Writer Saad Ghosn publishes profiles of religious leaders who are involved in peacemaking and social justice work in the Cincinnati area. His latest profile (also appearing in a recent issue of StreetVibes) is about First Church member Dan Schneider and is included along with profiles of other leaders on Ghosn’s blog: sos art cincinnati at https://sosartcincinnati.wordpress.com
When Daniel Schneider was 8 years old, he learned that about a mile south of where he lived, in Shelby County, OH, was a church previously attended by black people from the Rumley community, a community established around 1840 as a haven for freed slaves. He also learned that his own family had had a strong relationship with it.
“I am told that my grandfather, when he was born, got his 1st bath from a black woman,” he says. “And that when his mother, in 1909, was near her death due to cancer, she was upset at the idea of being buried in a white people’s cemetery, instead of with her black friends.”
This was Schneider’s first exposure to a personal story of inclusive diversity relating to black history. The black community, when he was growing up, had moved away, and the church and the school that he attended were then predominantly white.
Schneider belonged to a religious family and went every Sunday with his parents, to the First United Church of Christ, a conservative Evangelical church located near the farm where they lived. After retiring, his father had actually become a lay minister.
In high school, in the 1960s, he was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and by the Civil Rights movement that he, and his father, supported strongly. But living in the countryside, away from a city, prevented him from participating actively in it.
For college, he attended Wittenberg University, a liberal arts college in Springfield, OH, and he studied history. After graduating, he was drafted for a year in Vietnam, where he was given clerical, instead of combat, responsibilities and also served as the chaplain’s assistant. He, nevertheless, strongly opposed the war that he found wrong.
Upon his return from Vietnam, Schneider joined Drake University in Iowa where he received a Master’s degree in Education, then Ohio State University in Columbus for his PhD in History. While in Columbus he attended the university Lutheran chapel, met his wife, also a Lutheran, and got married. Few months later, in 1977, they both moved to Cincinnati where his wife had secured a teaching job in the Cincinnati Public School system and he, himself, a job in business.
From 1983 and until his retirement 3 years ago, Schneider worked vocationally in a field of educational opportunity, helping young persons, primarily low income students, get into better positions in life. For the 1st 15 years, he worked with Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates, initially as a staff of the organization, and later as its director, preparing high school seniors to get jobs, providing them with skills training, teaching them how to interview, and how to become successful. This exposed him to individuals from different backgrounds, low income, African American and working class students, and led to his interest in and appreciation of diversity.
In 1999 he transitioned to UC Clermont College to direct two federally funded programs, Educational Talent Search and Upward Bound, both aimed at helping prepare low income, mostly 1st generation students, go to college. There would be presentations made to schools and also direct work with kids as young as 6 grades until 12, providing them with tutoring, monthly workshops on what to expect from college, college visits, helping them with their ACT tests and with their college and financial applications. Through the Upward Bound program, weekend workshops, field trips and summer sessions would also be offered to high school students, all with the intent of preparing them for college.
Being federally funded, these programs exposed Schneider to politics, to congressmen and senators with whom he needed to maintain good relations, and once a year took him to Washington, DC, for lobbying.
“This got me to become outspoken, to learn how to better talk to people about what’s important, also to function more into an activist mode,” he says.
In 2003 he joined the MLK Coalition Choral directed by Catherine Roma and sang in its choir for 11 years. The choral would participate every year in the MLK day celebration, and at the occasion, would also perform at the Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, OH, where a group of inmates, also under the direction of Roma, had formed a choir called the UMOJA Men’s Chorus.
“The inmates would sing for us and we would sing for them,” states Schneider. “I met and mingled with people different from me and from the ones I grew up with and I got to respect them as individuals. They made me look at things from a different perspective."
In 2006 and during one of these celebrations, Sharon Dittmar, a young Unitarian Universalist (UU) woman minister, spoke. Schneider and his wife were very impressed with her message and teaching. They investigated her faith, resonated with its tenets and a year later decided to join her church, the First Unitarian Church, in Avondale.
"We felt that everyone there was accepted and respected and that there was a strong commitment for social justice,” says Schneider. “My wife and I had been looking for more freedom to explore our own ideas, and our views of God were different from what the Lutheran church was offering us. We found the Unitarian Universalists a very good fit for us."
Through his new church, Schneider joined its UUJO (Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio) statewide organization, became very active in it and was elected co-chair of its board. He also became co-chair of the church’s social justice committee, helping coordinate many social justice-oriented activities in the community.
He is, for instance, heavily involved in the Interfaith Hospitality Network, inviting, several times a year, homeless families to come and stay at the church and be fed; as well as in the operation of the Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Community Services Food Pantry in Avondale. He also tutors kids at the South Avondale elementary school.
Participating with the Amos project, Schneider and his church supported, in 2016, the Preschool Promise initiative, canvassing door to door in favor of Issue 44, the school levy that insured opportunities for young kids to attend preschool.
Through UUJO he participated, in October 2015, along other social justice groups, in a Walk to Stop Executions in Ohio. They started at the death house in Lucasville, walked through Chillicothe and ended, seven days later, in Columbus. Accompanying them was a man previously on death row but since then exonerated. In addition Schneider wrote a letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer and sent several others to Ohio politicians and legislators urging them to abolish the death penalty. In 2016 he participated in a Rally for Racial Justice at the Ohio Statehouse. UUJO is currently trying to partner with other organizations in support of the Poor People’s Campaign, originally organized by MLK and later carried out under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy. The campaign which demanded economic and human rights for poor Americans of diverse backgrounds has been recently resurrected and re-imagined by William Barber, the former North Carolina NAACP leader who rose to prominence behind the Moral Mondays movement. The goal of the new Campaign is to consecrate a new movement to transform the political, economic, and moral structures of society. It plans to organize mobilizations in the spring of 2018, and to orchestrate 40 days of concentrated episodes of civil disobedience in at least 25 states, waging war on child poverty, racism and economic injustice.
Schneider also serves on the board of the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center where he helps raise money. Few years ago he attended training on the fair food campaign, and since then has worked and advocated with public entities, such as universities, the purchase of food which has public value and is environmentally healthy. He also worked on getting Cincinnati City Council to approve the Wage Theft Ordinance which penalizes any company that does business with the city and gets tax abatement if found not paying its workers a fair wage.
Every Tuesday and Thursday night, and from September until May, Schneider and his wife now teach English as a 2nd language to immigrants, mostly undocumented Latinos, at the Robert Academy in Price Hill.
“Teaching English to immigrants is a priority for me,” he says. “I like being useful and helping others, but also I find language skills to be essential for the integration of foreigners into our society.”
With his wife he also went to the Women’s March in Washington, DC, in January 2017 and in Cincinnati this past January.
Through the social justice committee that he chairs, Schneider also keeps his church involved in social and political issues. He got for instance the congregation to vote on a Black Lives Matter banner now displayed on the church building. Also on having a yearly reconciliation service and a monetary fund to honor the memory of William Carter, a black Unitarian Universalist minister who had started in 1920/30s the Unitarian Brotherhood church in the West End of Cincinnati but who was ignored and snobbed by ministers of the other UU established churches. Descendants of Carter are invited at the ceremony during which a public apology is expressed.
“I am interested not only in social services but also in advocacy for social justice,” says Schneider. “I serve currently on 4 different boards and try through them to effect public policy in order to better the world.”
In all his doings, Schneider is motivated by his faith and by his deep desire for social justice. He abides by what represent for him the two most important messages of Unitarian Universalism – spiritual freedom and universal uniting love.