By Carol Lloyd

Have you seen the NPR story about a one-man campaign by a Muslim American Marine to fight Islamophobia? He is traveling the country to dispel misconceptions about Muslims.

For more than 20 years, Cincinnati’s Shakila Ahmad has been doing much the same. As the first female president of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati (ICGC), she plays a vital role in helping area residents understand what the Muslim faith is – and is not.

Asked if she is busier than usual these post-election days, Ahmad pauses. “Busy is one word,” she says. “There are certainly a lot of things to be thinking about, some of them concerning. The needs for interfaith understanding, education and collective work have increased, definitely.”

Interfaith understanding, education and collective work are what Ahmad is all about. She firmly believes that encouraging learning and respect for others is vital to everyone’s well-being. She was a founding member of Mothers Against Violence, an effort to educate people, especially Muslim youth, about identifying and preventing bullying.

Expanding Outreach

KYN icgc Feb2ICGC has offered tours and open houses for the community since its opening in 1995. Lately the Center has expanded its outreach. Its “Know Your Neighbor” program, Ahmad explains, “goes beyond welcoming people of all or no faith and giving them a tour. We also provide time and some tips to build relationships with others. It’s very informal. People have a chance to ask questions and then meet others over a little friendly tea time with refreshments.” Know Your Neighbor sessions are held monthly. 

“We felt the need to understand, to connect so that we can try to be an environment, a country, that has an understanding of who is an American,” she says.

A recent event welcomed more than 600 adults and children and concluded with attendees linking arms in a circle around the Center. Among the crowd was Rozy Park, a member of First Unitarian Church. She found it moving to respectfully observe the prayer time, the remarks of the Imam and the questions and answers about what Muslims believe.

“I found the whole experience surprisingly emotional,” Park says, “and I was thrilled to see how many people turned out. I’m so proud of Cincinnati and especially West Chester and Butler County. The people at the Center could not have been more welcoming.”

Park’s reaction was typical, says Ahmad. She notes that a December 2015 survey of the local Cincinnati Muslim community “reaffirms that Muslim Americans have the same needs and concerns as other Americans, and want to build relationships with their neighbors. Even the most recent refugees are working to assimilate.”

Now More than Ever

The need to know our neighbors has never been more critical, Ahmad stresses: “Despite the concerns and fears we may feel, we cannot let that immobilize us in taking action to better understand who our neighbors are and building common ground. We must use whatever vehicles we can find – inviting others to your faith community to speak and get to know each other or beginning a relationship with a neighbor who is different from you.”
Tim Kraus Head Shot

by Tim Kraus

Tim Kraus, a member of First Church, has been a community activist for many years. 

Recently, much has been written about the hiring practices of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the umbrella organization that represents all Unitarian Universalist churches in the United States (see the summary article on this page). Critics charge that those practices have evolved from a culture of white supremacy within the denomination, and the UUA has acknowledged that the charges are largely true. Thus, the floodgates of change opened upon the world of Unitarian-Universalism and its adherents this spring. How the UUA and every American Unitarian Universalist respond will determine the future of our denomination.

This is not about whether people of color are, or will ever be a “good fit” as Unitarian-Universalists. This is about exposing and discarding an internal culture that even raises such a question. It is about each of our personal and spiritual lives. This is about how we conduct ourselves in every human relationship, the relationships we choose and the ones we avoid. It is even about how we think. I am learning to think in different ways and it is difficult. White supremacist culture is in the water we drink and the air we breathe. Many times in my life I benefited from the advantages of my skin color and culture, but the filtering process in these kinds of matters is so subtle and invisible that I have casually assumed that I made it through life on the merit of my ability. Clearly, I have not.

This has been hard for many UUs, including myself, to acknowledge, but airing the problem is vital. In such situations, metaphors can help. The Universalist Christian heritage that proclaims salvation and equality for all persons is a good starting point for making these changes. In that tradition, the parables of Jesus illuminate a path forward. In his Sermon on the Mount he proclaimed that the first shall be made last and the most exploited shall inherit the earth. In another parable the workers who came to the vineyards at the end of the day were paid the same as the workers who were present all day. And in another, the one lamb that was caught in the thicket was rescued at the expense of the rest of the herd because what good is that community if it willingly sacrifices the one who was separated? These metaphors speak directly about our need to create a just and inclusively loving community.

