$10.10 Wins

When word that Birmingham, Alabama city council had decided to establish a minimum wage of $10.10, people in Tuscaloosa began to wonder can we also establish a minimum wage of $10.10?  The answer is yes.

In a state where the poverty rate is 18.7% and nearly 2.5 times that for single parents with children at 45%, this becomes an easy fix.  35.6% of jobs in the state are low wage jobs. Montgomery, we have a crisis.  It is no wonder that the State is crying broke. Raising the minimum wage would increase the revenues in the state to provide services.

Alabama currently has no set minimum wage and so it is only those positions that are covered by the Federal minimum wage act that are required to pay the current federal wage of $7.25.  But let’s look at that figure for a moment.  In 1968, the federal minimum wage was $1.60.  If this was kept in line with inflation it would today be $10.90.  $7.25 is less than 50% where it should be.

The poverty level for a single parent with two children is $19,700.  If the parent works full time at $8.50 an hour, they only make $17,500 per year.  This means the parent needs to receive assistance from food stamps and other public assistance. No person working full time should live in poverty.

If that parent earns $10.10 an hour they make $21,000 a year and become eligible for health care insurance for $50 a month through the Federal Marketplace.  Every dollar per hour increase equates to $150 per month after taxes to an employee.  An $8 an hour employee will earn $300 more per month at $10.10.  $300 more per month can save a family from relying on pay day loans that charge extortionist interest rates.

Every one of the 29 states and 15 cities where the minimum wage has been raised have been scrutinized and studied and reveals that over 90% of those studies reveal no job loss and no increase in unemployment. In fact a 2014 study by Integrity Florida showed 25 states and 5 cities  had higher job growth than states and cities that did not raise their minimum wage. Raising local wages benefits the local economy as lower wage workers tend to spend their money locally where as corporations take profits out of the local economy to invest all over the world.

But what about Tuscaloosa?  Based on a report by National Employment Law Project (NELP) 73% of nationwide enrollments for public assistance are from working families. 89% of small businesses already pay more than the minimum wage.  60% of businesses support an increase to $12.00.  In Tuscaloosa, 17,570 people are earning less than $10.10 per hour.  The average median wage in the top 25 occupations with the largest number of employees is $8.92 per hour.

Tuscaloosa, just like Birmingham, already has the legal authority to establish a local minimum wage. Alabama has no minimum wage law and has no law prohibiting municipalities from the establishment of said laws, therefore Tuscaloosa has the legal authority under its broad police powers to establish reasonable regulations providing for the general welfare of its citizens. The experiences of other states suggest that such a regulation would survive a legal challenge.

Birmingham’s ordinance makes sense for Tuscaloosa.  It is being phased in over two years, July 2016 the minimum wage raises to $8.50 per hour, which similar to Tuscaloosa, most of Birmingham small businesses already pay wages of about that amount. In January 2017, the minimum wage would raise to $10.10 per hour.  Then every January 1, thereafter, the minimum wage would increase if there is an increase in cost of living.  It is a winning proposition!

It raises people out of poverty.  Removes people from the state welfare assistance rolls because they are able to meet their basic needs. It enables people to qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. It expands local economies with the additional income being spent locally.

To pass a $10.10 minimum wage ordinance in Tuscaloosa requires a strong coalition.  On Tuesday, September 1, Move to Amend-Tuscaloosa and Work Together Alabama hosted a meeting for interested parties at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Tuscaloosa.  There will be another meeting on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 at 6 PM to 7:30 PM at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation to further this initiative.  The congregation is located at 6400 New Watermelon Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35406.   Please join us!

(Facts in this post are from a fact sheet provided by Engage Alabama, 5184 Caldwell Mill Rd, Suite 204-191, Birmingham, AL 35244)

Hang on Toto, we are going to Oz!

Hang on Toto, We are going to Oz!”

by Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

1 May 2011 ©

I began Wednesday with waking up at 4:40 AM thinking that a police car was outside my apartment complex with its flashing strobe lights on. It turned out to be lightening that was happening so frequently that it produced this effect. At first I heard no thunder and then the thunder and the flashes of lightening began to fall into synch with each other. Until finally the storm was over head and the thunder was loud and booming. I never heard the tornado sirens go off as the thunder was that loud. And thus began the day that was to change the face of Tuscaloosa forever.

When I knew that we were going to be impacted by the largest tornado in recorded history, I wrote as my Face book status: “Hang on Toto, we are going to Oz!”

We know the story of the Wizard of Oz. A young teen by the name of Dorothy is feeling out of sorts and decides to run away with her faithful dog companion Toto. She runs into a shyster who takes pity on her and sees in his crystal ball Dorothy’s aunt who is very concerned for her. This revelation sends Dorothy back home but a tornado is coming and Dorothy is unable to get into a safe place so she goes to her bedroom. The tornado strikes and she is knocked unconscious. She dreams the tornado lifts the house up and lands her on top of a wicked witch in the distant and strange Land of Oz.

