Building Communities With Racial Justice

Image: Map of Cleveland, Ohio area showing African American neighborhoods in blue and European neighborhoods in green.

About 85 people from the Midwest Region met on October 12, 2020, for the second in a series of discussions about how to integrate racial healing into the Five Year Plan while maintaining the momentum of the institute process, at the Racial Justice and Unity Forum. The monthly consultation was frank, far-ranging, and productive.

There was a short talk by Dr. June Thomas, who focused on the idea that our environment and neighborhood influences us as we recognize opportunities and make plans to carry out the instructions of the Universal House of Justice and our other institutions. We have all read and understand the overall guidance, but we have to make our plans by combining that guidance with the reality of our neighborhoods. Following June’s talk, John and Anisa Everitt showed how they adjusted their reality by moving into an African American neighborhood where they recognized there was a need for realtors who had a sense of the unity of mankind. John became a realtor and started a socio-economic project, helping one family at a time become homeowners.

Whatever we do, we must work within the Plan, developing core activities, but as much as possible, those core activities must be infused with the mindset of the oneness of mankind.

Here are some specific take-a-ways from the meeting:

  • Learn the reality of your neighborhood; what is the racial mix? If your neighbors mostly look like you, what can you do to include racial healing in your interactions with them?
  • If your neighbors don’t look like you, what do they care about? What are their problems?
  • What other groups are working for racial healing in your area?
  • How can you reach out to African or Native Americans?
  • How can you support immigrants who are often very receptive?
  • In general, we have to work in our own neighborhoods, or in neighborhoods where some other Bahá’ís live.
  • The Institute process should always be used, either directly or peripherally.
  • Socio-economic projects are needed among disadvantaged populations and immigrants. They are a way of meeting people who already accept the unity of mankind.
  • We may want to work with a socio-economic project started by some other group.
  • All of us, even Bahá’ís, have some degree of racism. Working with people of other cultures helps us to uncover our “subconscious sense of superiority” or our “trace of suspicion.”

Examples of capacities you may wish to develop:

  • Authentic conversations that develop true friendships with new people of a different culture. Consider how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would expand their vision and attract their hearts.
  • Frame meaningful conversations in the context of Bahá’í principles.
  • Learn how to describe Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a world society based on justice and unity.
  • Learn how to attract people to devotional meetings, study circles, children’s classes, junior youth groups or firesides.

Questions for discussion:

  1. What are some of the pitfalls you have discovered in the road to the eradication of racial prejudice from the fabric of America? What methods and approaches are effective in avoiding pitfalls?
  2. What have you learned about developing new friendships that include minorities and immigrants that are centered on shared values and a commitment to changing society?
  3. What have you learned about describing Bahá’u’lláh’s vision for the future of society in a way that attracts people of all backgrounds to the community-building process?
  4. What capacity do you want to develop and what action or actions will you take to build

Participants described the space as “joyful,” “loving,” and filled with sharing. They appreciated the insights based on the letter from the Universal House of Justice, scholarly study and practical experience. Oliver Thomas described the data and insights shared by Dr. June Thomas as “very powerful.” Groups that were geographically focused enabled participants to learn from other nearby communities. One participant observed, “We still have much to learn. Even within the Bahá’í community, it’s sometimes hard to talk about race.”

Columbus, Ohio