For me, our neglect of such principles is augmented by the American love affair with efficiency. We insist on ruthless efficiency in everything we do, unless of course, that efficiency disturbs the existing power relationships. That preoccupation draws straight lines between current and desired conditions, supposedly distributing damage equally on either side of that line. But we all know that only one side of that line will suffer the brunt of the damage. Decisions are made on the basis of scarcity not through a spirit of generosity and abundance. “I got mine, now you figure out how to get yours. Pay no attention to the fact that I created structures to make sure it will be difficult or impossible for you.” In these ways our social milieu is inherently racist. I see the results everywhere now.

When the interstate highways came through Cincinnati they destroyed or separated large swaths of poor and African American neighborhoods in the name of efficiency and progress. They destroyed the lives of the most powerless among us. And those people were never consulted or ever got to sit at that decision-making table. That is white supremacy in action.

I see how the non-laboring shareholders of Kroger and Wendy’s demand that every penny of the profits on tomatoes be given to them as the return on their investment while the people of color who actually do the labor of picking those tomatoes suffer with inadequate wages, dangerous working conditions, and no prospects for a better future. That is white supremacy in action.

Racism handAnd, perhaps worst of all, I see it in my church. And it’s nothing new. When tough UUA budgetary decisions had to be made in 1969, a white supremacist culture made sure that the cuts fell directly on the lives and work of the people of color inside the UUA, preserving the white structures and leadership that created the budget crisis in the first place. As a result, the Association lost a large number of its members, mostly people of color who felt betrayed by their denomination. That culture is at the root of the latest controversy over an equally qualified person of color who was bypassed by the UUA for a staff position because to hire that person would mean changing the culture of the organization. Therefore she was seen as “not a good fit.” That is white supremacy in action.

But her anguished cry of betrayal accompanied by the fury of her colleagues was heard throughout the UUA. In the way that significant social movements and institutional changes are frequently ignited by seemingly minor events, this single “personnel decision” has sparked major changes within our denomination, and new interest in the insidious nature of racism in America. At the recent annual meeting of UUA churches in New Orleans, I saw my denomination growing in awareness of its own racial bias and the reasons for it. I now have a denomination that is not telling me but showing me how to examine my own life. The first UU principle is belief “in the worth and dignity of every person.” It seems we are relearning what that means.

A Teacher's Response to Critiques of Our Educational System

Cincinnati Public School Teacher (and First Church member), Krista Taylor recently posted an open letter to state and federal officials on a local education website. In it, she offers a critique of current assessments of education in the U.S., concluding that children living in poverty in the U.S. is a more important predictor of education outcomes than is the U.S. education system. The complete text follows. You can also read more about Krista’s current school, Gamble Montessori at “Angels and Superheroes” [], a blog site about Gamble.

U.S. Secretary of Education Nominee Betsy DeVos
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117

Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria
Ohio Department of Education
25 South Front Street
Columbus, OH 43215-4183

Dear Ms. DeVos, Governor Kasich, and Superintendent DeMaria:

I write to each of you, in my position as a teacher in the Cincinnati Public Schools, to ask for your assistance. I include both federal and state politicians here, as in the past when I had the opportunity to address concerns to a member of the Federal Department of Education, I was told that these issues were under state control, but when, while working as part of a committee examining the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I addressed the same concerns to members of the State Department of Education, I was told that these issues were under federal control.

As a result, I invite all of you to engage in the conversation together in hope that rather than finger pointing, we can begin to seek solutions.

As we implement new education legislation, I ask that teachers be treated as the experts we are. That we are not just included in the conversation, but that we are leading it. The data demands it, and our children deserve it.

