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.