A small white church on Palmer Street, adorned with stained glass windows and an LGBT pride flag, is the home of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which, along with Plattsburgh Cares and I Am an Ally, hosted a Black Lives Matter potluck for community members and students last Sunday.
“Essentially, this luncheon aims to bridge a certain gap between community members and students,” said Taylor Richardson, public relations major and member of I Am an Ally. “Students especially might feel like there’s a disconnect or a stigma held against them that they’re just here to trash things and party.”
The grand room of the fellowship was replete with conversation and music styles from salsa to jazz as guests filled their plates with homemade and classic store-bought foods. Pizza, salads, baked ziti and sushi filled the buffet tables along with takeout from KFC and Taco Bell.
The UU Fellowship is a unique place of worship that doesn’t require parish members to recognize any specific deity. Rather, the focus of the fellowship is finding one’s self through spirituality, whatever that may be, and finding love and peace through other people and respect for the environment.
“You may have noticed each of our windows has a different religious symbol in it,” said Michelle Ouellette, assistant professor of public relations at PSUC and founding member of Plattsburgh Cares.
The fellowship does not follow a holy book, but abides by the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, which promote positive behaviors and thoughts but has the consistent theme of “justice, equity and compassion in human relations”.
“We take the ‘inherent worth and dignity of every individual’ principle very seriously,” Ouellette said.
She and other members of the fellowship, also members of Plattsburgh Cares, helped establish the potluck with the help of students and organizations on campus.
“What Michelle is always consciously doing is making sure the community and the college have a correspondence and see each other,” Richardson said. “She creates events that kind of push you to be approachable and establish connections.”
The group believes these connections are imperative after this turbulent semester on campus.
“[This potluck] is in response to the unrest on campus,” said Kathy Sajor, president of Plattsburgh Cares and a member of the UU Fellowship. “We went from this group of women, just wanting to help, to this huge coalition of activist groups, individuals and the interfaith community working together to make this happen.”
Sajor, along with Ouellette, Joelle Lamica, and several others started Plattsburgh Cares about a year ago, and have worked tirelessly to provide humanitarian services to the disenfranchised, including offering their support to Muslim refugees who crossed the Canadian border after President Trump’s inauguration.
“We want everyone to know that there are caring people in this community,” Sajor said. “No matter if you’re black, white, American or not, queer, transgender, we will receive you and welcome you and celebrate who you are and the many gifts you might bring.”
Breanne Johnson is a public relations major and marketing minor at PSUC who helped market the potluck through social media.
“As part of PR, we learn that social media is a primary way that we can get a lot of students, especially on campus, to attend events,” Johnson said.
About 50 chairs were set up in circles to create an open and friendly atmosphere. About 70 students and community members attended.
“We’re so happy with the turnout. We’re seeing so many different faculty members and students connecting,” Johnson said.
Age was not a limiting factor at this potluck. College students talked in depth with long-time Plattsburgh residents. Children weaved through the diverse crowd.
“There are a lot of members [of the Fellowship] that I didn’t even know teach at Plattsburgh,” Johnson said. “Being a part of the SUNY Plattsburgh community gave us all an instant connection,” Johnson said.
The UU Fellowship offered a safe haven for students wanting to relax off campus and gave community members the opportunity to bond and find common ground with the youth sweeping through this college town.
“We are a welcoming congregation,” Sajor said. “We are always on the forefront of celebrating people. It’s like coming home.”
Email Sage Lewandowski at firstname.lastname@example.org