PHOTOS: South Surrey Unitarians take call for racial justice to street

(Contributed photo)(Contributed photo)
Members of the South Fraser Unitarians demonstrate at the corner of 156 Street and 24 Avenue Saturdays in support of racial justice. (Contributed photo)Members of the South Fraser Unitarians demonstrate at the corner of 156 Street and 24 Avenue Saturdays in support of racial justice. (Contributed photo)
Members of the South Fraser Unitarians demonstrate at the corner of 156 Street and 24 Avenue Saturdays in support of racial justice. (Contributed photo)Members of the South Fraser Unitarians demonstrate at the corner of 156 Street and 24 Avenue Saturdays in support of racial justice. (Contributed photo)
Members of the South Fraser Unitarians demonstrate at the corner of 156 Street and 24 Avenue Saturdays in support of racial justice. (Contributed photo)Members of the South Fraser Unitarians demonstrate at the corner of 156 Street and 24 Avenue Saturdays in support of racial justice. (Contributed photo)
Rev. Samaya Oakley in August 2020 spearheaded weekly demonstrations in South Surrey in support of racial justice. (Contributed photo)

Rev. Samaya Oakley freely admits to bearing prejudice.

“I actually came out in my congregation and said, ‘I’m a racist,’” the South Fraser Unitarians minister said Friday (April 16), of a statement she made during a service in South Surrey about two years ago.

But in making the declaration, Oakley said, she wasn’t suggesting that her racism was blatant, or even intentional, for that matter. She was simply trying to raise awareness of its prevalence; to open her congregation’s eyes and minds to the fact that racism exists not just around them, but within the majority of people, whether they realize it or not. And, that more needs to be done to change that.

“I was raised that way, we are all raised that way, to look at the world in that filter,” Oakley explained. “We are swimming in a sea of racism and we often don’t see how it affects and informs our viewpoint and how we respond to the world.

“What we have to do is learn how to pull away those filters so that we can actually see things, and we do that by learning what the true history is.”

In an effort to support racial justice, Oakley spearheaded weekly demonstrations that motorists who frequent the 15600-block of 24 Avenue on Saturday afternoons may be familiar with.

Armed with signs that read ‘Black Lives Matter,’ It’s Time to Address Racism,’ ‘Justice for All’ – as well as one with the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake; three Black individuals whose deaths at the hands of police in the U.S. last year sparked the BLM movement – Oakley and a handful of congregants have been demonstrating along the busy thoroughfare for the past eight months.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Witness describes seeing George Floyd ‘slowly fade away’

“Last summer… there was one thing after the other,” Oakley said, referring to Taylor’s death in March, Floyd’s in May and Blake’s in August.

“One of the things I was thinking about (was) what can I do? The goal is to bring awareness to the fact that we need to begin to address racial justice, in whatever form it is.”

While response to the initial demonstrations has been largely positive, Oakley said there have been some passersby who have clearly disagreed or felt uncomfortable. Some have made a concerted effort to avoid eye contact, while more than one has given a distinct one-finger wave.

She cited an instance that combined both responses – when the driver of one vehicle waved as their passenger flipped her the bird. The driver, clearly surprised by the passenger’s response, gave their co-pilot a smack, she said.

“I went, now there’s a conversation that’s going to happen,” she said.

“I think what happens when we do this and we hold our signs up, people have, really, two responses: they can either choose to say, ‘wow, we support you,’ or they can go, ‘we don’t.’ And that’s what it’s like when we come up with instances of racism in our lives.

“When we see it in … our everyday lives, we can either say something about it or remain silent and be complicit in it. Our demonstrations are one of those examples – it kind of brings it up.”

Oakley said the effort has hit home with some of her congregants, including one longtime member who she said described participating in the demonstrations as “the most important thing that he has done with our congregation.”

Smitty Miller, the church’s digital media co-ordinator, noted those who participate do so at their own comfort level.

“People decide what their signs are going to say, what they’re comfortable with, because that’s a big stretch, that’s a big risk to put yourself out there like that,” she said.

It’s not about trying to change the world, she added.

“I think we believe that we need to change ourselves first, because none of us come from a place of complete allyship,” Miller said. “We all have ingrained biases, either the way we were raised or just environment or whatever.

“Many of us would say we’re not racist at all, and yet we do have those ingrained biases, so when we start to look at it (we say), ‘Oooo, I can’t believe I thought of it that way.

“You have to change your way of thinking to be a good ally.”

Participation in the demonstrations is not limited to church members. Oakley and Miller said anyone interested is “absolutely” welcome to join in the hour-long demonstrations that take place, rain or shine, between 1 and 2 p.m.

There is no proselytizing, Miller added.

“You can come here and believe in this and meet us. If you want to know about our beliefs, we’ll be happy to share them with you, but it’s not about that,” she said.

“It’s about sharing in that particular social action.”

Other efforts underway by the faith group to “dismantle systems of white supremacy” and understand what that looks like, include book-club discussions of such titles as Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, and an eye to adopting an eighth guiding principle – Unitarian Universalists currently have seven – around building “a diverse multicultural beloved community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and in our institutions.”

“We’re kind of ahead of the curve ball in that regard,” Oakley noted.

Asked Friday if she still considers herself a racist, Oakley said she does, but “I mean that in the kindest way.”

“I’ve been raised in a culture that values white supremacy, where being white is the preferred norm,” she said.

“I’m on a board of religious educators and I am constantly, constantly learning ways which I tend to favour the dominant way of being, and I’m doing my very, very best to work on myself,” she continued. “It’s part of the reason why I do a lot of education around it, it helps me unlearn patterns within myself.

“That work never ends.”
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Racial injusticeSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

White Rock’s Joan Bywater shows the setup she uses when participating in online paint parties hosted by the Seniors Come Share Society. (Contributed photo)
PHOTOS: Virtual gallery showcases inspirations of Semiahmoo Peninsula seniors

‘What is art if not something that motivates more art?’

Surrey Eagles head coach Cam Keith speaks to his players during the break in the action at a game last week against the Coquitlam Express. (Damon James photo)
Surrey Eagles shut out Powell River Kings as BCHL season nears end

Goaltender Tommy Scarfone stops 19 shots to earn shutout
Surrey-born hoops player Jasman Sangha signs with NCAA Div. 1 team in Texas

‘We love Surrey and still have a lot of family there,’ brother says

Lots at the South Surrey Recreation Centre are reserved for people arriving to attend the COVID-19 vaccination clinic. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Surrey records highest monthly increase in COVID-19 cases

Meantime, the city sees first decrease in weekly cases since February

Surrey RCMP officers on scene at a shooting in the 9700-block of 161A Street Tuesday, May 4, 2021.(Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Fatal Guildford shooting of woman leads to murder charge for man, 24

Ali Khudhair charged following death of Keryane Arsenault

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police photo of suspected cat thief was just a woman with her own cat

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Findings indicate a culture of racism, misogyny and bullying has gripped the game with 64 per cent of people involved saying players bully others outside of the rink. (Pixabay)
Misogyny, racism and bullying prevalent across Canadian youth hockey, survey finds

56% of youth hockey players and coaches say disrespect to women is a problem in Canada’s sport

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hospital investigating whether Alberta woman who died after AstraZeneca shot was turned away

Woman was taken off life support 12 days after getting vaccine

The AHL Board of Governors has approved the Vancouver Canucks decision to move their franchise to Abbotsford. (File photo)
AHL approves Canucks’ franchise relocation to Abbotsford

Board of Governors approves move, season set to start on Oct. 15

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C. reports first vaccine-induced blood clot; 684 new COVID cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

Most Read