Welcome to this site…it’s a work in progress!
For over 100 years, the Bahá’í community in the United States has sought to build a model of racial integration and race unity, embracing people from all backgrounds and classes of society. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, wrote in the mid-1800’s: “Close your eyes to racial differences and welcome all with the light of oneness.”
This process is not easy. Indeed, the Bahá’í writings identify racism and prejudice as “the most challenging issue” confronting the United States. The Bahá’í community in the US has consistently struggled through the beauty and pain of racial integration since the moment Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings spread to the Western hemisphere. Whatever shortcomings individual believers have had in these efforts, the primary Figures and institutions of our Faith have never once wavered from their injunction that we eliminate all forms of prejudice from our lives.
I created this site for two reasons:
1. To create a centralized space on the internet where one could easily get an overview of the important and central role that Black Americans have historically played in the development of the American Bahá’í community.
2. To demonstrate the dedication to race unity that marks every era of the Faith’s growth in this country, both from the efforts of individual white and Black believers, as well as from the counsels of our higher institutions.
The oneness of humanity is the central organizing principal of the Bahá’í Faith. Our unique history of implementing this principle in the context of the US spans from the Jim Crow era, to the Civil Rights era, and now into the Obama era. Almost a century ago, ‘Abdu’l-Baha said “To bring the white and the black together is considered impossible and unfeasible, but the breaths of the Holy Spirit will bring about this union.” (The Power of Unity, p 31)
Bahá’í Efforts to Promote Race Unity in the US Continue into the Obama Era
Over the past century, the American Bahá’í community has committed itself to building race unity at the individual, the community, and the institutional level. Service to all of humanity, and the forging of a unified, just society is seen as a spiritual endeavor. The US Bahá’í website states: “Race unity encompasses equal opportunity, but its implications run deeper. The Baha’i Faith teaches the need for a spiritual transformation that will cause a change in individual and collective behavior.”
The American Bahá’í community in 2009 honors the principle of race unity in many ways. Bahá’í communities all over the country are still involved each year in the implementation of public events such as Race Unity Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Race unity discussions and workshops are offered at Bahá’í conferences and schools, and Bahá’ís in localities nation-wide are involved with like minded civic organizations and programs that target issues around race equity and justice.
A Baha'i Inspired Race Unity Workshop by Mosaic Partnerships
Since 1948, the Bahá’í International Community has been accredited as an international nongovernmental organization of the United Nations, and it has had special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 1970. They have consistently addressed issues related to racial justice. Info on the BIC can be found here.
Also, in every Bahá’í community nation-wide, people from every back ground; racial, ethnic, religious, or otherwise, are invited to participate in the core activities of the Faith. These include study circles, devotional gatherings, children’s classes and junior youth classes. Each of these activities revolves around Bahá’u’lláh’s central teaching: the oneness of humanity.
Learn more about the Baha’i Faith here.
UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
The Baha’i International Community sent an international delegation to this UN conference in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 2001 to September 7 2001. The BIC also issued this statement to the Conference, which included delegates from 160 governments.
Photo Courtesy of the Bahá'í International Community
The Bahá’í International Community’s delegation to the World Conference against Racism represented Bahá’í communities from around the world. Shown left to right are Robert Henderson of the United States; Sheryl Davis of New Zealand; Diane Ala’i representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations in Geneva; Antonio Borja of Spain; Gabriel Marquès of Brazil; and Rachel Ndegwa of Kenya.
The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue
In 1991, the National Spiritual Assembly issued a landmark statement on “The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue.” Baha’is have distributed the statement widely and presented it to local government officials, civic organizations and interfaith groups to encourage dialogue and activities to foster an end to racism.
Below are a few excerpts from the document:
“Racism is the most challenging issue confronting America…Racism is an affront to human dignity, a cause of hatred and division, a disease that devastates society.
“From the day it was born the United States embraced a set of contradictory values. The founding fathers proclaimed their devotion to the highest principles of equality and justice yet enshrined slavery in the Constitution…the evil consequences of slavery are still visible in this land. They continue to affect the behavior of both Black and White Americans and prevent the healing of old wounds.
“…Our Creator…out of His infinite love, brought forth all humanity from the same stock and intended that all belong to the same household. We believe, moreover, that the day of the unification of the entire human race has come and that “the potentialities inherent in the station of man, the innate excellence of his reality, must all be manifested in this promised Day of God.”
Founding of the Black Men’s Gathering
The Black Men’s Gathering (BMG) was founded in 1987 by Dr. William Roberts, who himself is African-American and serves as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States.
Participants in the BMG come together on a regular basis in chapters throughout the United States, in Europe, Australia, Canada and the Caribbean to share their experiences and strengthen their commitment to the Bahá’í Faith.
The Universal House of Justice describes the Gathering in this way:
“…the Gathering is a distinctive activity with a different agenda. It does not concern itself chiefly with race unity in the Bahá’í community as such. It addresses itself to a special situation faced by a minority that has suffered severe social and spiritual afflictions imposed upon it by the majority. The program of the Black Men’s Gatherings is unique and exemplary as an avenue for transcending the legacy of anguish, frustration and social pathology that is peculiar to black men in the United states; it urges them towards a fullness of life within the spirit and principles of the Bahá’í Revelation.”
(The Universal House of Justice, 2000 Mar 14)
Black Mens Gathering 2006
A Devotional Meeting at the New York Baha'i Center Hosted by Participants of the Black Men's Gathering. Photo Baha'i International Community.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Established
In 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed nationally for the first time. Since then, every year on the third Monday in January, Bahá’ís in hundreds of communities around the country help to organize or host fitting commemorations of Dr. King’s life and legacy.
MLK Day 2008 in Santa Monica, California. Co-organized by the Baha'is of Santa Monica
In 1992, two served as Federal Commissioners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission. As members of the Commission, Robert Henderson, member of the National Spiritual Assembly, and Maryland Baha’i Carole Miller helped coordinate the efforts of Americans of diverse backgrounds and organizations to encourage appropriate ceremonies on the holiday.
Founding of Bahá’í Youth Workshops
In 1974, Oscar DeGruy founded Bahá’í youth workshops to reach disaffected young people battered by racism, gang violence and drug abuse. The groups aided youth to explore the social problems plaguing the world, and to identify the spiritual principles that could address them. The groups created dances that creatively addressed different issues, such as ending racial prejudice, substance abuse, and the equality of men and women.
Image Courtesy of the Baha'i International Community
A generation of Baha’i youth in the U.S. were raised with the workshop model. Eventually the idea spread worldwide, and youth in other countries used the workshop model to explore the application of Bahá’í principles to the issues in their own countries.
Photo Courtesy of the Bahá'í International Community
Performance troupe “Beyond Words” in 2009 comprised youth from South Africa, Cuba, Taiwan, Ireland, United Kingdom.
Info courtesy of the Baha’i International Community.