An Artificial Crisis

Politicians and the media have had a field day “exposing,” and attempting to address, what has been described as an educational crisis in America. I, too, believe that we are facing a crisis; however, unlike many in the school reform movement, I do not think that teachers and schools are at the root of this crisis. Rather I think it is the very reform efforts themselves – known generally as the “school accountability movement” — that has caused this concern.

I do not blame the Common Core State Standards. Many people conflate the Common Core State Standards with school accountability measures, but, to be clear, while there are some overlaps between these issues, the CCSS are not to blame in isolation for the challenges we are facing in education today. As a teacher, my personal opinion is that the jury is still out on CCSD, and will remain so until we have experienced several cohorts of students whose education has occurred entirely under CCSD. There are some who believe that this set of standards is not developmentally appropriate for students. This may be, but to be clear, the Standards themselves are merely goals to aim for. I am happy to have a high bar set for both my students and myself, as long as I am given time, support, and resources to attempt to meet that bar, and with the understanding that since students all start at different places, success lies in moving them toward the goal.

The standards are not the problem. The problem is the methodology being used to monitor them.

A Look at the Data

There is a body of information indicating that the supposed “crisis” in American Education has been misreported, and that this myth has been supported and sustained by a repeated skewing of the reported data.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a national database that has tracked student progress in reading and math since the early 1970s. It is given to students at ages 9, 13, and 17, and the tests have been carefully monitored for consistency over the course of nearly 40 years. The results of this data indicate that reading and math scores have remained fairly static from year to year, with both increasing somewhat over time. For example, the 2012 data indicated that for thirteen year olds, the average reading scores increased by 8 raw points and average math scores increased by 21 raw points, since the first data reported in 1978.[1]

This does not look like a crisis at all. The “educational crisis” hysteria has seemed to predominantly come from information comparing United States’ educational data with that from other countries.

Whenever we compare educational outcomes, we must be careful to monitor for external factors – for example, when comparing data internationally, we must take into account that the United States educates and assesses all students until the age of 18; whereas some other countries place students in various forms of tracked models and do not include all of these groups in their testing.

[Note: To see UNICEF’s table on childhood poverty rates in economically advanced countries, go to Krista’s letter at the Angels and Superheroes blog site or check the reference.]

Additionally, the United States has a very high child poverty rate. The 2012 UNICEF report listed The United States’ child poverty rate as 34th out of 35 “economically advanced” countries, with only Romania scoring lower.[2]

We know that poverty impacts academic achievement, and this must be taken into account when comparing U.S. scores internationally. For example, when the oft-cited data from the Program for International Assessment (PISA) is disaggregated based on economic status, we can see a trend that clearly indicates that the problem is poverty, rather than instruction.

[Note: to see PISA rankings disaggregated by poverty levels, go to the Angels and Superheroes blog site.]

United States’ schools with fewer than 10% of students living in poverty score higher than any country in the world. Schools with student poverty rates that are less than 24.9% rank 3rd in the world, and schools with poverty rates ranging from 25% to 49.9% rank 10th in the world. However, schools with 50% to 74.9% poverty rates rank much lower – fifth from the bottom. Tragically, schools with 75% or higher poverty rates rank lower in reading scores than any country except Mexico.[3]

Couple this with the 2013 data that indicates that a majority (51%) of public school students live in poverty in this country, and we see the true depth of the actual crisis of poverty, and its impact on education.[4]

A Crisis of Poverty

Schools with the lowest rates of student achievement are typically those with the highest number of disadvantaged students and the fewest available resources. The problem runs deeper than just funding, however. Children living in poverty often have a specialized set of social-emotional and academic needs. Schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students cannot be treated in the same manner as more affluent schools.

Education is neither a business nor is it a factory. We do not start with identical raw materials, and act upon them in a systematic way to produce an identical product. In the same vein, we cannot judge instructional efficacy in a single manner, with a single measure, and expect to get a consistent result. Teaching is a service industry, and we work with human capital. There are myriad factors at play that influence what appropriate expectations are for any given student, but poverty is likely the most impactful of these factors.

