Members of the Americans United Board of Trustees, staff, allies and supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., July 21 to mark the organization’s 75th anniversary.
“Our leadership at AU has never been more vital than it is today,” the Rev. Neal R. Jones, outgoing board president, told the crowd. He was joined by AU President and CEO Rachel Laser, who assured attendees, “Americans United is ready for the next 75 years.”
During the event, a special AU 75th anniversary video was introduced. It can be viewed on AU’s website: www.au.org.
Attendees also took time to honor Ramya Sinha, who received Americans United’s David Knorr Youth Activist Award for her work supporting a teacher at her former private religious school who opposed racial injustice – and lost his job for it.
During her time at Faith Christian Academy in Arvada, Colo., Sinha rallied support for Gregg Tucker, an exemplary teacher at the school who tried to combat the extensive racism his family and many Black, Hispanic and Asian students faced there.
Tucker worked at Faith Christian Academy for 14 years as a teacher and director of student life. After Tucker and his wife adopted a daughter, who is Black, from the Dominican Republic, some students began to call Tucker and his family racial slurs. Tucker was even more dismayed by the unchecked racism some students directed at their Black, Hispanic and Asian classmates. With the school administration’s support, Tucker organized an anti-racism symposium for students in January 2018. While the event was overwhelmingly well received by administrators and families, a handful of parents objected. The school eventually caved in to the pressure of those parents and stripped Tucker of some of his duties, and then it fired him.
The Academy insisted it had a right to fire Tucker and argued that he had no right to challenge its decision, calling him a minister – even though he had no religious duties. Americans United is representing Tucker in court.
Recalling her time at Faith Christian Academy, Sinha criticized the school for its “culture of white supremacy.” It was a place, she said, where she was constantly reminded that she and other students of color “were not welcome at that school.” The institution’s goal, she told attendees, was to please “a white Jesus of Christian nationalism.”
Tucker, Sinha said, was the only staffer who stood up for her and others.
Thanking the crowd for the award, Sinha, who graduated with a degree in business administration from Chapman University and who will attend the University of San Francisco School of Law this fall, told those in attendance, “Hope is what got us here, and hope is what will push us through.”
Also during the event, Laser announced a new AU initiative called the Next Generation Fund. AU plans to raise $750,000 for the fund over the next 12 months, which will underwrite a host of programs aimed at raising up a new generation of church-state defenders.
The fund will support AU programs such as the Legal Academy, the Youth Organizing Fellowship and aspects of the Summit for Religious Freedom targeted toward young people. (For more information, visit www.au.org/ngf and see “Forward To The Future” in the July-August issue of Church & State.)
Concluding the event, Laser acknowledged the difficulties AU will face in the years to come but also vowed to keep up the struggle.
“We are determined to build power and win hearts and minds,” she said. “Thank you for keeping us strong. In the long term, we will succeed.”
The following morning, board members met with the senior staff of Americans United to discuss current activities and outline strategies for the future. The board also took some time to celebrate some members who are stepping down – Jones, Eddie Tabash, Ouida Brown and the Rev. Nancy Brink. Jones will be replaced as board chair by Jim Winkler, former president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches.