Morrison-Reed gives lecture on integration, connection across cultures

Katelynn Mccollough

The former Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed is a man of experiences and, as he would put it, “integration.”

He spoke on Monday at the Memorial Union about growing up during the civil rights movement as a black man, racism and his time as one of the first black Unitarian Universalist ministers.

Born in 1949, Morrison-Reed grew up on the south side of Chicago near the University of Chicago. His father was a nuclear chemist who worked on the atomic bomb and his mother was a social worker.

At 13 years-old, his family moved to Switzerland, where he stayed until he was 16 and then they returned to the United States.

Not going to college was not an option in his parents’ minds, so he headed to Beloit College in Wisconsin, but dropped out soon after getting started. He then joined Volunteers in Service to America, which is AmeriCorps VISTA today, where he volunteered for two years.

At 21, Morrison-Reed decided to return to Beloit and once again attempted to receive a bachelor’s degree. And, once again, he did not stay to finish.

A wealthy friend wanted to sail around the world and offered Morrison-Reed a spot on his crew, which he gladly accepted.

“The whole thing collapsed,” Morrison-Reed said, who explained that the adventure ended with all of them in Europe. “It’s just a crazy story.”

Back in Europe, Morrison-Reed decided to head to Switzerland where he began to teach.

However, Morrison-Reed eventually did choose to return home to Chicago and become a reverend. He was accepted into the University of Chicago where he received his M.A. and his Doctor of Ministry from Meadville Lombard Theological School, all without ever receiving his bachelor’s degree.

From here, Morrison-Reed entered what he described as an “interracial” marriage with his wife Donna, who is Canadian, and they went on to have two children.

He and his wife were co-ministers first in Rochester, N.Y., and then in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where they now live. But after 26 years of ministering in the Unitarian Universalist and after his children were done with school, Morrison-Reed decided that it was time for change once again.

“I had a bunch of things that I wanted to do … so I just stopped [ministering] and started writing,” Morrison-Reed said, who has written multiple books.

In his speech at Iowa State, Morrison-Reed focused on one book in particular, “In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby.”

“I grew up on the cusp of integration,” Morrison-Reed said about growing up during the civil rights movement. “The story is about living at this in between state.”

Morrison-Reed has both a slave owner and slaves in his family’s heritage, as well as family that fought on both sides of the Civil War. He explained that we all have parts of ourselves and pieces our history that we can’t control.

“I’m not disowning pieces of myself … it’s to own everything that we have inherited,” he said.

Through his speech, Morrison-Reed hoped people would understand the importance of living integrated lives and becoming more multicultural.

“Because we are scared … we live smaller lives than we would otherwise,” Morrison-Reed said. “We want to create a condition where people look forward to getting to know each other … inviting people to having fuller lives.”

Morrison-Reed’s next book, “Voices from the Margins,” will be coming out in April.