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Learner Expands Public Discourse About Anti-Black Racism in Grand Rapids

Oct 24, 2022

Course: Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society (Summer 2022)
Faculty Mentor: Nicola Daniels

My objective in taking the course on Anti-Black Racism was to enhance my ability to engage in public discourse and social action in the context of the Grand Rapids community. During the course, my group “Conversations on Race” continued to meet, self-educate, and plan meaningful social actions. We decided to write a letter to county and city governmental leaders that outlined some of the recent problems of mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of police, including disrespect, indignity, brutality, and death. We asked friends, family members, and religious associates to sign it. Although most of the members of our group are not Bahá’ís, I consulted with the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs to make sure that there was nothing objectionable from the standpoint of public relations. 

On September 6, members of our group made a presentation to the Mayor and City Commission calling attention to the letter. Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Deputy Police Chief Scott Rifenberg indicated that they would like to have follow-up discussions about the ideas in the letter. Here is a video recording of my presentation at the commission meeting.

Another of my objectives was to learn how Bahá’í institutions can increase their capacity to address issues of racial prejudice inside and outside of the Bahá’í community. I participated in a reflection meeting with members of three Local Spiritual Assemblies. They all shared ideas of how their assemblies can take meaningful actions to educate the Bahá’í community and the broader community on anti-Black racism. The Regional Council is also looking into ways that it can continue to strengthen  teaching efforts with a focus on historically significant and immigrant populations. Although these initiatives are in the early stages of learning, they both show great promise.

Among my insights in this course, I learned that study, action, and reflection are effective components in learning about discourse and social action. The group “Conversations on Race” has been meeting regularly for self-education and periodically engaging in social action that naturally grew from our reflections. Each time, our social actions have become more effective and reached a broader audience.

Everything in this arena is part of an ongoing learning process, in which I am constantly trying and learning new things. The process has become progressively more challenging. It evolved from on-line discussions to on-line self-education, launching a coordinated campaign to influence government policy. The campaign included numerous consultations within the group, members of the local Bahá’í community, and communication with local organizations. Our group spent weeks writing and refining the letter. We also wrote and mailed a press release with the hope of gaining an even broader audience. Overall, I would say the group is beginning to acquire the capacity to engage in public discourse on a broad scale.

Throughout the process, I have experienced a broad range of feelings: 

* nervousness about trying new things and engaging new people;

* fear about repercussion that might negatively affect my personal and family life;

* hope for meaningful change in our community;

* joy in interacting with others with the intention of making a difference in the world; and

* excitement about the prospect of working with city officials.

The project has reinforced my belief in the ability of a small group of dedicated friends to engage in meaningful personal and community transformation. Our group “Conversations on Race” will continue its self-education process and efforts to make progress in promoting racial justice in the Grand Rapids community.

Contributors

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David Douglas

David Douglas, born of mixed race parents, has been an avid student of race relations and an advocate for racial justice for most of his adult life. His work has included collaboration with community organizations, public schools and colleges to increase understanding of race and ethic relations and to promote race unity. A retired educator and counselor he now pours his time and energy into community building based on the principles of the Bahá’í Faith.

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