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You are invited to tell the story of your class journey – your family’s class when you were born, where you were at age 10-12, where you are now, and how you feel about the changes.


Why share your class story?

Arlington UUCC workshop photos (13 of 16)More than a few people have described Unitarian Universalism as a middle- or upper-middle class religion. Those of us from other class backgrounds have long known this does not fully describe who we are. Many others have realized that for UUism to fulfill its potential it cannot be limited by class.

In the past year as we have field-tested our workshops, we have grown increasingly aware of how diverse our congregations and organizations are. In the workshop setting participants have a chance to share part of their class stories, and although there are common threads, each story is unique.

Sharing class stories is an important way for us to understand the diversity of class experiences within Unitarian Universalism.

How do I write my class story? What do I include?

One way to tell your story is to imagine you are talking with a friend. You can go into depth or just tell a few highlights. You can give an example or two about how class has affected you at different times of your life. You can tell where you began class-wise, how your class changed during your life, and where you see yourself now—and how these changes make you feel.

Or, you can write in briefer form, using headings to identify different aspects of who you are. You don’t even need to use complete sentences.

THE TECHNICAL STUFF: Post your class story in the comments section below. Before long you will see it posted on the page. Thanks for sharing. You can also send us your video class story at info@classconversations.org

Rev. Stephen Shick, UU Class Conversations Advisory Board member, created the vlog, Class Everlasting, which tells the class story of two women and illustrates the damaging effects of classism within a congregation and the lasting effect that it can have. See the video below.

Video Class Story:


  1. CLASS JOURNEY: Suzanne Zilber Long version!

    I was born in the early 60’s in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. My father’s parents had immigrated to the U.S. to escape oppression as Jews in Russia and my mother’s German Jewish ancestors immigrated to Texas in the 1850’s. I was the third of four children in an upper middle class Reform Jewish family and I am White. My father had an MBA from his state university and worked in financial services. My mother had a prestigious college degree and did not work outside the home until I was a teenager. When I was young, my family employed African American women to help with housework and childcare. My first experience of having discomfort with class differences occurred when I was 4 years old and one of our “maids” brought her same aged daughter over and we played on my swing set together. I was confused and concerned by the question – “who is with her daughter while she is with me?”. I liked the women who took care of me, they brought me candy cigarettes, made beautiful pastry swans, and made me laugh.

    I still did not think of my family as rich, because my mother’s parents were very obviously rich. They owned a home with an indoor swimming pool, traveled around the world, and collected antiques music boxes and other inventions. Then my family moved to a larger house in 5th grade- a house with 7 bedrooms- 2 of those bedrooms were originally designed for servants with an extra staircase that led to the kitchen, and then I thought, “we are rich”.

    Shaker Heights had intentionally become racially integrated, so I got to become friends with Black girls from my same social class in the public school system. However, inequity was still apparent to me. In middle school, I took public transportation and noticed that at the end of the day, White men with suits and briefcases were getting off the Rapid Transit, and African-American women in white uniforms were getting on to go back downtown. I felt some guilt and uncertainty about what to do with the fact that I had done nothing to earn my privilege. I don’t know why I didn’t discuss this with anyone, but I simply decided I would use the privilege of a good education to help people less fortunate than myself- so my activism at that point was to be a hard working student.

    I was very intellectually curious and decided that I would learn more from a year overseas. I spent my senior year of high school (1980-1981) in Sweden on a Rotary exchange scholarship. I saw how there was more equality in school systems and that it seemed healthier and more humane there – Even back 34 years ago, they had clicking crossing signals for the blind. I applied for college from Sweden and chose schools that were about 6000 in size, would have students that liked to learn, and warm weather. My Swedish host parents struggled to understand the pressure I was under to get into a high level college.

    I enrolled at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina for my undergraduate work in psychology and in comparison to those students, I then had the illusion that I was “just middle class”. At the cafeteria, the elderly African American women were friendly with us students, but there was one younger woman that refused to be friendly. I respected that she was angry and I could sense an intelligence that deserved nurturing. Again I felt utterly uncertain about what I could do to help her gain access to what I had and again didn’t discuss this with anyone. Nowadays, college students go on campaigns for living wages etc, but we weren’t doing stuff like that back then. I also had not done much for people less fortunate than myself at that point. All of my energy had gone into making myself worthy of a prestigious college and developing myself. I wrote a scathing account of myself for an ethics class my sophomore year. I have more compassion for myself now as I soon did find a venue to engage in community service that fit my interests. However, that self reflection along with a high level of performance anxiety contributed to my then going into a clinical depression and dropping out of school for a semester.

    Given my privilege, my parents could afford this financial loss, and could also get me access to mental health services and I was able to return to school the following year. That summer I got trained to volunteer at a crisis hotline center and that began both my career and my community service work.

    I was relieved to get a scholarship for graduate work in Counseling Psychology and then gain access to working my way through graduate school as I finally felt I was earning my keep. Of course, all the privilege I had up to that point made that possible. The program at Ohio State University had a strong multicultural emphasis that addressed every diversity issue except for class and I was still very concerned about this issue. I volunteered to visit an African American woman in prison who became a good friend and by proxy I got to experience some of the dehumanization and unfair rules that would prevent her from being successful in finding a job outside when she was free. Unfortunately, she was released from prison the same time I left for Texas for my internship, so I didn’t get to directly assist her with her readjustment to being free. Before we parted, she had a diabetic emergency, ended up at the Ohio State University hospital and I visited her there. It was very scary to encounter the creepy male guards on the locked floor and see her there handcuffed to the bed she was in. I did not feel she was safe.

    I was exposed to Unitarian Universalism when I was in Austin Texas on my internship and started attending the UU Fellowship of Ames the weekend I came to find a rental for my new job. I was very inspired by Rev. Sydney Morris blend of spirituality and intellectual depth. The Fellowship was instrumental in helping me recover and create a new home for myself after my apartment had burned down 6 weeks prior in Texas! I have since served in many volunteer roles at the Fellowship.

    My first job with my doctorate was working at the Iowa State University counseling center, for moderate pay, and I got to serve students who might not otherwise be able to access counseling. Counseling is free for students at ISU. I felt I had plenty of money for what I needed. I identified as bisexual through graduate school and was part of the movement to add “B” to the list of letters related to sexual orientation. I currently function more as an Ally because I chose a male life partner and we married in 1993. He also has a doctorate and has been an activist to lift up those who are under-represented in educational opportunities and certain occupations. My activism for a while focused on LGB rights, preventing sexual assault, preventing eating disorders, and teaching about ethnic based communication style differences to reduce isms. Transgender issues came in later when I worked with trans clients.

    Finally in 2001, I go to do something more specifically focused on class. I attended a multiweek class that Unitarian Universalist minister Brian Eslinger and member Scott Miller led on economic justice issues. Scott Miller was the director of Move the Mountain and Beyond Welfare, organizations striving to eliminate poverty. The workshop was based on the book How much do we deserve: an inquiry into distributive justice by Richard Gilbert. Scott’s argument at that time was that if we believe our needs can be taken care of by sharing, we don’t have to hoard, and then we can share more. I was not convinced then, but I did hold a firm belief that having anyone in poverty affects the experience of the whole community. I became a member of the Beyond Welfare fundraising team and a family partner to a single mom. Being involved in Beyond Welfare, I learned about both the systemic and personal factors that contribute to the difficulties of getting out of poverty. Living in a place where you have to have a car to be employed is a big issue. I witnessed issues such as the need to develop a sense that you even have value and choices and the downfalls of spending money to overcome a sense of deprivation. Many members of my UU congregation were involved actively in Beyond Welfare as family partners and car donors. Beyond Welfare lost much of its funding during the first wave of our economic downturn.

    In January 2004, I finally got something that met my need around understanding and working with social class. It was an article by William Liu and his colleagues in the Journal of Counseling Psychology called Using Social Class in Counseling Psychology Research. I began to conduct trainings of counseling students and professionals on the concepts and how social class plays out in counseling. I got into the habit of cutting out articles and facts I could find about class issues. At that time, it still was not a “hot issue”. I then decided to apply this work to training Unitarian Universalists about this to see if we could make our congregations more inclusive of people from all class backgrounds. I asked Dr. Liu for suggestions on getting caught up on the research literature and he sent me his newly published book (2011), Social Class and Classism in the Helping Professions: Research, Theory, and Practice. The journal Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology published my review of that book in 2012.

