Webinar

Disney, Brer Rabbit, and Me

May 7, 2021

Steven Zepeda, an MA student at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), presented his research paper, “Disney, Brer Rabbit, and Me,” in the final seminar to an audience including his instructors (Drs. Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis and Chitra Golestani) as well as other Wilmette Institute faculty and learners from the community learning course “Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society.” This is Steven’s final project for the Wilmette Institute’s university level course of the same name, being run with its partner institution, the GTU.

In his final paper, Steven wrote: “…what I have learned through this course is how to approach religions as “wellsprings” of knowledge, from which insights into academic quandaries emerge. My engagement with Bahá’í leaders, writers, and artists (through their texts and videos) has made me realize that principles of humanity’s oneness, constructive resilience, and consultation are crucial components of the multimodal solutions for racism. Before this course, I had perhaps relied too much on principles of individualism and competition to construct my activism—thinking, for instance, that “power” is something fought for, successfully or not, and is a limited commodity. However, Bahá’í perspectives reveal that lasting power is forged through unity, which benefits all.”

Contributors

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Steven Zepeda

Steven Zepeda is in his second semester of an M.A. program at Graduate Theological Union (GTU) with a concentration in Sociology. He lives in Downtown Oakland, and is originally from Guadalupe, CA, in Santa Barbara County. Steven is interested in the process of deconversion (i.e loss of faith or converting from religion to no religion) and the perception of atheists in America. Steven is taking the Wilmette Institute course "Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society," and says he "hopes this course improves my understanding of how I can bring anti-racism to my work in some form. I also hope that this course helps me think critically about the ways in which I participate in systemic racism as a white-presenting person moving into a historically black neighborhood."

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Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis, PhD

Professor, Miami University, Oxford, OH

One of my primary research goals/passions is to uncover and restore the history of African American women in the Bahá’í Faith. Many courageous black women made significant contributions from the very beginning. Knowing their life stories empowers us all. Another goal/passion is to help African American youth obtain a college education. I created a college preparation program entitled Dream Keepers, approximately eleven years ago. The majority of the high school students who complete the program go on to college. This is a service that occupies my heart and feeds my soul.See Faculty Bio

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Chitra Golestani, PhD

WI Associate Director, Faculty, Institute for Humane Education

Dr. Chitra Golestani is currently Associate Director of the Wilmette Institute and an Adjunct Faculty at the Institute for Humane Education/Antioch University. She also works as an educational consultant, guest lecturer, qualitative researcher, and a co-founder of the Paulo Freire Institute (PFI) at UCLA - an organization committed to social justice education locally and globally. Her areas of interest, lectures and research include Human Rights, Social Justice and Global Citizenship Education, Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice, Youth Activism in Extended Education, Conscious Living and Social Action. She holds a PhD in Social Science and Comparative Education from UCLA and a Master’s in Education from University of California, Santa Barbara. Her areas of interest, lectures and research include Human Rights, Social Justice and Global Citizenship Education, Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice, Youth Activism in Extended Education, Conscious Living and Social Action. In September 2019, she began a new administrative position as Associate Director of the Wilmette Institute. Her work is inspired by her lived experience with persecution in the country of her birth, Iran, where members of the Bahá’í Faith are not allowed to practice, are prohibited from accessing higher education, and denied other civil rights. While still a young child, her family escaped this marginalization and fled to the US in search of religious freedom, equality between women and men and human rights. Currently, Dr. Golestani is engaged in numerous grass-roots programs aimed at raising human capacity, locally and globally, to work towards a more just, united, and sustainable planet. Listen to Chitra's interview on "A Bahá’í Perspective."See Faculty Bio

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