Charley Horwitz: Presentations

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Dr. Robyn Spencer

DR. ROBYN C. SPENCER is a historian and expert on social protest after World War II, urban and working-class radicalism, and gender. She teaches survey and seminar courses on African American Heritage, Civil rights and Black Power, and Black women’s history as an Associate Professor of History at Lehman College, City University of New York. 

Professor Spencer’s Master’s thesis, “Contested Terrain: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 and the Struggle to Control Black Labor,” explored the flood’s impact on almost 300,000 displaced African Americans. Her thesis was published in the Journal of Negro History and featured in the documentary “When Weather Changed History” on the Weather Channel. Her writings on the Black Panther Party have appeared in publications such as The Journal of Women’s History, Souls, and Radical Teacher. Spencer’s article, “Engendering the Black Freedom Struggle: Revolutionary Black Womanhood and the Black Panther Party in the Bay Area, California” was published in the Journal of Women’s History and won the 2008 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Article Prize by the Association of Black Women Historians. Her first book, The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland, was published by Duke University Press in December 2016. Dr. Spencer received a Mellon fellowship from Yale University to work on her second book, To Build the World Anew: Black Liberation Politics and the Movement Against the Vietnam War, examining anti-imperialist consciousness among working class African Americans that influenced their engagement with the anti-Vietnam War movement. Dr. Spencer is also working on a short biography of Angela Davis for Westview Press’ Lives of American Women series.

As a writer, teacher, and public speaker Dr. Spencer educates others about the contributions of urban, working-class African Americans, especially women, to the Black freedom movement. Dr. Spencer has partnered with the New York Public Library on  public events preserving local history; worked with New York State’s Department of Education on professional development on women’s history; and served as one of the co-editors of the Radical Teacher special issue on “Teaching Black Lives Matter.” Dr. Spencer has contributed essays connecting history to current events to The Washington Post, Black Youth Project blog, Vibe Magazine, ColorlinesTruthoutMs. Magazine blog, Zinn Education Project blog, Duke University Press blog and Black Perspectives, the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society. She appeared on “Democracy Now,” in March 2018 after one of her self-published blog posts, “Black Feminist Meditations on the Women of Wakanda,” went viral.

Learn more: 

CHILDREN’S EVENTS (Sponsored by Hard Ball Press)

TIMOTHY SHEARD, veteran nurse, is a writer, a mentor to writers, an organizer with the New York Chapter of the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981), and founder of Hard Ball Press, a progressive publishing company.

After writing seven acclaimed mystery novels featuring hospital custodian-shop steward Lenny Moss, Timothy retired from hospital duty and launched Hard Ball Press in order to help worker writers find their voice and publish their stories. He also offers low-cost editing and self-publishing services for writers who want to produce their own books.

Timothy has offered many writing workshops at colleges, universities, libraries, and unions. He finds the “gold” sparkling in a story or essay and helps the writer identify and polish that prose so that it touches the reader’s heart and informs the mind.  The proud father of two fine sons, he lives with his wife Mary in Brooklyn, NY. 

Learn more:

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Why We Display a Black Lives Matter Banner


The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture is honored to display a banner asserting that Black Lives Matter.  We strive to be an inclusive, freethinking community focused on social justice and personal growth. While we do not require that our members adhere to any religious or political belief, as a community we value the human worth of every person. So we must be committed to racial justice.

In particular, in displaying this banner, we stand in witness against state violence carried out disproportionately – as many studies have demonstrated –against people of color, against those of African descent.  This disparity in the valuing of peoples’ lives is nothing new in American history. It is past time to be public witnesses to that injustice, and to call for change.

Racism, whether unconscious, conscious, or systemic, is a pervasive force in American culture today.  We call for ending the disproportionate deaths caused by racism, and we call for ending the racial injustices that cause trauma and lessen opportunity.

As the BlackLivesMatter website says, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture is not, by displaying this banner, endorsing any particular platform or program or organization. We stand with those who share similar values and concerns.


If you have questions about the Society after reading this document, please contact our Clergy Leader, Jone Johnson Lewis, or Board President, Rebecca Lurie.  You can find out how to contact them on our website at

A Community of Ethics

If you would like to join with us in a community of support for those who want to live in better relationship with others and the wider world, please check us out on a Sunday at 11 a.m. as we explore a variety of important ethical issues.

Answering Some Common Questions

Why not “All Lives Matter”?

If you believe – as we as an Ethical Society do – that everyone matters, then it’s simply a given that black lives must matter. We value black lives and recognize the disproportionate threat to black lives.