Children living in poverty are more likely to be coping with what has been labeled “toxic stress”– caused by a high number of identified adverse childhood events. Factors such as death or incarceration of a parent, addiction, mental illness, and abuse, among other things, have been labeled as adverse childhood events. Poverty, itself, is considered to be a type of sustained adverse childhood experience, and it also is a correlate factor, since living in poverty increases the likelihood of experiencing other adverse childhood events.[5]

We know that these types of severe and chronic stress lead to long-term changes in children’s mental and physical development, and that this directly impacts their performance in school. “On an emotional level, toxic stress can make it difficult for children to moderate their responses to disappointments and provocations. A highly sensitive stress-response system constantly on the lookout for threats can produce patterns of behavior that are self-defeating in school: fighting, talking back, acting up, and, more subtly, going through each day perpetually wary of connection with peers or teachers. On a cognitive level, chronically elevated stress can disrupt the development of what are known as executive functions ..., which include working memory, attentional control, and cognitive flexibility.”[6]

We know that children living in poverty face greater academic challenges than their middle and upper class counterparts, and yet, instead of helping this situation, the school accountability movement has chosen to vilify the wrong thing (teachers and schools), and has used standardized test scores as the weapon of choice to add insult to injury.

A Moving Target

In Ohio, there have been so many moving pieces at play that it is impossible to get a statistically valid measure. Over the course of the past three years, schools, teachers, and students have had their performance assessed using a different measurement tool each year. The 2013-2014 school year was the final year for assessment using the old Ohio State Standards and the Ohio Achievement Assessments. In the 2014-2015 school year, we switched to a combination of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and American Institute of Research (AIR) assessments based on the Common Core State Standards. Due to the legislation passed which illegalized PARCC administration in the state of Ohio, in the 2015-2016 school year, we administered AIR tests for the full battery of testing. During those same years, Ohio increased the number of grades and subjects areas tested.

In addition to these changes, the identified percentage of correct responses for proficiency on each test has changed each year, and the percentage of students scoring proficient in order to schools to be considered successful in achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) has also increased each year.

So, the standards have changed, the tests have changed, the acceptable percent of correct responses has changed, the required percentage of students achieving proficiency has changed.

Tell me again why we think this is an accurate and reliable system for measuring student achievement?

It is, therefore, not surprising that scores have remained anything but static. For the 2012-2013 school year, Cincinnati Public Schools was rated as being in “Continuous Improvement,” while the school where I teach was deemed “Excellent.” For the 2015-2016 school year, the Cincinnati Public Schools received four ratings of “F” and 2 ratings of “D,” while the school where I teach received 3 “F” ratings and 2 D ratings. (As a high school program, we are not rated in the area of K-3 Literacy.)

There are only two ways to interpret this. Either, over the course of three years, the quality of instruction has declined precipitously (across a district of nearly 3,000 teachers), or the data is invalid. The former assumption is nonsensical; the latter is terrifying based on the weight this data carries when making educational decisions.

Teacher performance evaluations are linked to test scores, School and district report cards are based almost exclusively on test scores, and, student graduation is based on test scores. But if the tools keep changing and the target keeps moving, how is it even remotely possible to measure improvement?

This concern is compounded by the subjectivity of the scores determined for proficiency – the cut scores are neither norm-referenced nor consistent from year to year. For the 2015-2016 testing, in reading and math, across all grade levels, the percentage of students projected to score proficient or above ranged from 52-66%. This means that even on tests where students were “most likely to pass,” it was anticipated that only 66% of students would do so, and for other tests this was as low as 52%. For many tests, the reality was significantly worse. Only 21% of students taking Integrated Mathematics (Math 2) across the state were deemed proficient or above, and only 24% of students taking the Geometry test scored proficient or above. This is an awfully broad-scale problem to make the assumption that the issue of concern lies with students and teachers, rather than with the testing itself and with the structure of the system of accountability.[7]

[Note: To see a table about these data, go to Krista’s letter at the Angels and Superheroes blog site or check the reference.]

