I recently attended the installation of Rev. Chris Long as Minister for Congregational Life at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Baton Rouge. The visit was centered in the joy of a dear colleague and the relationship that he is building with a congregation and their community. You may have seen the video I filmed there that talks a little about our congregational polity of autonomy and association.
The weekend also contained this beautiful and awful story and its commemoration on the grounds of the church.
In 1992, Yoshihiro Hattori was in Baton Rouge. He was a 16-year-old exchange student from Japan living with the Haymakers, a family of this church. Invited to a costume party by friends, Yoshi dressed in a white suit and learned a dance routine to mimic John Travolta in the film “Saturday Night Fever.” He went to what he thought was his friend’s house. He rang the door bell and began dancing his dance and flashing a camera flash to simulate a disco. But he had gotten the address wrong. The surprised residents of the house shot and killed the teenager.
In response to this horrific incident, the Hattoris in Japan and the Haymakers in Baton Rouge created the Yoshi Coalition to put pressure on governments in Japan and the United States to limit access to guns. Over a million signatures were collected to petition for increased understanding among cultures and to reduce gun violence.
As a symbol of reconciliation between communities, Toshiji Yoshida, a leading landscape contractor in Konan City, Japan, made a personal contribution of these volcanic stones to the city of Baton Rouge. The Yoshi Coalition anticipated creating a Peace Memorial in Baton Rouge.
Various levels of government in Louisiana were approached about creating this Peace Memorial. In every instance, governments bowed to community pressure and denied the erection of the memorial. Time after time, it was argued that such a memorial would be a permanent declaration that the community is a community where such a killing might have happened. “We’re not that kind of people,” I was told various voices declared.
The Unitarian Universalist congregation agreed to be stewards of these stones until such time a community would be willing to create a permanent memorial. They created a Peace Meadow on the grounds of their church, and dedicated the stones in 1996. The stones are named Fear Less and Love More. The Peace Meadow declares: Remember. Meditate. Pray. Gather. Act.
May we in our congregation do no less.
(All photos by David Carl Olson)