a Unitarian Universalist racial justice curriculum for children ages 5 through 8 years old, called Rainbow Children. From 1973 to 1980, Poinsett wrote and published 25 children’s short stories in Ebony Jr! Through Google Books’ digital archive partnership with Ebony Magazine, 23 of Poinsett’s Ebony Jr! stories are available online in their original form. Both Rainbow Children and Poinsett’s Ebony Jr! stories still have much to offer children of all races and religions.
Poinsett and her contributions to children’s education deserve to be celebrated and spread as wide and far as possible.
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