And once again, we see that poverty plays a role in these outcomes. For the 2015-2016 school year, 94% of urban schools in Ohio received ratings of D or F. Because of school accountability, and the high-stakes nature of the tests, scores like these cause the testing pressure to ratchet up. Low scores necessarily result in greater time and resources being spent solely to improve these scores. Some call this “test preparation;” others call it “teaching to the test.” Testing and school accountability result in too much time spent on testing, and on teaching curriculum that loses much of the flexible, creative, engaging, and in-depth instruction that keeps students engaged in learning and educators engaged in teaching. As one former urban school principal, concerned about the state report card, said during a faculty meeting when a teacher dared question how testing was detracting from her carefully crafted curriculum, “The test IS the curriculum! What are you, STUPID?!?!”

An Unavoidable Outcome

In 2013, the American Federation of Teachers reported that in heavily tested grades, up to fifty hours a year was spent on testing and up to 110 hours a year devoted to test preparation. Schools with high percentages of disadvantaged students bear the greatest weight for this, as they tend to have the greatest required gains in testing outcomes. The Center for American Progress notes that students in urban high schools spend up to 266% more time taking standardized tests than students in suburban schools.[8]

And this is the fundamental problem with school accountability measures. They have caused the American public school system to become overly focused on a single measurement of success, and that measure is most punitive to populations that are already struggling.

Standardized test data is one measure of academic achievement, and as such it is valuable, but it is nothing more than a single data point. However, this data point has become so important that it is driving every other aspect of the educational train.

I want that data point – I want it for each of my students individually, and I want it for my class collectively – because it tells me something. But it doesn’t tell me everything, and we are treating it as if it does. How can the snapshot of a test score – given on a certain day, in a certain amount of time, with a specific type of questioning – tell me more than what I know as a result of working with my students hour after hour, day after day, for 40 weeks? It can’t, of course.

A Teacher’s Plea

Teachers are professionals, and we should be treated as such.

We are required to hold, at minimum, a Bachelor’s degree in teaching one or more subject areas; we also must complete significant amounts of additional training every year, and, at least in Ohio, to submit this to the state for re-licensure every five years. Most importantly, teachers are highly practiced in assessment and interpretation of results through our daily work with students and our careful observation of, and reflection on, student learning.

Education is complicated. Student growth is broad and deep, and sometimes happens in fits and starts and other times grows slowly and consistently. This complex process could never be adequately measured by a series of tests.

I know my students. I know when I am moving too quickly or too slowly, and I know when they are succeeding and when they are struggling. To assume that the state can determine this, and can make judgments on the effectiveness of my instruction based solely on a single measure is folly – especially when we know that students in poverty, the teachers who educate them, and the schools that serve them, will be judged most harshly by these measures. In fact, standardized test scores may tell us very little about a teachers’ impact or a students’ future success.

As Paul Tough writes, “A few years ago, a young economist at Northwestern University named C. Kirabo Jackson began investigating how to measure educators’ effectiveness. In many school systems these days, teachers are assessed based primarily on one data point: the standardized-test scores of their students. Jackson suspected that the true impact teachers had on their students was more complicated than a single test score could reveal... He created a proxy measure for students’ noncognitive ability. Jackson’s new index measured how engaged students were in school – Whether they showed up, whether they misbehaved, and how hard they worked in their classes. Jackson found that this was, remarkably, a better predictor than student’s test scores of whether the students would go on to attend college, a better predictor of adult wages, and a better predictor of future arrests.”[9]

School Accountability measures with their fundamental focus on testing reduces teachers’ ability to focus on nurturing students’ “noncognitive ability,” and this is damaging to students and teachers alike — perhaps irrevocably damaging.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is moving us in the right direction by removing the requirement that teacher evaluations be linked to standardized test outcomes, but it doesn’t go far enough, and it leaves the window open for states to continue this practice.

As a nation, we must move away from our obsession with testing outcomes. The only group that is profiting from this is the testing industry. And with 1.7 billion dollars being spent by states annually on testing, they are, quite literally, profiting, and at the tax payers’ expense.[10]

The most critical solution to this is to untie student, teacher, and school accountability measures from testing outcomes, or to combine these scores with a variety of other measures of success. In addition, we need to dramatically reduce the time spent on testing by requiring tests in fewer grades, or not administering tests every year. No high-performing nation in the world tests all students annually.[11]

An Expert Opinion

We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis.

Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it.

We must not go further down this rabbit hole. The future of our educational system, and the future of our children, is at stake. No one who has not worked in the sector of public education should be making decisions about our school system without careful consideration of the insights of those who will be directly impacted by those decisions.

As we move forward with a new federal administration, and as the state of Ohio makes decisions relative to implementation of ESSA, I beg you to not just include teachers and parents in the discussion, but to ensure that we are the loudest voices in the conversation.

I hope that you will consider the issues raised here, and most importantly, that you will listen to the voices of the teachers and parents who are trying so desperately to be heard.

Thank you for your time. I am happy to engage in the conversation further; feel free to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Kristina L. Taylor
Intervention Specialist; Team Leader
James N. Gamble Montessori High School
2015 Educator of the Year

[1] “LTT – Select Criteria.” LTT – Select Criteria. National Center for Education Statistics, n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

[2] Adamson, Peter. Measuring Child Poverty: New League Tables of Child Poverty in the World’s Rich Countries. Florence, Italy: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2012. Web.

[3] “Access Quality Education: Policy News.” Access Quality Education: Policy News. National Access Network, n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

[4] Tough, Paul. “How Kids Learn Resilience.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, June 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

[5] “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study: Leading Determinants of Health.” PsycEXTRA Dataset (2014): 1-5. American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. 20 Dec. 2016.

[6] Tough, Paul. “How Kids Learn Resilience.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, June 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016. p. 3.

[7] Dealer, Patrick O’Donnell The Plain. “Scores on Ohio’s High School Math Tests Much Lower than Expected, Sparking Debate over Graduation Requirements.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 03 June 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

[8] Mulholland, Quinn. “The Case Against Standardized Testing.” Harvard Political Review. Harvard Political Review, 05 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

[9] Tough, Paul. “How Kids Learn Resilience.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, June 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016. p. 9.

[10] Mulholland, Quinn. “The Case Against Standardized Testing.” Harvard Political Review. Harvard Political Review, 05 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

[11] @dianeravitch. “No High-Performing Nation in the World Tests Every Student Every Year.” Diane Ravitch’s Blog. N.p., 22 Nov. 2016. Web. 22 Dec. 2016.

A window on Unitarian Universalists nationwide and how they put their faith into action.

In these turbulent times, UU World, the magazine and feature website of the Unitarian Universalist Association, brings fresh thinking and support to progressive people everywhere. Here’s a few of the topics in the most recent issue:

Sinkford Quote Graphic

What Sustains Your Breath?

Most UUs spend at least some of their time as caregivers of one sort or another. In her piece on self-care, Trudi Frazel offers some practical advice for selfcare.

Unitarian Universalists Call for the Abolition of ICE and end of Family Separation at Border

At this year's General Assembly, the national meeting of UU churches in the U.S., delegates endorsed three “Actions of Immediate Witness,” all of which urge support for people of color and indigenous people. One addresses predatory medical fees for incarcerated people. A second addresses the placement of natural gas lines near Native American lands. The third calls for the abolition of ICE. Learn more about each resolution from this article by Christopher L. Walton, the Editor of UU World.

Media Roundup

This weekly blog on the UU World website provides examples of how Unitarian Universalists are being covered by mainstream media. 

This is just a sample of what’s available to read at the UU World website. Watch this space for regular updates.

Writer Saad Ghosn publishes profiles of religious individuals who are involved in peacemaking and social justice work in the Cincinnati area. His latest profile (also appearing in a recent issue of StreetVibes) is about First Church member Dan Schneider and is included along with profiles of other local religious peacemakers on Ghosn’s blog: sos art cincinnati at

Daniel Schneider - Photo Credit: Saad GhosnWhen Daniel Schneider was 8 years old, he learned that about a mile south of where he lived, in Shelby County, OH, was a church previously attended by black people from the Rumley community, a community established around 1840 as a haven for freed slaves. He also learned that his own family had had a strong relationship with it.