    I developed the workshop at my own congregation and at the Midwestern UU Summer Assembly, a week long summer camp for UUs. (2011-2013). The final version tested at camp began to utilize clips from the documentary People Like Us.

    In 2012, a member of my congregation, Terry Lowman, was inspired by the workshop I did at the UU Fellowship in Ames, and he proposed a Congregational Study Action Issue (CSAI) on Social Class that came in second place at the Phoenix Arizona UUA General Assembly. He came back from that experience and suggested that I write the next class CSAI and that I prepare a curriculum to go with it.
    I then applied for and received a grant from the Unitarian Sunday School Society to develop a workshop that could be posted on the internet and used by UU’s who could facilitate workshops that were not necessarily experts in class issues. I field tested the new workshop in Des Moines October 2013. I also began to work on the CSAI and learned that Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community were also going to put forward a CSAI on Escalating Inequality. They included some material I suggested about class issues in their proposal and I shifted to supporting that proposal.

    While doing the reading for the new workshop, I was very impressed by the work of Betsy Leondar-Wright, program director of Class Action. I contacted her and she connected me with a project she was involved in, UU Class Conversations, coordinated by Rev. Dorothy Emerson. Dorothy invited me to becoming a steering committee member and I had the opportunity to co-facilitate the long version of their workshop with Betsy in May, 2014.

    Other class and race based activism has included organizing my neighborhood around class, race and crime issues and creating a neighborhood family event to bring people together. In connection to working on that, I became personally included in a working poor African American family in Ames and nominated the matriarch for a county philanthropy award, which she did receive. After that, I gave free training to an African-American undergraduate to assist me in leading a free women’s therapy group for African American women one semester in my private practice.

    I am currently a small business owner – a solo practice in psychotherapy, which I have owned since 2005. I was able to make the leap easily to my own business due to inheriting money from my father and the referral sources I had developed at Iowa State. see clients of all class backgrounds and incorporate class awareness in my work. After leaving a tenured faculty position at Iowa State, my spouse works as an engineer for a multinational company, while continuing to work for causes related to inclusion of underrepresented groups in STEM occupations. We own a 3 bedroom home in a mixed rent and own neighborhood. I continue to occupy an upper-middle class position in our economy. I have two children, both are activists for various causes. An annual event for them is raising money for homeless youth through Reggie’s Sleepout. One is already in college, and one is college bound

    So, I am in an intensive process of trying to unlearn classism, become an effective agent for change, and hold myself accountable for my privilege. I look forward to assistance in this process!

    Using Social Class in Counseling Psychology Research.
    Liu, William Ming; Ali, Saba Rasheed; Soleck, Geoff; Hopps, Joshua; Dunston, Kwesi; Pickett Jr., Theodore, Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol 51(1), Jan 2004, 3-18.

  2. CLASS JOURNEY: Stephanie Simpson..June 24, 2014.
    I was born September 22, 1961 in Waco, Texas…the day segregated busing was declared unconstitutional. I grew up in Waco and lived in Texas until I was 23 years old.

    My parents were from south Texas, in Harlingen. My parents moved from there to Waco to asset my grandfather in his truck parts business, which was also assisted by my father’s fraternal twin brother. When my grandfather died in 1968, when I was 7. The brothers took over the business together.

    As a child, I wasn’t really aware of class. I knew there were people who were wealthier than us and lived in large houses compared to out smaller brick ranch house. As I became older, I became aware of other differences in your lives that designated us lower middle class. Once my mother worried how to pay for my braces, because we had no health or dental insurance. My parents were unable to afford family vacations unless we drove in our car or attached camper.

    As a child, I was an introvert, introspective, watchful and had a few friends of all classes. I had a good friend in middle school who lived in a poor neighborhood and was sometimes dirty. She was witty, wrote great letters and had a great sense of humor. I still have her letters. My mother did not like me associating with her and wanted me to associate with wealthier kids.

    Gradually as I entered my high school years, my father and his brother did very well in the family business, and we became wealthier. The first sign of this is us moving out of our old neighborhood and into a “subdivision” that had a clubhouse and pool. My parents bought one of the smaller homes there and as a teen I associated with kids whose parents were doctors, dentists, lawyers, teaches. My parents tried hard to fit into the new class and made many friends who had a lot of money.

