living the faith

 Contents: UU World Back Issue

UU martyr's life documented in new film

A new documentary, Home of the Brave, tells the story of Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit UU who was slain during the 1965 civil rights protests in Selma, Alabama. In March 1965 Liuzzo drove to Alabama to take part in the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. On the night of March 25, as she was driving toward Montgomery to pick up some marchers, she was stopped and shot in the face. Eventually three men, acquitted of murder, were convicted of violating Liuzzo's civil rights and served prison sentences.

Immediately after Liuzzo's murder, the FBI launched a smear campaign to discredit her character. (An FBI informant had been in the car with her attackers.) The film chronicles the Liuzzo family's efforts to clear her name and the effects that the murder and its coverup had on them. The film follows Liuzzo's daughter Mary as she retraces her mother's footsteps in the South.

Directed and produced by Paola di Florio, the film was an official selection at the 2004 Sundance and San Francisco film festivals.


UU awarded MacArthur 'genius grant'

by Donald E. Skinner

As a design engineer for developing countries, Amy Smith, recipient of a half-million-dollar MacArthur Fellowship, has devoted her career to proving that technology can be simple and cheap.

Smith, 42, is an instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a lifelong member of Follen Church in Lexington, Massachusetts. The prestigious MacArthur Fellowships, often called "genius grants," are given annually to 20 to 30 people to recognize and encourage their creativity.

Smith's inventions have included a laboratory incubator for conducting medical tests and testing water supplies that requires no electricity, and an improved hammer mill for grinding grain. Her department is also supporting the development of a process for making charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste, a process that could reduce deforestation in Haiti.

Smith has been at MIT for much of the time since 1980, when she became an undergraduate. She served in the Peace Corps in the 1980s in Africa and lived in India for a year.

In a worship service this winter at Follen with the Rev. Lucinda Duncan, Smith read a quote by the Unitarian minister Edward Everett Hale that inspires her: "I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still, I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."

"Almost every time I'm in this church," Smith told the congregants, "I flip the hymnal open to that quote. In many ways, it is the essence of what I do, and I like to get recharged by it." She used the quote in the first proposal she wrote at MIT. "That's what really started me going in this field of engineering design for developing countries."

During the 1990s, Smith learned that by 2000 a quarter of the population of one nation in Southern Africa would die from aids. "For me, this was unbearable, because those statistics had faces," she says. "They had raised their hands in my class to answer questions. They had come to my house to read my comic books and learn to cook pizza and brownies. We had worked side by side building beehives."

She began working on lab equipment to help with diagnostic testing for sexually transmitted diseases and then used that equipment for water quality testing also. The laboratory incubator she developed costs about $50 compared with more than $1,000 for a battery-operated one. "So by not refusing to do the something I could do, it turned into something that seems to be making an impact," she said.

Smith has also had an impact on her students. This year 35 of her MIT students will be going to work in eight countries.

To prepare, Smith requires her students to live for one week in Cambridge on $2 a day for food, the equivalent of what the average Haitian earns. Students find that difficult, but they learn that subsistence living requires enormous creativity.

The MacArthur awards, given in quarterly installments over five years, are designed to enable recipients to exercise their own creativity for the benefit of humankind. "The award can be life changing, offering highly creative women and men the gift of time and the unfettered opportunity to explore, create, and contribute," said Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation.

Smith plans to use the award money to develop the charcoal making and the grain mill projects and to visit Haiti and Africa. She'd also like to create a technology center that would support similar projects.

At the Follen Church Smith serves as a youth advisor and as a Partner Church Committee member.

Duncan calls Smith a bridge builder. "Amy is most always involved with folks that others overlook such as youth, the urban poor, Hopi nation youth, Transylvanian Unitarian youth, and probably much more."

"There are two facets to growing up Unitarian," Smith said. "One is that you get to develop your own belief system. So there's no excuse to not live it because you created it. And second, other religions have a deep-seated faith in a deity. I didn't grow up having that kind of faith. Instead I have faith in people, that they will be good to each other, and that they will respond effectively in the world."

Smith does not own a car, only recently acquired a cellphone, and works "all the time," she said. "I grew up believing I could make a difference in the world, that if I saw something that was not right it was up to me to try to address it, whether that meant buying a meal for a homeless person or fixing a broken toilet in a restaurant," she said. "I've always wanted to make a lasting contribution, and now, with this prize, I guess I don't have any excuse. I've been given the opportunity to do something major and I need to be sure that I do it."

Minister fired for same-sex marriage stance

A Kentucky UU minister who works full-time as a video producer says he has been fired because of his public stance in favor of same-sex marriage. The Rev. Todd Eklof, minister of the 60 member Clifton Unitarian Church in Louisville, also worked as a video producer for the Kentucky Farm Bureau. He was featured in several news stories after he told his congregation on November 7 that he would not perform any marriage ceremonies until same-sex couples were allowed to marry.

Eklof said his employer called him in a week later and told him he was being removed from on-camera appearances. The following day he was notified that he was being terminated, he said.

Eklof has hired a lawyer to file a lawsuit. His former employer declined to comment.

UU calls attention to Hmong issues

Patricia Lee, the daughter of post-Vietnam War Hmong refugees and an intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, is helping raise awareness about the plight of the Hmong people by writing a UU-UNO action alert asking people to urge the U.S. government to protect the Hmong in Thailand. The Hmong people living in Laos assisted American forces at the time of the Vietnam War. When the Americans left in 1974, they were branded by the new Laotian government as traitors and persecuted. Many fled Laos, ending up in Thai refugee camps. Others emigrated to the United States, which now has a population of more than 190,000 Hmong. For more information on this issue visit www.uu-uno.org.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue
UU World : 45-47

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