“I am told that my grandfather, when he was born, got his 1st bath from a black woman,” he says. “And that when his mother, in 1909, was near her death due to cancer, she was upset at the idea of being buried in a white people’s cemetery, instead of with her black friends.”

This was Schneider’s first exposure to a personal story of inclusive diversity relating to black history. The black community, when he was growing up, had moved away, and the church and the school that he attended were then predominantly white.

Schneider belonged to a religious family and went every Sunday with his parents, to the First United Church of Christ, a conservative Evangelical church located near the farm where they lived. After retiring, his father had actually become a lay minister.

In high school, in the 1960s, he was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and by the Civil Rights movement that he, and his father, supported strongly. But living in the countryside, away from a city, prevented him from participating actively in it.

For college, he attended Wittenberg University, a liberal arts college in Springfield, OH, and he studied history. After graduating, he was drafted for a year in Vietnam, where he was given clerical, instead of combat, responsibilities and also served as the chaplain’s assistant. He, nevertheless, strongly opposed the war that he found wrong.

Upon his return from Vietnam, Schneider joined Drake University in Iowa where he received a Master’s degree in Education, then Ohio State University in Columbus for his PhD in History. While in Columbus he attended the university Lutheran chapel, met his wife, also a Lutheran, and got married. Few months later, in 1977, they both moved to Cincinnati where his wife had secured a teaching job in the Cincinnati Public School system and he, himself, a job in business.

From 1983 and until his retirement 3 years ago, Schneider worked vocationally in a field of educational opportunity, helping young persons, primarily low income students, get into better positions in life. For the 1st 15 years, he worked with Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates, initially as a staff of the organization, and later as its director, preparing high school seniors to get jobs, providing them with skills training, teaching them how to interview, and how to become successful. This exposed him to individuals from different backgrounds, low income, African American and working class students, and led to his interest in and appreciation of diversity.

In 1999 he transitioned to UC Clermont College to direct two federally funded programs, Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound, both aimed at helping prepare low income, mostly 1st generation students, go to college. There would be presentations made to schools and also direct work with kids as young as 6 grades until 12, providing them with tutoring, monthly workshops on what to expect from college, college visits, helping them with their ACT tests and with their college and financial applications. Through the Upward Bound program, weekend workshops, field trips and summer sessions would also be offered to high school students, all with the intent of preparing them for college.

Being federally funded, these programs exposed Schneider to politics, to congressmen and senators with whom he needed to maintain good relations, and once a year took him to Washington, DC, for lobbying.

“This got me to become outspoken, to learn how to better talk to people about what’s important, also to function more into an activist mode,” he says.

In 2003 he joined the MLK Coalition Choral directed by Catherine Roma and sang in its choir for 11 years. The choral would participate every year in the MLK day celebration, and at the occasion, would also perform at the Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, OH, where a group of inmates, also under the direction of Roma, had formed a choir called the UMOJA Men’s Chorus.

“The inmates would sing for us and we would sing for them,” states Schneider. “I met and mingled with people different from me and from the ones I grew up with and I got to respect them as individuals. They made me look at things from a different perspective."

In 2006 and during one of these celebrations, Sharon Dittmar, a young Unitarian Universalist (UU) woman minister, spoke. Schneider and his wife were very impressed with her message and teaching. They investigated her faith, resonated with its tenets and a year later decided to join her church, the First Unitarian Church, in Avondale.

"We felt that everyone there was accepted and respected and that there was a strong commitment for social justice,” says Schneider. “My wife and I had been looking for more freedom to explore our own ideas, and our views of God were different from what the Lutheran church was offering us. We found the Unitarian Universalists a very good fit for us."

Through his new church, Schneider joined its UUJO (Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio) statewide organization, became very active in it and was elected co-chair of its board. He also became co-chair of the church’s social justice committee, helping coordinate many social justice-oriented activities in the community.

