Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How the Baha'is of Baltimore responded to the crises

In April 2015, the tragic death of Freddie Gray plunged the city of Baltimore into turmoil.  Although much public attention was placed on the symptoms of civil unrest, protests and in some cases, violence, conversations across the city increasingly brought into light the unmet need for unity as an underlying condition. In neighborhoods, communities and a city working to continue on a path of development, the ties that brought groups of people together to work towards a common cause despite differences of age, class, race, religion or other social boundaries were called on to contribute to reconstruction of the city, in bricks and in spirit.   

In the acute phase of unrest, the Local Spiritual Assembly began consulting on how efforts could be made to contribute to the city’s development, and began with a call over email to community members to decentralize [activities] into neighborhood gatherings open to all, to create a space for learning and consultation. This began a process . . .  structures of the Bahá’í community were able to provide a scaffold for building bonds of friendship, unity, and community development. 

The response of the Baha’i community to crises in Baltimore City included several lines of mobilization by . . .  

·        adapting the current framework of activities to meet the needs of unity in neighborhoods

·        expansion of activities to meet these needs

·        mobilizing groups of people who have been serving together to carry out conversations and acts of service

·        working alongside other groups to contribute to community development

·        use of social media for conversations and outreach

In exploration of ongoing activities . . .

        Feast was adapted into "unity" Feasts, resulting in an increase in participation, both from community members and generality of friends.

        The Holy Day event was adapted to discussion about ongoing crises in Baltimore City.

        Devotionals were both adapted and expanded to address needs for unity.

        Study circles were adaptable to provide a space for discussion.

        Junior youth were mobilized to be of service and to carry out conversations in the city. In both cases, members of the public expressed appreciation for services and voices of the young.

        Home visits and quality of connections within increased during the most acute phase of the crisis.


SED: Dialogue on Race & Ethnicity in Baltimore

The friends in Baltimore share how they responded to questions about race.

We were invited to join with the First Unitarian church of Baltimore in an ADORE (a dialogue on race and ethnicity) on Friday, May 1st. From the Baha’i Community we had youth and junior youth and adults [many from the wider community joined us].  We initially shared a pot luck meal together and were able to meet the members of the church as well as their other guests. Then we gathered and everyone introduced themselves. Interestingly, almost all the youth were from the Baha’i Community. There were also members of other Unitarian churches from around the area and members of the Maryland Ethical Society and some individuals that did not identify themselves with any organization. We then all watched a TED talk that focused on institutional racism. This was very informative; the audience then was divided in groups of 2 for a 15 minute dialogue to come up with a message to help Baltimore city's problems of racism. Everyone was told to pick a person that they did not know before and a different age group than themselves. This encouraged our youth to hold dialogues with adults.

At the end of the small group conversations, then people had a chance to share what they talked about. Every one of the youths that attended from the Baha'i community, bravely raised their hands and shared their thoughts. Even the youth that are usually quiet during youth group felt empowered to share. This was impressive sight to hear them eloquently express their thought and paths of action with a large group of people they had never met before.

After this discussion the Unitarian Minster shared a few words and let everyone in an exercise of breathing in and breathing out. Then we were invited to join this dialogue again on June 12th. The members of the Unitarian church then held lighted candles and went outside to stand in a vigil and sing songs about Unity. Some of the Baha'i Community members joined in as well.

This was very educational for the junior youth group and it was very refreshing for the Unitarian Church to have the youth involved. Speaking to one of the members, she stated that they are [learning about] engaging their youth, and she was interested in activities to join our youths together. She may bring her daughter to the next junior youth group meeting on Friday.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

SED: Samples of endeavors reported for 2015

Some examples of social and economic development endeavors underway across the country . . .

o   Planting a garden in a neighborhood in Naples FL with another organization

o   Offering seminars and scholarships through the Esperanza Foundation in Portola CA

o   Church-sponsored talks, potluck and speakers on MLK Day in Scottsville VA

o   “To Light a Candle” documentary on religious and educational freedom, across the USA

o   Roadside cleanup in Grand Rapids MN

o   “Education is not a Crime” seminar and consultations, across the USA

o   Pet rescue volunteer service in Trophy Club TX

o   Clothing drive in Camas WA

o   Student Virtues Aware program to high school students in La Crescenta CA

o   Tutoring program in Bethlehem PA

o   Earth Day Fair on climate change in Milford MI

o   Race Equality Discourse in Rocklin CA

o   Brilliant Stars Park cleanup in Fontana CA

o   Trash Bash neighborhood cleanup in Richardson TX

SED in Ithaca NY: "We still have time"

The Ithaca Junior Youth Group was formed in November 2010, and since then the participants have been involved in different service project in the community: 

o   They’ve performed step dances in several local Festivals (like the Food Justice Summit, the Boricua Festival or Juneteenth) to raise awareness about the power of youth to make changes and the potency of united work.

o   They’ve raised money for several causes - some of them sponsored by local organizations (like the SPCA of Tompkins County or Green Star Community Projects), and some of them international (like Hope is Life Foundation and one of their schools in Haiti, or Mujeres Solares in Costa Rica).

o   They’ve supported local efforts to ban the use of plastic bags in Ithaca by organizing video forums in their neighborhood and their own middle school classrooms, collecting signatures, and participating in public meetings to support this cause.

