Thank-you for a "life changing course"

Jun 30, 2022
Diverse group of smiling people looking up

Course: Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. and Building a Unified Society (Feb 2022)
Faculty Mentor: June Manning Thomas

Editor’s Note: This was Joyce’s first Wilmette Institute course in over 10 years. Although she didn’t post in the forums, it is clear that attending the Zoom sessions, including the plays, had a significant and positive impact. The Institute is grateful for her feedback, and hopes that all her efforts will bear fruit.

This has been a most inspiring course and I have gained new knowledge and skills. I achieved most of my goals. I attended all the Sunday dialogues and all the small group discussions, plus the two plays. I was an active contributor to the discussion in a majority of the groups. Our study group plans to continue meeting after a few weeks off, and I plan to continue with the group. I was able to keep up with the foundational weekly readings and videos and some of the advanced content. 

I didn’t participate in the forum discussions but I did try to read most of the forum posts. Initially I decided not to get a certificate, but I hope to take the course again and get the certificate. In terms of actions I did engage in sharing the course content by sharing what I was learning with family and friends. I recognize that verbalizing and writing exercises increase the learning process. For the last three years I have been focusing on racial justice issues through several means: by studying the Universal House of Justice and the National Spiritual Assembly race unity letters in a local study group; joining a Race Amity book club and reading three books; participating in a monthly Racial Justice and Unity Forum offered by the Midwest Regional Council; participated in a Racial Justice-focused Ruhi Book 1; facilitating a weekly small discussion group; and participating in the United Way 21 Day Equity Challenge. I was also a break-out facilitator of a series of quarterly dialogues. 

One of my goals was to join a racial justice book study locally. I belong to a neighborhood community group and with my encouragement we are starting a book club focusing on racial unity. We plan to read “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee this Fall. I plan to continue with the forums and dialogues to which I’m already committed. I have found a Black friend who is willing to co-tutor a Racial Justice focused Book 1 locally. 

This course has deepened my understanding of the pivotal significance of Anti-Black racism; the depth of bias and discrimination continues to dismay me.  I appreciate more deeply the richness and wealth of African/Black culture and the special role of Black women. I have a deeper understanding of the necessity that moral and spiritual solutions are the true basis for resolving these issues. The Unit on the Prison Industrial Complex was riveting, especially Michelle Alexander’s talk. I now realize the depth of the issue. Books on my reading list include The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee.

From childhood I focused on racial issues and I responded emotionally when challenged by my family. This course has helped me to calmly carry on a well-educated response, partly because I recently took a course entitled ”Depolarizing Conversations About Race,” a skills workshop for difficult conversations between white Americans I highly recommend this Wilmette course to others and would like to take this course again and recruit a local study group. Thanks so much to June Thomas and the whole Wilmette staff including Teaching Assistants for a life changing course and for all the time and energy you put into it. 



Joyce Harmsen

Joyce Harmsen has a degree in Social Work and has served in a variety of agencies for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Childcare Resource and Referral, and Food Pantry and Stress Management. As a Bahá’í for over 50 years she has been a home front pioneer in Alaska, South Dakota, Michigan and internationally in Gambia, West Africa. She has focused her life on striving for spiritual transformation and community service. She has served in several forums and community organizations for Peace, Interfaith Dialogues, Healing Racism and Child Abuse and Neglect Council. Over the years she has worked as a children's class teacher, Junior Youth animator, and Ruhi tutor, and hosted firesides and devotions in her home. She is an avid flower and vegetable gardener. She lives in a very internationally diverse neighborhood in Ann Arbor Michigan near 2 of her 3 children and 3 grandchildren.

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