She longs for home in this strange place and begins her journey to the one place and the one person she has been told could possibly help her, the Wizard of Oz. Her only guide is to follow the yellow brick road. A road that she discovers has multiple paths to the Emerald City. A scarecrow tells her it really doesn’t matter which path she takes. His one desire is to have a brain that will offer him wisdom. She convinces him to join her; perhaps this wizard could give him a brain because if the wizard can get her home, then he must be some kind of wizard. They travel through some peculiar orchards and stumble upon an axe man who is made of tin but has no heart inside his hollow chest. Perhaps, just perhaps the wizard could give him a heart of compassion. Their final sojourner to join her is a lion, the king of the forest, who alas has no courage.

The four of them continue on their journey to find the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City. A city that is green with horses of a different color; where all is peaceful, safe, and utopian-like. In some ways this is the beloved community; where justice flows down like waters and peace like an ever flowing stream.

But their journey there is not easy. It is not without conflict or unexpected detours, or pain and suffering. There are setbacks and barriers to overcome.

And by Wednesday afternoon our own journey was thrust into an unexpected detour of pain and suffering. The tornado- a mile wide slammed into Tuscaloosa and changed our lives forever. Based on the initial reports, the tornado was going to come through central Tuscaloosa and then over into Northport. And so as I saw the live weather cam and saw this monstrosity whirl its way towards us, I put on my bike helmet which I haven’t used in over 6 years, and threw the futon mattress into the center hallway of my apartment. I crawled under it and waited. After about 20 minutes I determined the storm must have passed and I walked outside into sunshine. Sunshine.

Nary a leaf was disturbed. The birds were singing their song of praise as if there was no care in the world. I had no internet, no cable and so I turned to my neighbors to hear what news they heard. I began to get a sense of the path of destruction and I became alarmed. I began calling our people who were possibly in the path of this beast. And I was getting no answer, not even cell phones were getting through.

Eunice Benton, our District Executive had called within about 30 minutes of the storm. The first inkling of destruction was beginning to hit the airwaves. Were we okay? I did not know. I was beginning the assessment of who I could get a hold of. People began to check in but those that I feared for the most there was to be no word.

I had been able to speak with Ana, she was safe but unable to get to her neighborhood to find out if her house was still there. I called Janis who live across the street, was she okay? Yes. Could she tell me if Ana’s house was safe? Yes, it looked fine from the street. When Jake, Ana’s son, who lost his trailer to the tornado, was able to walk into the neighborhood he discovered that though the front of the house looked fine the back of the house was gone. The dogs were there but traumatized.

I received a call from Rev. Jake Morrill who is a UUA Board Trustee, a minister of our sister congregation in Oakridge TN and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Ministry. These are clergy who are especially trained to help assess, plan out responses, and support clergy and congregations who have faced traumatic events. I break into tears for the hundredth time. This time because the greater world of our denomination has taken notice of our pain and the yet unrealized pain to be and wants to be with us. The message is we do not have to go this alone. Some of you may have met him when he was here Friday and Saturday to help us plan on how we can move through this event to the other side.

Thursday morning, I hear from Alice. She is with her son at Edelweiss German bakery. I meet them there. Her son shows me pictures of the community where his dad lives. It is Forest Lake. I was in Forest Lake a few months earlier for a private memorial service and marveled at its pristine appearance with perfectly landscaped yards, beautiful gardens and flowering trees filled with a variety of song birds singing their symphony. The pictures were of some other place. There were piles of giant match sticks with the lake brown with debris. Our house had landed and if this was Oz, it did not match the travel brochures.

Alice’s ex was in that rubble. One photo revealed only two things of his house still present. The stair case and a TV armoire with knick knacks undisturbed on top were all that were left. It is curious as to what remains. Students from the University of Alabama came through and found him under the narrow staircase and took him to the hospital where he was stabilized. Without their courage to go forth to help survivors, he might not have lived.

The students’ courage gave me courage for what I must do next. I still had not heard from people in the path of the tornado. I was going to walk into the neighborhood to find out, fearing the worst and hoping that they were alright at the same time is a strange tug of war of emotions. I was going to accompany Alice back to her house. We drove down one road. Blocked. We drove down another road. Blocked. We drove down yet another road and this time, Alice gets out of the car and speaks to the police officer. We are given permission to park the car to walk in. The next thing we discover the police are giving us a ride into the Kicker Road neighborhood.

There is nothing left as far as the eye can see. No trees, no houses, nothing. I have nothing comparable to compare this to. Not even the horrors of the Tsunami’s in Japan match what I am seeing. At this point Alice asks, “Where are we?” This is Kicker road, a road she has traveled on for decades. It is unrecognizable.