He is, for instance, heavily involved in the Interfaith Hospitality Network, inviting, several times a year, homeless families to come and stay at the church and be fed; as well as in the operation of the Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Community Services Food Pantry in Avondale. He also tutors kids at the South Avondale elementary school.

Participating with the Amos project, Schneider and his church supported, in 2016, the Preschool Promise initiative, canvassing door to door in favor of Issue 44, the school levy that insured opportunities for young kids to attend preschool.

Through UUJO he participated, in October 2015, along other social justice groups, in a Walk to Stop Executions in Ohio. They started at the death house in Lucasville, walked through Chillicothe and ended, seven days later, in Columbus. Accompanying them was a man previously on death row but since then exonerated. In addition Schneider wrote a letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer and sent several others to Ohio politicians and legislators urging them to abolish the death penalty. In 2016 he participated in a Rally for Racial Justice at the Ohio Statehouse. UUJO is currently trying to partner with other organizations in support of the Poor People’s Campaign, originally organized by MLK and later carried out under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy. The campaign which demanded economic and human rights for poor Americans of diverse backgrounds has been recently resurrected and re-imagined by William Barber, the former North Carolina NAACP leader who rose to prominence behind the Moral Mondays movement. The goal of the new Campaign is to consecrate a new movement to transform the political, economic, and moral structures of society. It plans to organize mobilizations in the spring of 2018, and to orchestrate 40 days of concentrated episodes of civil disobedience in at least 25 states, waging war on child poverty, racism and economic injustice.

Schneider also serves on the board of the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center where he helps raise money. Few years ago he attended training on the fair food campaign, and since then has worked and advocated with public entities, such as universities, the purchase of food which has public value and is environmentally healthy. He also worked on getting Cincinnati City Council to approve the Wage Theft Ordinance which penalizes any company that does business with the city and gets tax abatement if found not paying its workers a fair wage.

Every Tuesday and Thursday night, and from September until May, Schneider and his wife now teach English as a 2nd language to immigrants, mostly undocumented Latinos, at the Robert Academy in Price Hill.

“Teaching English to immigrants is a priority for me,” he says. “I like being useful and helping others, but also I find language skills to be essential for the integration of foreigners into our society.”

With his wife he also went to the Women’s March in Washington, DC, in January 2017 and in Cincinnati this past January.

Through the social justice committee that he chairs, Schneider also keeps his church involved in social and political issues. He got for instance the congregation to vote on a Black Lives Matter banner now displayed on the church building. Also on having a yearly reconciliation service and a monetary fund to honor the memory of William Carter, a black Unitarian Universalist minister who had started in 1920/30s the Unitarian Brotherhood church in the West End of Cincinnati but who was ignored and snobbed by ministers of the other UU established churches. Descendants of Carter are invited at the ceremony during which a public apology is expressed.

“I am interested not only in social services but also in advocacy for social justice,” says Schneider. “I serve currently on 4 different boards and try through them to effect public policy in order to better the world.”

In all his doings, Schneider is motivated by his faith and by his deep desire for social justice. He abides by what represent for him the two most important messages of Unitarian Universalism – spiritual freedom and universal uniting love. 

Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a liberal religion characterized by a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning". It emphasizes that religion is a universal human quality and focuses on the universal principles of most religions. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) assert no creed, instead are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. As such, their congregations are inclusive, counting many atheists, agnostics, and theists within their membership. The roots of UU lie in liberal Christianity, specifically Unitarianism - an open-minded and welcoming approach to faith which has its roots in Jewish and Christian traditions but remains open to insights from all faiths, science, the arts, the natural world and everyday living - and Universalism - which theology is defined by universal salvation, the belief that the God of love would not create a person to be destined for eternal damnation, and therefore the rejection of the idea of hell.
UUs state that from these traditions comes a deep regard for intellectual freedom and inclusive love. Congregations and members seek inspiration and derive insight from all major world religions.
The beliefs of individual UUs range widely, including atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, deism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, neopaganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism,Humanism, and many more.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was formed in 1961 through the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association, established in 1825, and the Universalist Church of America, established in 1793. The UUA is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves churches mostly in the United States.