    As a girl, a lot of this didn’t suit well with me. I felt ostracized by most of the girls because I didn’t fit in, liking to read and pursuing intellectual pursuits. I was active in choir and on the tennis team and made friends there. However, I was closest to a girl who lived in a group home because she was an orphan.

    After attending junior college for 2 years, I left home and attended North Texas State University and pursued a degree in education and minored in psychology. It was an eye opening experience because being at a state college introduced me to many kids who were lower class in their family origins. However, I always felt out of place in Texas and didn’t fit in well with the culture of the state. When I graduated from college in 1984, it was also clear that the state was becoming more conservative and as I got older, this didn’t suit me well. I dreamed of moving away and planned to attend graduate school out of state.

    I chose Assumption College in Worcester, MA and because they offered me a scholarship and a teaching assistantship. I pursued an M.A. in counseling psychology, graduated n 1987, mover back to Texas for one year, then moved back to MA when it was clear I couldn’t find a job in Texas. I found a job in Framingham MA almost immediately after returning to MA but it was very low pay. I took in roommates for the next 17 years and lived mostly very poor.

    I managed to get an MSW from Boston College, hoping it would make me more marketable for jobs. It was during this time in 1994 that I discovered UU. I had been searching for a spiritual home for quite some time and was thrilled to find the UU church of Worcester only a few miles from me. I joined the church within the year and was active in the book group, was a board member and served on the social justice committee. During this time I worked as a therapist and made very little money. I often worked two jobs. As time progressed, healthcare jobs changed considerably and I was mostly able to get fee for service jobs. For a few years, I and a job as a therapist with benefits in which I was able to buy a bed mattress for myself for the first time in 15 years.

    By the time I was 41, I wanted a change from living in the city and moved to Cape Cod in 2002. While I loved living on the Cape and made many friends and kindred spirits there, it was clear that being lower class was a struggle to survive there. Some months, it was difficult to pay utilities and food. I managed to put my student loan in foreclosure but the interest was adding up and contributing to my debt. I found it hard to live as a single person despite my beautiful location. During these times and before starting in 1994, I ran into many situations with church members in which I wasn’t able to pay for gatherings or workshops or trips with other UUs. Most women my age were married and had husbands supporting them financially so they had a financial buffer I did not. I was drawn again to poorer people, mostly single ones who felt as marginalized as me.

    In 2007, I met my future husband thru a dating site. He lived outside of DC in Silver Spring. I flew out to meet him after several phone conversations that June. We continued to long distance “date” with either me coming there or him coming to the Cape until I moved there in January 2008. I found a job working as a therapist for several months in Columbia until it was clear that we needed to move in together and marry.

    The job was not a positive experience and I left it and the profession in July 2008. My husband’s job was such that I didn’t need to work, a first time for me since I was in college. We moved from Silver Spring to the Eastern Shore of MD in 2011. Since then, I have been active in the UU Annapolis church working on the social justice committee and searching for ways to address class and race within the church. Although I would now describe my life as upper middle class, for over 20 years as an adult and for much of my childhood, I lived as a lower income class person. I remember what it was like to not be able to afford trips and gatherings and GA each year. I remember not being able to attend restaurants because I didn’t have the money to go. I remember not being able to pay dues as a member for my UU church at First Parish Brewster on Cape Cod, because I didn’t have the money. Fortunately, the wonderful FPB community allowed me to barter my membership dues for almost 6 years in the form of volunteering my time doing social justice committee work, addictions ministry and other pursuits. They even sent me to GA in Boston in 2003 as a delegate and helped pay for some expenses.

    I’m eager to join with others in determining how we can make the UU experience more open and welcoming for people of modest means. I strongly believe the UUA needs to address this as a social justice concern and it is my hope the this issue gets more attention in the future. I believe we are marginalizing and cutting out an important group of people who could be adding to our talents and gifts in our congregations when we do not address this issue within the UU community

    Although I feel my privilege now in a different income bracket, I’m often still not comfortable with many wealthy UU circles of entitlement. Going to GA is a privilege but only one of us can go this year due to high expenses. I would like to help make this and other UU gatherings affordable for more people.