By this time we had received word that our people in that neighborhood at least were safe. Their houses were uninhabitable but they were safe. But what we were seeing was beyond imagining.

There was still one more couple that I had no clue about. I had lost all internet connections which meant no Facebook access. I could not even post via my cell phone. Who could have predicted five years ago that any of us would be so dependent on this new social media vehicle? I felt cut off from the world. Rob and Celeste were near the Forest Lake community, very close in fact. There was no word. I attempted a few times to get into their community and was blocked by the police. The rescue teams were still searching for possible survivors.

Some of our members were doing volunteering with other organized efforts. Ed called me and told me he was going to be walking through the Forest Lake community so I asked if he would be able to check on Rob and Celeste. He did and called to report that they were fine and house was unscathed. So this means that all of our members are safe. Some worse for the wear but safe.

It was then it hit me that we are on our journey to Oz. Many of us just want a place that we can call home. We want a place that will give us shelter. We want a place that can be our sanctuary, our refuge in times of need. We want our church to be one type of home for us and we want our living space to be another. This tornado has taken both kinds of homes in Tuscaloosa. Fortunately our church home was out of harms way but at least six of our personal homes were threatened to be unlivable.

Some of us want to make sense of all of this. I heard one of our members describing the experience of the tornado moving over head as wrestling with the almighty. This event stirs up so many old tapes in our minds. I had a fleeting thought that maybe the Baptist minister was right about god’s wrathful vengeance descending after Tuscaloosa passed the sale of alcohol on Sundays. I know that is irrational, if there is an anthropomorphic god, he or she does not cast down arbitrary vengeance. But the old tape was there. Why these people and not those people in the next house or next block? Why this tree and not the one next to it?

We are a meaning making people. It is in our evolutionary genetics. We want life to have a purpose. We want life to be filled with meaning, with destiny. These events are hard to comprehend because there is no meaning in them. So some of us want to have a brain that can comprehend, make meaning, make sense, and most importantly fill us with wisdom that will guide not just us but others around us.

I was in amazement of the number of people who were helping each other. While I was at David and Sheila’s on Thursday, viewing all the trees that had crashed on and around the house; David had stated that he needs to have some people to come and clear the driveway so that their vehicles could get out. There was a huge tree and I mean with a huge circumference that had fallen across the entrance of the drive. And I don’t think it was anymore than a few minutes and some one with a chain saw began doing just that very thing. It was if his wish was at this other person’s command. The generosity of people helping out each other was astounding.

People came by with water and sandwiches for those working. Others appeared to begin moving debris out of the yard to the edge of the road for eventual pick-up. The heart of Tuscaloosa was beating strong and it rhythmically spelled out compassion. Our own members were part of this compassion sharing. I fielded many calls from our members looking for ways to help. And the offers were as varied as there are stars in the heavens above. I know many offers were not taken up just yet, but that does not mean there won’t be future opportunities. Trust me there will be future opportunities. We were pulling together to help one another and I was amazed at how quickly that came together. And I was amazed at how much was done in the short span of time.

We are under the gun with the threat of heavy rain and so tarps had to be put up. And we responded with urgency and with largeness of heart.

And along with largeness of heart is another kind of heart, one that has courage. The word comes from the Latin cor which means heart and the old French word which refers to the inner heart, a metaphor for inner strength. Some synonyms include bravery, fortitude, endurance, mettle, spunk, spirit, tenacity. Some of us are searching for courage like the lion in the Wizard of Oz for in the days and weeks ahead it will be courage that gets us through.

It was only together that Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the cowardly lion were able to reach their goal of defeating the wicked witch of the West and in the process developing the character that is needed to achieve their ultimate goals. Together we too can make our way towards the Emerald City.

We will need to lean on each other for heart, for courage, for wisdom and we will need to be the ones who create a sense of home once again. In the days and weeks and months ahead as we rebuild not only Tuscaloosa but the lives of those so devastatingly impacted by this tornado, we will be required to come together in new ways. We will be stretched to find new wisdom that has been there all along but never recognized. We will be called upon to love one another with compassion in ways that may seem foreign to us but if we want to rebuild, this compassion is not an option but a necessity for our spirits to be renewed. In the days ahead we will be required to act with courage, with fortitude, with tenacity because there will be days that seem that nothing is moving fast enough for us. Every disaster that has happened in this country on this magnitude or greater has been fraught with a bureaucracy that apparently has wheels stuck in molasses. And to get through this it will take courage the likes of which we may not have seen before.

But we will survive this. We will take this experience and grow from it. We will learn to love one another in visible ways that we have never imagined possible. This will happen because we have already decided to do so in the actions that we have done in these past few days.

