Racial Justice and Unity Forum – January 11, 2021
“Living the Dream—A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” was the focus of the presentation by Dr. Gwen Etter-Lewis at the fifth gathering of the Racial Justice and Unity Forum sponsored by the Regional Bahá’í Council of the Midwestern States on January 11, 2021.
What an amazing experience to be part of this fifth, and much larger, Forum gathering—with 200 registered participants, of which 45 were seekers. More than 35 Bahá’ís volunteered to be facilitators of the breakout groups—17 each having about 12 participants, in addition to two facilitators.
In our study circle on Social Action (Ruhi Book 13) the following day, we had the opportunity to share reflections and excitement about yesterday’s Forum. All agreed that Dr. Gwen Etter-Lewis intricately and very adeptly wove personal experiences in with the mandate and legacy given us by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and punctuated this with the stories of a number of Bahá’ís whose service to the Bahá’í Faith, their communities, and the wider society exemplifies what we are each called to do today to build this “new world order.”
Among her remarks, some that stood out for me personally, and echoed today in our study circle, were these: “Let’s live the dream, not just dream the dream!… Prayer is important and we then must carry that out through action…. Dreams have been the means of bringing people to the truth…. Oneness of God—we are all created to reflect God’s attributes…. Important to recognize the Oneness of mankind – and equality of men and women is the blueprint for Race Unity…. Importance of recognizing/honoring the significance of Pupil of the Eye contributions in growth and understanding of our spiritual destiny – and engaging more effectively with people of color.… Important to note the appalling silence of the “good people” and find ways to better engage and address this…. What inspiration can we gain from those who have gone before us?… Storytelling is essential to understanding ourselves and the world…. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá challenged us to go beyond tolerance, to embrace diversity completely, and to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership…. Learn more about the importance/significance of Constructive Resilience and how that fits with Bahá’ulláh’s mandate for building an ever-advancing civilization…. So—Live the dream by doing the work!”
This led us into our Forum breakout sessions, where we studied a paragraph from the Universal House of Justice’s July 22, 2020 letter:
“Racism is a profound deviation from the standard of true morality. It deprives a portion of humanity of the opportunity to cultivate and express the full range of their capability and to live a meaningful and flourishing life, while blighting the progress of the rest of humankind. It cannot be rooted out by contest and conflict. It must be supplanted by the establishment of just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions of society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as “other”. The change required is not merely social and economic, but above all moral and spiritual.” Universal House of Justice, July 22, 2020
We then discussed both the insights and impact of both of these presentations and especially the concept of “just relationships.” We were fortunate in our group to have a few seekers who eagerly participated in helping us to “advance this discourse of society” in exploring the much needed interactions between individuals, the communities in which we each live, and the institutions meant to serve these—whether within a Bahá’í framework and/or the wider context.
It is my hope that we will all have access to the results of the brainstorming activity that took place in each of our groups. Although we unfortunately didn’t have the expected racial mix in the group, ours was still a very rich and honest experience, and there were many questions about how to proceed within our own communities, as well as several examples of concrete actions being taken by some of the participants—such as making a conscious effort to shop at Black-owned businesses on the part of some White participants.
The level of honesty and depth of sharing of aspirations and concerns was a sign of the “safe space” and trust in showing the vulnerability and taking a risk in speaking one’s truth in a circle that had been so easily created between people who, for the most part didn’t know each other. All were eager to continue the discussion and the hope was voiced for further opportunities to emerge to expand on what we were able to start discussing in the short time allotted.
I am fortunate that one of the seekers is already part of my current Social Justice group, and another participant is a friend of hers so both will be part of on-going discussions about this all-important topic. Another who couldn’t make it at the last minute is also part of my social action circle and was eager to hear what went on—asking if there was a recording that would be made available. My hope is that at next month’s Forum, we will have the opportunity to meet again with the same people in the breakout groups. In the meantime, the Forum leadership will no doubt provide other opportunities to connect, deepen, and develop local action plans together. I can’t wait.
Colette Harrison, Ohio