  3. A Life of Adversity, Diversity, & Great Blessings

    Throughout my life, class lines have always seemed blurred to me. My life adventure to date has been varied, though I know now that I benefit from “white privilege”.

    In northern rural New York State where I was born in the 1950s, I imagined that we were all equal, though different. I could see that some children had more and better clothes and toys than others, though it seemed to me, with my mathematical thinking, that families with more children had less and families who had fewer children had more, which made sense. I loved my average-sized family consisting of five children. I also knew my father was frugal because he grew up during the Great Depression and had logical principles for not buying Barbie dolls (fad silliness) and bicycles (safety).

    My father was the first college graduate in his family and I didn’t think his being a white collar worker made us better or different as there were examples of different types of families on TV (not very realistic but I didn’t know that).

    My mother didn’t work because she stayed home to care for her kids like her mother did. She seemed like a “normal mom” until the summer before my tenth birthday when she went into a “mental hospital” and never came home.

    I was the second child of five with my youngest sister only age one when our mother left. My father was able to afford housekeepers who also did child care when he could find them. That seemed to be an indication of our comparable wealth, though we were soon shunned for being motherless children. Some housekeepers told us not to play with certain children whom they deemed to be beneath us, which our parents never did.

    Our first housekeeper’s father turned out to be “the token black” in town. I considered him like my second father for a while as we often went there when our father was working overtime, which was practically every night and Saturday. Like my father, he had his own easy chair and spent considerable time reading the newspaper. One member of that family was close to my age and he told me one day, riding home on the bus, that he was being treated with racial hatred even though his coloring was light much like mine. I learned that racism wasn’t just about color, but it was decades before I understood it. I could see that race seemed to put people in another class.

    As a teenager, we moved to metro NY, where we were primarily unsupervised. My father had left Unitarian Universalism due to its liberal leanings, so I sought out UU friends to transport me to church. My UU friends’ parents would say “Sunday is family day” so they wouldn’t take me. The Methodist church across the street expected me, at the age of 13, to pledge since I had no parent attending, but I couldn’t afford that and they weren’t really doing anything for me.

    The town we lived in was segregated into many different neighborhoods based on race, ethnicity, and religion, but we all went to the same high school. During this time I was arrested for being with dubious friends in an abandoned building and, due to having no adult family member available to pick me up, I was sent to a youth prison in Newark, NJ. There were girls there as young as 12, one who murdered a fellow gang member. Everyone was friendly and treated each other like equals – we all had messed up circumstances that landed us there.

    Later we moved to a town that was totally racially segregated but the residents were ignorant about why, assuming it was by choice. We didn’t learn about the Robert Moses’ “red lining” until we studied anti-racism in our current UU church.

    During high school when the school counselor asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated, I said that I wanted to be a wife and mother, because the only other occupation that appealed to me was teacher and my father would not pay for my education. I also only knew of public schools which were sorely lacking and limited teachers’ creativity. The counselor didn’t bother telling me about grants and scholarships, which I probably would have believed I couldn’t get any way.

    After my family moved away from where my chosen mate lived (a man who had ambition and would make a good father), I rented a small bedroom. Later I lived in a small city in a small apartment building where a prostitute had previously lived and it was inhabited by a man who was usually drunk and by a large muscular laborer who used prostitutes, but they both treated me very respectfully.

    I finally married my highschool sweetheart who was from a blue collar family. He became the first college graduate in his family.

    We walked and used public transportation for the most part until age 24 when I got my first car, a Pinto hatchback, for $100.

    After college, we moved to the DC area where we were told by friends living there that we should move to the neighborhoods with better schools and less crime, but they were also the areas that were more white. Upon researching it, we didn’t find much difference in the schools and crime rate, so we chose to live in an integrated neighborhood since doing otherwise felt racist.

    Most of the years we raised our children, I was self-employed in the home to make ends meet. It turned out I was capable and became skilled. I even taught classes in the community colleges before I had a single college credit. When I had the opportunity to work part-time and go to college, after a year I decided that life was too short and spending time with my family was more important to me. I also found I could make a difference doing volunteer community service work and as the years passed and my husband’s career excelled, I was able to do more and more of that.