Later today, Rev. Bret Lortie from the San Antonio Church and another member of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Ministry will be here. He will be helping us take the next steps of healing. Mary, our board president and I will meet with him this afternoon to map out his time with us. He will be here the next few days and will leave on Wednesday. His role is to walk along side us as we begin to process all that has happened. He again represents that we are not alone in this journey. Depending on our needs there may be another minister who comes for a few days after Bret.

But understand that our yellow brick road will continue for quite some time. We need to follow it together and Bret and others will be available to us help us access the heart, the courage, and the wisdom that is already within us to lead us home to Oz. Blessed Be.

Having a Clear Mission Statement

This past Sunday, I delivered the annual stewardship sermon to kick off our pledge campaign.  The sermon was entitled:  Creating the Future that We Want.   I have in the past posted sermons here but I decided to do something different.  I am going to expand on some of the points that I made in the sermon into a series of posts discussing what we need to do in order to create our future as Unitarian Universalist congregations.   I begin with having a clear mission statement.

The mission statement of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa is succinct and clear.  We are an open and nurturing community of Unitarian Universalists made visible by our actions for a better world.   I mention our mission statement every opportunity that I get, not because I think people have forgotten it but because I believe that we must always have our mission before us.  All of our actions need to be consistent with our mission and embody it.  Every person needs to be able to either recognize the mission statement from the activities or be able to quote it.   Every person, from the most veteran member to the person who walks through our doors for the first time, should be able to tell another person what the mission statement is. 

“Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of the Little Prince, is quoted as saying “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”  It is the same with a community that seeks to make a difference in the world; we must be looking outward together in the same direction.  This does not mean that we all see the same things in the horizon nor does it mean that we understand everything at the same time or in the same manner. It certainly does not mean that we will always agree with one another.  It does means that our intention for what is best for the community is headed in the same direction.   One way of ensuring our intention is to remind ourselves daily of what we have stated our mission to be here in this time and place.  The intention of this congregation could change, but for now, in this time and place, our mission is to be an open and nurturing community.  Everything that we do from greeting people at the door to our sermon topics, from the artwork we display on our walls to the religious education we teach our children, from the leaders we elect to the landscaping outside need to be reflecting this mission statement.  Together, we gaze our eyes in the same outward direction.” [From the sermon Creating the Future We Want by Rev. Fred L Hammond, given February 21, 2010 (c)]

So many congregations have mission statements that are too long, too convoluted, too verbose for any one to really take the congregation seriously.  They read like they were trying not to offend anyone and in the end become unable to offer direction to the congregation.  Mission statements are not about stroking anyone’s egos or intellect.  They are about purpose.  The best mission statements are succinct and many of these are under twenty-five words.  The best mission statements are easily memorable.   

The guide then to any action that is proposed by the congregation is the question: How does this fit the mission statement?  How does this action that we are proposing advance our mission statement or purpose?   Here are some mission statements from corporations.  Some are good,  some are very revealing.

Citigroups mission statement reads: “Our goal for Citigroup is to be the most respected global financial services company. Like any other public company, we’re obligated to deliver profits and growth to our shareholders. Of equal importance is to deliver those profits and generate growth responsibly. “  I think this a very telling mission statement.  It states clearly that the shareholders and not the investors come first.  It explains why Citigroup could agree to bad decisions that resulted in their investors defaulting and eventually their bankruptcy.  Profit for their shareholders was their primary aim and ultimately their downfall.  Yes, I am revealing a personal bias here.

Compare this with HEW Federal Credit Union’s mission statement:   “Exceed our members’ expectations in our commitment to their financial success.”  Enough said. 

Darden Restaurants,  which include Olive Garden and Red Lobster, is “to nourish and delight everyone we serve.”  This is a mission statement that every employee can participate in.

These mission statements point to who is the primary focus of the mission statement.  To whom does the congregation belong?  Is it the board of directors?  Is it the matriarchs or patriarchs of the congregation?  Is it the shareholders or the investors–metaphorically speaking?  Is it everyone in the congregation? 

A good mission statement for a congregation should empower every member to participate in the fulfilling of that mission.  The most senior  to the youngest person should be able to participate in the mission statement being acheived.  If this is not true, if there are areas in the congregation where the mission cannot be fulfilled then this is the area that the congregation has work to do.  The mission statement can point out where the growing edges within the congregation lie. 

Alice Blair Wesley in her 2000-01 Minns Lectures entitled Our Covenant, summarizes the classes she took with James Luther Adams thus:  “Strong, effective, lively liberal churches, sometimes capable of altering positively the direction of their whole society, will be those liberal churches whose lay members can say clearly, individually and collectively, what are their own most important loyalties, as church members.”

A mission statement should be able to point towards those loyalities.  Everyone should be able to articulate this clearly and with conviction.  Where our loyalities lie will also indicate where our energy is going to be for the growth or status quo of the congregation.  Having a clear mission statement is a step towards being able to grow a congregation.  Blessings,


Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm  Comments Off on Having a Clear Mission Statement  
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