In 2012 it started in Ithaca a project organized by the Public Art Commission (PAT) called "21 Boxes", which according to that commission: "[the] Artwork displayed on electrical boxes functions as a form of communication to a moving audience with the goal of creating a safe, inclusive and inspired urban environment. Successful proposals will foster community good will and become a beacon of neighborhood pride." That project has been happening every year since then.

The participants of the group, all of them very artistic oriented, felt in love with the idea of painting one box, using it as a way to share a positive message with the people of Ithaca. By the end of 2013 they submitted a proposal which was approved, and they painted during May and June of 2014. The process of thinking of what to paint it was itself a great experience of consultation and reflection. This is how they described their mural:

"With our mural, called 'We still have time', the Junior Youth Group illustrates our desire for a happy future where people live in harmony with each other and nature, thus we created an image of a bright future. The buildings are powered by alternative energy. People get around the cities on foot, bike, and mass transit. Unity is depicted by little people holding hands and kids feeling safe to play outdoors.

All of this is painted along the bottom of the painting/drawing in black silhouette, without color. The sky is a gorgeous collaboration of stars and beautiful colors, the style similar to starry night. A small fun detail that will appeal to youth is a TARDIS time machine from “Doctor Who” flying through the sky, which plays on the idea of time and the future."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I didn't understand why the churches were not in unity

“I had a job in a northern town of Indiana. It was a long way from where I lived and I had to drive to the job site. On the day the job started, I arrived early and had some time to kill. I was walking around the parking lot near where the job was and I saw a water logged piece of paper lying on the ground. I picked it up and it was a pamphlet about the Baha'i Faith. I carefully opened the pages and started to read the information. I started to think that this is what I believe. I was raised a Southern Baptist and didn't believe all that I was told. I didn't understand why the churches were not in unity . . .  I went online and found the Baha'i website and registered."

I was never a devout Christian to begin with . . .

“ . . . I was never a, "devout," Christian to begin with. After a lot of research and reading about the foundations of the Baha'i Faith, I really agree with a lot of them. I think one of the ones that stood out for me is that we are all one. Not necessarily segregated due to religious beliefs. I remember at Christmas, my uncle was asking why I didn't bring [my Baha’i boyfriend] with me. He was out of town visiting family, but also he does not celebrate Christmas. Then of course the whole family surrounded me, and asked me what his beliefs were. When I said he was a Baha'i, they were really confused and made some jokes about it. My mom and I have also talked about it, and she seemed to be really put off at first, and she said, "Well, I don't really know what that is... But if he doesn't believe in God, then . . ." I interrupted her, and corrected her. I think it just scared her a bit, because she was afraid I would end up with someone who does not believe in God! Lol. But I really like the fact that it unifies all social classes, nationality, culture, and religious beliefs. I feel like it focuses a lot on peace and kindness. Practicing patience, and serving your community, which are all things that I am very passionate about, as opposed to condemning people for their wrong doings  . . . .  I don't think any type of religion should do this to anyone . . .”


It made a lot of sense; it clicked for me

Julie shared . . .
“It made a lot of sense; it clicked with me.  I started going to weekly meetings that started with the Báb and 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Bahá’u'lláh and His journey and the Holy Land and the Universal House of Justice.  Someone shared a video about the youth conferences that went on and the fun activities that the youth activities did that made me excited about starting up some things here in Iowa.  My sister is working with some young girls and I've been interested in getting study groups together or community activities.   I learned more about Bahá’u’lláh, then I finally made a conclusion.  I really enjoy the faith.  It brings a lot of feelings and a lot of positive things have happened since I learned about it.  Every time I read the scriptures, it gives me positive feelings . . . I saw the video how we focus on the junior youth group age.
Even before I found the Faith I found there shouldn't be division of people because we’re all humans, all created by God for a reason.  That's why I felt lost in the Christian household.  That's why I'm glad I found the Bahá’í Faith.  It answered a lot of questions.  I didn't know which way to go and it just made so much sense and made me so happy.
It’s so exciting to learn about Bahá’u’lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá.  It’s the dawn of a new day, the dawn of a new cycle, great to be living in these times.”