    We also had a brief experience of “being rich” when my husband tried an internet start up and put the business’s venture capital funding into the local bank. The president of the bank started to come to our house to do business with my husband. He also wanted to forgive our teenager’s overdrawing her first checking account, but we insisted they make her pay the fine like anyone else would. Nasdaq crashed and so did that venture.

    Another job for my husband was forthcoming and my volunteer work turned into a part-time business. We had bought the “house of our dreams” and made a hobby out of fixing it up. It made a great home for family reunions as we became grandparents. I also got my first new car when I was 52.

    We were making our home more environmentally friendly and bought solar panels just before the company my husband worked for hit it hard and he laid himself off as opposed to letting 3 of his employees go. For the last two and a half years my husband has been unemployed. I haven’t been able to make enough to pay the bills. We’ve been on Medicaid and Food Stamps while taking draws from our retirement fund to pay our mortgage. It’s very hard for people over 50 to find work, but we know people in the same situation who have no retirement to draw from. I count my blessings as we have many, so I continue to do community service work both in my UU church and my local community.

    We’ve decided that our only option now is to start a business, so we’re sinking the rest of our retirement into a franchise and hoping it will work out. Becoming employers will be new to us, but it sounds like it could be very rewarding. We have our work cut out for us.

    Life has been an adventure and continues to be so. Living in a racially and economically diverse community has contributed greatly to our feelings of living a meaningful life. It also seems that our experiences with adversity could help us in our future.

  4. Class Journey: Denise Graves July 21, 2014
    Age 53

    I was a Unitarian kid raised in Kansas City Missouri. My father had risen from poverty as a child to provide a middle class life style for our family. We were average income when compared with our neighbors and classmates. As a teenager I was very involved with the youth group-LRY associated with our Unitarian church.

    After high school instead of attending college as expected, I worked for LRY at the UUA in a one year elected position. It was a very dramatic time as the funding for our organization was being threatened. At the end of my term with LRY I thought I would prefer to experience real life as opposed to college life.

    By chance I moved to Atlanta where I worked at a daycare and later for a veterinarian. During this time I met and married a person from a working class background. He also had ties to LRY. We raised 3 children on his income as a land surveyor. We would be considered working class. Neither one of us attended college. I have wondered if my early experience working at the UUA had gotten me off the track of developing a professional career. It did not have that effect on others with the same LRY/UUA experience.

    I have been working in public school food service (cafeteria) for the past 15 years. Though I now have a management position I am neither well respected or well paid. I would have to say that I have lived as an adult in a lower income class than I was raised in. From age 20 to 51 I did not attend any UU church. Part of the reason was because I assumed I would now be out of place due to income and education. I have been attending a UU congregation for the past 2 years where I have thought about and raised questions about differences in class and hoping to make others of less income and education welcome.

  5. CLASS JOURNEY: The Rev. Dr. William J. Gardner

    The story of my class background is a complicated one.

    I am descended from Irish immigrants who came to America in search of more opportunities for their family. My grandfather, Thomas Johnston, emigrated from County Meath in 1911. My grandfather worked as a truck driver. Later he became the sexton for the Episcopalian Church in Malden, Massachusetts. My grandmother Elizabeth also came from Ireland but at a later time.

    The Gardiners emigrated from Ireland to the United States in the 1870s. My grandfather, William, and my grandmother, Florence, were deeply affected by the Depression of the ’30s and ’40s. My grandfather was out of work from 1935 through 1946. This put great pressure on my grandmother as she struggled to hold the family together. Sadly, she died of a heart attack at an early age.

    My father, also William, graduated from North Quincy High School (Massachusetts). He went to night school at MIT and got a degree that enabled him to work as a mechanical engineer. My mother graduated from high school in Malden, Massachusetts. My father’s education enabled him to get a job as a mechanical engineer and move into the middle class.

    My father used to tell me stories of the hardships he experienced growing up during the Depression. Whatever money he earned from work went to pay for the expenses of the family. He spoke about the stress his parents experienced. I was emotionally affected by these family stories. Poverty is not an abstraction for me but a felt visceral experience.

