Image: Screenshot from a 2021 devotional slide show, Tucson Bahá’ís for Race Unity Sunday Devotions
by Nicola Daniels
On Sunday, February 13, 2022, 41 graduates and teaching team members of the Wilmette Institute course Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society gathered on Zoom to share and to learn about a number of local initiatives aimed at addressing freedom from racial prejudice as service within their families, communities, institutions, and clusters. This was the first of a series of regular (quarterly) gatherings planned by a team of volunteer teaching staff, led by faculty member Jeanais Brodie.
Four initiatives–from friends in Alabama, Arizona, and Minnesota, were pre-selected by the team. A description of each initiative is presented in this report, along with a video presentation from the Birmingham, Alabama “Pupil of the Eye Cultural, Learning and Visitors Center” project.
1. Race Amity Day Proclaimed in the Shoals
Location: Northwest Alabama
Date: June 6th and 13th (Race Amity Day) 2021. Ongoing.
Thirteen City and County governments in Lauderdale, Colbert, and Franklin Counties proclaimed Sunday, June 13th, 2021 as Race Amity Day. A coalition of organizations joined with the handful of Bahá’ís residing in the cluster to request that City Councils and County Commissions in those three counties issue proclamations and resolutions in recognition of the centenary of the Race Amity effort. The team was successful in getting the first ever state proclamation of Race Amity Day from Alabama’s Attorney General.
The purpose of Race Amity Day is to recognize that the people of the United States are its greatest asset, and that the USA is comprised of multicultural, multiethnic multiracial citizens. The intent of Race Amity Day is to encourage friendship, collegiality, civility, respect and kindness among all.
The Shoals Race Amity Coalition observed the centennial of Race Amity Day with two weekends of events, including:
*Film Showing: “Race Amity: America’s Other Tradition” (PBS) at the Indian Mound Museum in Florence
*Watch Party at the Florence Library (to live stream the national observance)
*Display of the proclamations and resolutions issued by the State of Alabama; City and Town councils of Sheffield, Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, Florence, Russellville, Cherokee, Leighton, and Littleville; and the Commissions of Lauderdale, Colbert, and Franklin Counties.
These were historic and healing firsts for a state that is considered to be the heart of segregation before the 1960’s.
2. Tucson Bahá’ís for Race Unity
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Date: Race Unity Night has been held every month since January 2020 with devotionals every Sunday for the same period of time.
This initiative arose from a group of concerned friends who were studying Ruhi Book 8: The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh in Spring 2019. Programs are held on the Zoom platform.
Bahá’ís for Race Unity is a group of individuals from the Tucson cluster who are engaged in educational programs on Race and Racism. This initiative is focused on guiding individuals and groups to take informed social justice actions on race. “Race Unity Night” is held monthly, when a topic or issue on race is presented. The presentations are developed with contemporary thinkers, using videos and or guest speakers. A question and answer or open discussion period follows.
Sunday noon Devotionals on Race Unity are also held. These devotionals are an action step for the entire community to pray for racial justice and healing. Each Sunday a short presentation on a relevant topic is shared, using Bahá’ís principles, prayers and quotes. The programing is developed as a collaborative effort of everyone in the group, and experienced individuals from outside the group are also consulted.
Bahá’ís for Race Unity over the course of time have also reached out to other local organizations. Some members have joined the “Pillars and Bridges Community Organization” which focuses on improving communications between the Police Department and the community. Others work with “Contego” on helping refuge and asylum seekers to navigate the immigration system. These organizations have also attended and shared their programs at Race Unity Night and at Devotionals.
3. Teaching the Lie of Race to Children
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota and beyond
Date: Started in January, 2021 (ongoing)
A team of educators from across the US, in partnership with u.lab out of M.I.T., is working on a framework for teaching young children about race. A key concept of the framework is that race is a lie but has very real consequences. The curriculum will teach children about innate and universal human rights, values development, and equity. The framework will guide children in their understanding of race as a human construct, to identify and reject racist narratives, and to become empowered agents for change.
Often, adults introduce race to children as an issue of skin color, and racism as Jim Crow or Slavery. Neither of these is true. For children to grow up free from racial prejudice, they need to know the true origins of the lie of race. Introducing young children (3-5 years old) to race and racism with slavery is often traumatic and disintegrative. It promotes ‘othering’. When white children have little interaction with People of Color, African Americans become known for intense suffering and enslavement. This story on its own is dehumanizing. In fact, it can be a distraction as it doesn’t make whites responsible for intentionally developing and maintaining this lie.
4. Pupil of the Eye Cultural, Learning and Visitors Center
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Date: Launched April 24, 2021
The Pupil of the Eye Cultural, Learning and Visitors Center is a community center in a predominantly African American community in Birmingham, Alabama. The center is dedicated to the moral, spiritual, and cultural upliftment of humanity with a focus on children, junior youth, and youth character development and empowerment through virtues training, esteem building, and spiritual value awareness and enhancement. The center hosts devotionals, Ruhi study circles, and firesides.
The Center aims to explore community building processes collectively in African American neighborhoods, and to foster a healthy attitude toward communal learning and active service, using Ruhi Institute training and ongoing projects where the work is shared by active adult members of the neighborhood and their families.
The center is open to visitors who desire to serve and is available for lodging by reservation. It sleeps 6, is equipped with a full kitchen and a prayer, flower and vegetable garden, and is located directly opposite the Sherman Heights Community neighborhood park, a beautiful well-maintained park with tennis courts, soccer field, and a basketball court, and a well-equipped outdoor play facility for children. To learn more about this project watch this 4-minute video from Angela Murray and Aliyah Aziza.
The next Project Center gathering will be held on Sunday, May 22nd at 4 pm Eastern Time (1 pm Pacific). All graduates of the Wilmette Institute Racism course will be invited (look out for announcements via Moodle, from “The Most Vital and Challenging Issue” Project Center). If you are not a graduate but are interested in joining the email list, please contact Nicola Daniels: firstname.lastname@example.org.