Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer met via Zoom with members of the Bahá’í community on March 9, in response to a letter she received from Paul Harrison of Ann Arbor. After consulting with the Ann Arbor Spiritual Assembly, Paul had asked for an appointment to present her with a certificate of appreciation for the work she has been doing for justice and equity in the state. The governor wanted to meet with Baháí’s before setting up a meeting to receive the certificate.
At the meeting, the Governor was praised for her unwavering commitment to justice, equity, inclusion and the welfare of all residents of the state. It was stressed that Bahá’ís are on a mission to promote the oneness of humanity and the elimination of prejudices of all kinds, and that they view the diversity of our world and within the state as an asset. “’The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established,’” is among many passages from the Bahá’í Writings that inspire Bahá’ís to translate ideals into action.The people whom the Governor met are all involved in programs dedicated to racial justice and unity.
Among the Bahá’í visitors who met with the governor were Bonnie Billups and Dr. Richard and Dr. June Thomas from Ann Arbor. Bonnie Billups is the executive director of the Peace Neighborhood Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Long-time and dedicated residents of the state, Dr. Richard Thomas and Dr. June Thomas are respected professors, writers, international speakers and community members who have committed their entire adult lives to championing racial justice and unity. Their contributions are of inestimable value. They are treasured for their valuable services to the community. Their oral history can be found at Race Unity in America: An Oral History.
The Governor learned about the Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience MRULE—an innovative learning program at Michigan State University dedicated to uniting students across differences to develop genuine relationships, build community, and promote student success. Co-founded by Dr. Richard Thomas and Jeanne Gazel over 25 years ago, this program continues today with the support of individuals like Meghan McCullough and Tiffany Toriumi.
The group also included Kim and David Douglas, from Wyoming, Michigan, who shared their own commitment to race unity, After retiring from careers in education, the couple continue to utilize their professional skills to facilitate community dialogue at the local and regional levels on healing from the cancer ravaging our nation – racism. These dialogues are raising awareness and leading to concrete action, such as changing social patterns and policies in their area.
John and Anisa Everett, Justin Duhimbaze and Nadia Iradukunda shared their experience serving together in a diverse and immigrant-populated neighborhood in Southeast Grand Rapids. The focus of their efforts in building community is the spiritual and material empowerment of children, junior youth and youth. Study and service are combined to enable community members to evaluate both the destructive and constructive forces of the day and to align with themselves with constructive forces for the betterment of the community. John Everett became a realtor to deal with the housing crisis among African immigrants. His aim is to serve African community members and African Americans to reduce the complexity around purchasing a home for the first time. He has helped more than a dozen families in the neighborhood become first-time home buyers. The Bahá’í approach to community building is described on the website Community Building: Love in Action.
Cam Herth and Mia Taufa briefly explained their services in Flint, Michigan. They work in community building in complementary ways. They work with community members who desire to become protagonists of their own lives by taking charge of their spiritual and material destinies. Community members experience the value of arising to serve and meeting the needs determined and articulated by their own community, rather than having plans imposed from the outside. Cam is the director of Louhelen Bahá’í Center for Learning (http://www.louhelen.org) just outside of Flint.
Finally, the Governor had the opportunity to meet Hermione Pickens and David Henderson, who founded the Race Amity Forum Detroit Metro more than 20 years ago. Their forum was honored recently with a talk given by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.
The meeting concluded with the Governor thanking the Bahá’ís for their efforts and encouraging all Faith communities to support the COVID-19 vaccination efforts among African Americans.
To gain a broader vision of how Bahá’ís are working for race unity at the national and international levels to these websites: Race Unity in America: An Oral History, Race Unity Action Resources or Combatting Racism: A statement from the Baha’i International Community.