    A lot of conversation at the supper table was about issues of economic justice. We heard stories about Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal, the inadequacies of capitalism and capitalists, and the importance of unions and organizing. We learned about solidarity with the poor and the importance of working for justice for all. These stories had a great impact on my sister, my brother, and me. Each of us became involved in justice work. My sister became one of the leading experts in the county on poverty law. For the past 40 years, my brother has done community development work in Central America, South America and Africa. I ended up working for justice as a Unitarian Universalist minister.

    As a young child, I grew up in Malden and Quincy, Massachusetts. I went to junior and senior high school in Framingham. The men who lived in my neighborhood were plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. The kids I played high school football and basketball with were working class kids. I was shaped by a culture of white heterosexual working class males with all that that means. These experiences shaped my earliest sense of class identity.

    When I was 12 years old my father decided to join the Unitarian Church in Framingham. I was active in the church school and the youth group at First Parish. Looking back I see that my parents were trying to move up the class ladder and one way to do that was to become Unitarian Universalists. More than that they wanted their children to have a more expansive life and more economic opportunities than they had. One way to make this happen was to take us to the UU church.

    I had a different experience of class at the church from what I was used to. Many of the members of First Parish were college graduates. They worked as managers at the Dennison Manufacturing Company or ran businesses in town. Some were doctors or lawyers. They were not the people I normally socialized with. I did not feel at home with them.

    While attending First Parish, I experienced class confusion and complexity. I had to learn to work outside my comfort zone. Learning to navigate these differences helped me to be a bridge builder when I later became a minister. I have always been able to work with people from different class, economic, and racial backgrounds.

    My brother, sister, and I had an opportunity to go to college – an experience my parents did not have. It was a challenge each of us for to pay for college. My brother and I got basketball scholarships. I worked in the dining hall for four years. During the summer, I earned money for college expenses. I took out loans. And my parents paid some of the tuition. Somehow we made it work.

    I was a young man from a working class background getting a liberal arts degree at Bates College. This experience expanded my horizons and broadened my opportunities. I certainly would not have become a Unitarian Universalist minister without a college degree. I was able to live out my personal aspirations and the hopes my parent’s had for me.

    As a person with working class roots serving in congregations with so many educated upper class people, I have often felt as though I am class “passing.” There are times when I do not feel comfortable working with UUs from a more privileged class background. Moreover, I can pick up intuitively when another UU has class roots similar to mine.

    To add to the complexity, now that I am retired I live an upper middle life style in an affluent suburb and drive a Prius car. When a plumber or carpenter comes to work in my home I remember my working class roots, but I am also reminded that I am now in a different place class wise.

    So these are the many different pieces of my class identity. I am the descendent of people who emigrated from Ireland and lived through the Depression. I grew up in a working class community, but my family attended an upper middle class church. I was a working class kid who went to a liberal arts college on a basketball scholarship.

    Going to college enabled me to move up into the educated middle class. Today I am financially well off. I have lived with these different parts of my class background in conflict with one another. But having these different pieces has also enabled me to work with people from different class, economic, and racial backgrounds. What is most important for me today is that my experience of class inspires my passion for justice.

    In closing, I am mindful that the story of my class background also intersects with my identities as a white heterosexual male. But those are stories for another time.

  6. Gloria Ptacek McMillan
    age: 72

    Born in East Chicago, IN. Father steel worker, mother managed cosmetics counter at Conrad Hilton in the Loop.

    My mother’s family were managerial from a department store background. Mt dad’s were solidly working class. I gre wup in a steel mill town with the massive towers of Inland Steel domination the lake skyline. I don’t think people like me are usually Unitarians, for one reason because no UU churches are usually in towns like East Chicago, IN. I hope to help change that by making the invisible “media avoidance zones” in the US visible to “the rest of us.” My body of texts is outside this limited space but that summarizes what I have been doing across a number of creative genres.

    In Indiana Harbor side of East Chicago, IN, all our public schools were good. We had three years of Latin, Calculus, advanced Chemistry, World Literature, etc., in our local high school Washington High. This was because the large tax base created by our steel mill paid better salaries than the rustic suburbs that were beginning to drian off some of the steel workers and cause white flight. I lived through the beginnings of true racial-economic segregation in NW Indiana. Again, that story must be told at length and not here in a limited space.

