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Starr King seminarian Amanda Weatherspoon (cc Annette Bernhardt)

Seminarian's injury inspires coordination in Berkeley protests

Unitarian Universalist ministry students work together in #BlackLivesMatter protests after one was bloodied by a police baton.
By Tina Porter

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A photo of a bloodied Unitarian Universalist seminarian participating in a #BlackLivesMatter protest went viral earlier this week. Cindy Pincus was hit in the head with a police baton during the demonstration in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, December 6.

While the photo of Pincus caught the attention of the media, it also provided an opportunity for Unitarian Universalist seminarians in the Bay Area to organize. Many had been participating in the protests at the same time but not together. Pincus, a Master of Divinity student at Pacific School of Religion who is a ministerial intern at First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, said that the publicity she received has inspired an organized method of providing spiritual and physical support to the protesters and other seminarians.

Pincus suffered a concussion and received three stitches at a hospital. Her classmate Nikira Hernandez was hit in the stomach with a baton and then stepped on, but she was not hospitalized.

On Monday, December 8, as a result of the injuries Pincus and Hernandez sustained, about 50 students and faculty from the schools affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union gathered at Starr King School for the Ministry for a chaplain training. They learned about their legal rights and about basic medical techniques to help protesters.

Amanda Weatherspoon, a second-year student at Starr King (shown above), was one of the attendees and presenters at the training. “I’ve been going into the streets for years about police brutality,” said the 29-year-old native of Oakridge, Tenn.

Since November 24, Weatherspoon has maintained a consistent presence at the protests, but she chose not to appear in clerical garments. “I’m a black woman first. Being a seminarian and all else comes after that,” she said. “I show up to the protests [without the collar] because that is how the world sees me.”

Weatherspoon said her involvement in the protests is some of the most important formational work she will ever do—whether she shows up as a chaplain or not. “While we all come to the protests with the same foundational goal,” she said, “you will have people coming from many different perspectives and roles—radicals, peaceful and not-so-peaceful protesters, the media. You need to be able to gather them all toward that shared goal.”

Abbey Tennis, interim advancement director at Starr King, helped pull the training together (“by the seat of our pants”). She agreed that being a part of the protests is an important formational experience for the seminarians. “They are learning to step into religious leadership in an important national moment,” Tennis said, whether they show up as chaplains, as allies, or as medical and/or legal providers.

Pincus said that an important piece of the training was in one of the first questions for the participants: asking themselves the extent of their involvement, noting that there are many important roles that are not on the front lines. Would they be willing to be present, or would they help track protesters through the prison system?

The training was put to use the evening of December 8, when another protest resulted in 17 arrests of students and faculty from the Graduate Theological Union. Chaplains showed up at the jail with granola bars, water, and bail money.

Photo (above): Amanda Weatherspoon, a Unitarian Universalist seminarian at Starr King School for the Ministry, has been active in #BlackLivesMatter protests in Berkeley, Calif., since the grand jury decision that cleared Police Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown (cc Amanda Bernhardt).

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