In advocating for change and compassion, people often focus on one cause, and there’s an implicit “too” because few would deny that other causes, other people, are also worthy of attention. If you don’t hear the implicit “too” after Black Lives Matter – yet do hear an implicit “too” when other causes are mentioned  – then please examine your thoughts to see whether you include “black lives” in “all lives.”

In study after study, it’s found that African American, Latinx, and Native American people are treated by authorities with more deadly force, more often than are people identified as white, and that those authorities are held less accountable than when people identified as white are the targets of that force.

In the founding years of this nation, the same person could say “all men were created equal” and hold some men in bondage, not seeing them as created equal.  The national anthem could be written with the words “land of the free” by a person who kept some people in bondage.  “All lives matter” too easily has meant, in American history, only the lives of citizens identified as white.

Don’t “Blue Lives” matter?

We mourn if police officers lose their lives when they are carrying out their mission to serve and protect all of us. We particularly abhor such deaths as a result of ideology or hate. But the number of officers killed in the line of duty, while fluctuating a bit year to year, is generally declining. There are laws, policies, and practices protecting “blue lives” and making it highly unlikely that deadly violence against the police will escape consequences. So we don’t focus on the killings of police officers as a major social justice focus.

We call out the actions of those police officers who commit unjustified extrajudicial violence, we call out the system that protects such officers from responsibility for their acts, we call for change in a justice system which disproportionately incarcerates people of color, and we call out the racism of the larger society that devalues black lives.  To say that these ideas are anti-police is an insult to the mission of the police force to serve and protect all people.

What about the violence at some demonstrations?

The “Black Lives Matter” movement has been and remains explicitly and strongly anti-violence. We, like those most involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, seek restorative, not retributive, justice. There are a few in any crowd who are angry and hurt and who don’t respect what the movement would prefer they do.  The actions or words of that few do not speak for the many.

What does displaying the banner mean to the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture?

Displaying the banner does not mean we have endorsed every detail of every policy proposal or that we support every associated organization in the coalition for Black Lives Matter. Nor does displaying the matter bind individual members (or building users) in their personal beliefs and opinions. Many of our members support many of the proposals and organizations, and we think that even those ideas with which some members disagree are worth discussing as we consider what will end racial injustice and heal the long history of violence and trauma.

Divestment from Fossil Fuels


The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture substantially divested its investment fund from fossil fuels in celebration of Earth Day 2015. We did so through the sale of our Energy Sector Mutual Fund, which constituted approximately 7% of our investment portfolio. 

According to our treasurer, Tom Castelnuovo, “We estimate that the sale of our energy fund has reduced our energy stock holdings from approximately 10% of our portfolio  to approximately 3%, a 70% reduction in our energy stock holdings achieved by this one simple act. (Since BSEC held no individual stocks listed on the Carbon Tracker 200, a list of fossil fuel stocks, our only remaining fossil-fuel holdings are held in broad market funds such as an S&P500 Index Fund as well as international mutual funds.)”

BSEC is proud to join hundreds of cities, universities and religious organizations in the worldwide divestment movement. We take our inspiration from our parent organization, the American Ethical Union, whose divestment resolution stated in part:

“The American Ethical Union shall divest itself of any investments in businesses that have a primary purpose of the extraction or distribution of fossil-based sources of energy… We urge [our member Ethical] Societies… and their… individual members to do the same.”

BSEC understands the disastrous consequences to our climate of our continued burning of fossil fuels.  Our resolution on the subject states in part:

“Because scientists and the United Nations overwhelmingly agree that any increase of global warming more than 2°C (3.6°F) would be unsafe for the future of a livable world

Because we are concerned about the threat to life on our planet from catastrophic climate change resulting from the production and consumption of fossil fuels

Because environmental groups like ( and Green Faith ( are promoting fossil fuel divestment as a way to bring to broader consciousness the crisis created by an economy shaped by fossil fuels, pressure the companies to invest in alternative energy and stimulate governmental and social commitment to a clean energy world;

Because we are heeding the call of religious groups nationally – including the American Ethical Union, United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalists – and locally, including many synagogues and Quaker meetings, which have begun the process of divesting their portfolios of fossil fuel stocks and investing in alternative energy…”

We have decided to divest our portfolio from fossil-fuel stocks in several stages. We take our guidance from and, who envision a 5-year phased approach to divestment.

Said our treasurer, “For FY15, we decided simply to get the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ in taking our first step toward divestment through the sale of our sector SPDR Energy Fund.

On a go-forward basis, we will be looking at fossil-fuel investment alternatives proposed by our congregation including Socially Responsible Investment funds that are screened to exclude fossil fuel investments, greater use of non-energy sector funds, investment in social investments such as worker cooperatives, credit unions and supportive housing, and short sales of fossil fuel stocks.”