    In order that some of our voices get heard, which is unusual for industrial towns, I have been going back from Tucson, AZ, wher ei have lived for decades to NW Indiana libraries collecting short fiction stories for a text to be called Children of Steel. It is not limited to people’s fiction who directly worked in the steel industry, just people who have lived in a steel mill town or who grew up in one as I did. The range and variety of these stories is surprising. They cross lines of race and class. I have to return to this project because I have been editing another book, The Routledge Companion to Literature and Class. That text will provide what I never had in high school or college: a reference source for writing about issues that may be invisible to middle class students and writers in and out of formal education. I was actively discouraged from writing about people in the working class and writers who dealt with their lives when I was in college. Such writers as poet Carl Sandburg were usually passe according to my professors, a product of the 1930s and was was condescendingly class “realism” as opposed to “modernism.” Happily, the class elements in such critical judgments are now becoming visible, although it is clear that caste is more like a molecule in which race, gender, and class form the metaphorical “atoms” that combine to produce the lower rungs of caste that are least visible and most prone to stereotyping in the media.

    I see this forum has been silent since 2014. I hope to meet others and revive this discussion. Remeber it iisn’t only a two-dimensional caste system but class and place are also important, as bell hooks (no caps in her name) notes in _Where We Stand: Class Matters_.

  7. My father’s family was green and blue. Blue collar and Irish-American. My mother’s family was small-town Baptist and more prosperous than Dad’s family. At the end of the Second World War, there was lots of excitement and Mom and Dad decided to get married. The class, religious, and ethnic differences were more than they could handle. Their marriage was a disaster.

    My family fled from New England to Califirnia to escape from family conflicts. As recently as the 1960s, “no fault” divorce was unusual in America. California wasn’t as liberal as you might imagine. Lots of nastiness was on public display when my parents separated. Nowadays, it can be difficult to explain, so I seldom discuss the experience.

    Where was I living at age ten? I bounced back and forth between two sets of grandparents. Sometimes I was with working class Roman Catholics and sometimes I was Yankees who had more money than their Irish-American neighbors. I loved all of my grandparents and I still do. They’re deceased but, in some ways, they’re still with me.

    I left home at age twenty and I never went back. I worked at a series of minimum wage jobs in different places, but college tuition costs were low in California and, eventually, I graduated. After that, there were more minimum wage jobs, and I got kicked around in different workplaces. It was rumored in one place that I was homosexual, and I was fired. I moved towards the Unitarian Universalists. In the old days, if people suspected that you were gay you weren’t welcomed in most churches.

    Like Grandpa Murphy, I became involved in labor union activities. By the late 1980s, I was a business agent for SEIU, Local 254. The union local that represents many of the janitors in the Boston area. The SEIU does a lot of good in America.

    I inherited some money when I was in my 40s and I used the money to enroll at Harvard Divinity School. In effect, I entered the school through the broom closet. I didn’t know any of the faculty, but I knew members of the buildings and grounds crew. They were members of SEIU, Local 254, and some of them were surprised when they heard that I was a student at Harvard.

    I had a few strange experiences while I was a student at Harvard Divinity School. I studied pastoral care at what was then Boston City Hospital. New arrivals were briefed about occupational health and safety. The instructor asked if I knew anything about the subject, and I said that I written much of the Right-to-Know law for government workers in Massachusetts. He thought that I was joking. How could a Harvard Divinity School student know anything about managing toxic wastes?

    I taught at the Labor Guild’s School for Industrial Relations in Boston. It’s one of the last of the labor schools that’s directed by the Jesuits. I enjoyed the experience and I learned all sorts of things. I met John Cort and other religious socialists who were active in the Democratic Socialists of America. I discovered liberation theology and environmental justice work.

    I’m now a minister emeritus among the Unitarian Universalists. I live in an assisted living center, but I’m still active in groups like the Unitarian Universalists for Economic Justice. Like many baby boomers, I’m concerned about my economic future. I’ve recently seen the movie “Nomadland.” It will be an eye-opener for many Unitarian Universalists. You may think that you’re prosperous, and protected, and maybe you’re on top of the world for the moment. Still, if you get hit by medical debts or some other misfortune, you may end your days living like the elders in “Nomadland.” It can happen.

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