“BSEC is committed to fighting climate change through our congregational resources, and we are proud to have taken such a major step to achieving our goal of fossil fuel divestment,” said Jone Johnson Lewis, our interim clergy leader.

What is Ethical Action

What is Ethical Action

The Ethical Action Committee’s mission is to educate our members and the larger community about vital local and global ethical and social matters. The Ethical Action Committee (EAC) recruits speakers for BSEC platforms, organizes seminar and workshop programs, and sponsors book discussions and video events. Committee members network with neighborhood groups that share our concerns. We honor people who exemplify our goals and ideals at our annual Peace Site Awards Platform. To publicize and implement our positions, we also participate in direct and other actions. We want to explore ways to involve more BSEC members in our activities. We are committed to increasing the diversity within both EAC and BSEC.

Lucy’s Children

We have launched a community effort to examine the fiction of Race in order to address the fact of Racism. Our plan is to provide information, opportunities and events that can help us come together as a society to end racism. We meet most Fridays at BSEC to plan our efforts, to share resources and related experiences.
Please join if you are interested and available. Everyone is welcome to join us.
We are a volunteer membership group convening to be a catalyst for conversations at BSEC as well as in the outside world on Ending Systemic Racism and White Supremacy. We seek to engage in conversations, develop programs, promote personal development, and deepen our interpersonal connections. We seek to learn from our individual and shared experiences and engage in advocacy on racial issues in the wider world.
Lucy was discovered in 1974 by paleontologists in Ethiopia. At that time she was the earliest known ancestor of the human species. This is why we call our group Lucy’s children.

Enhanced Discussion

We gather monthly to talk about various issues at BSEC which offers a safe place to talk about interesting and sometimes difficult and complex topics. Participation and interchange is encouraged. Who comes? People who are willing to ask questions, probe the depths, sort the details and want to know more. Enhanced Discussion meets from May to November yearly.

Divestment from Fossil Fuels

The Ethical Action Committee led the way to the Society’s decision to divest from fossil fuels.
Read more: 
Brooklyn Society Divests

Charley Horwitz Memorial Platform

Every year, the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture invites a speaker to explore a social justice theme for the Charley Horwitz Memorial Platform.  Charley Horowitz was a former president of the Society who was a longtime civil rights and labor activist.  

Ethical Action Peace Site Award

Each year the Society’s Ethical Action Committee recommends a person or group to the Board to be honored with the Peace Site Award. The Award recipient is honored at a special Sunday Platform as the featured speaker. The work of these partners for peace informs and inspires us  to continue our community’s efforts for peace and justice. 


The Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture was declared an International Peace Site in 1983. Each year since, the Society has presented the Peace Site Award to an exemplary individual or group whose actions and ideals promote the cause of peace. Members who had long worked for peace leant their vision and energy to make the idea a reality, most especially Bea Rubin and Marion Kronheim.

Marion made a name for herself in this community by her ceaseless efforts to promote the cause of peace on earth. This she did as the chairperson of SANE (the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy), the city’s leading peace organization. Small of size but large in energy and passion, Marion put these qualities into her campaign for world peace.” Marion, herself, was the award recipient in 2000. When she died in 2002, Marion bequeathed $1,000 for the Peace Site.

Bea Rubin is a political artist and long time peace advocate. In recent years Bea has focused her advocacy on behalf of political prisoners in the U.S. through her prisoner portrait project. Their work inspired BSEC to partner with Brooklyn Parents for Peace (now Brooklyn for Peace) to organize the first Brooklyn Peace Fair in October 2003. Bea “was thrilled to recognize so many old friends and fellow peace activists she had worked with over the last 40 years and also to see the new generation taking their part in what she described as a ‘manifestation of the ideals of the Peace Site.’”

Each year the Society’s Ethical Action Committee recommends a person or group to the Board to be honored with the Peace Site Award. The Award recipient is honored at a special Sunday Platform as the featured speaker. The work of these partners for peace informs and inspires us at BSEC to continue our community’s efforts for peace and justice. 

In 2004, the Society dedicated the Garden of Peace and Remembrance, a special space in our beautiful garden. Circular in design, the four stone benches, representing the four major continents, face each other, symbolizing the need for communication on an equal basis and without obstruction in the service of peace. The garden was designed to be a living symbol of our commitment as a Peace Site and to remind us that we belong to one human family no matter where we live. It provides a tranquil spot to remember and honor our heroes in the cause of peace. Small plaques commemorating beloved friends and relatives of members have been affixed to the benches and some of the Belgian stones which enclose the seating area. Plants in this area all belong to the Ericaceae or heath family, one of the few plant families whose members can be found on all the continents of our world.


2014 350.ORG

Contact Chair: M. Tillinghast