Small groups of friends are coming together in many different cities across Canada to consult about the enduring problem of racism, and how they can think, talk, and act together to combat this social ill.
Among the central principles of the Bahá’í Faith is the elimination of prejudice. For more than a century, Bahá’í communities around the world have endeavoured to put this principle into practice in diverse settings.
For this reason, among others, early admirers and members of the Bahá’í Faith in the Americas included prominent people who worked to end racism and promote race unity, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke. Among Du Bois’ associates was Louis Gregory, a leading member of the US Baha’i community in the early-20th century and the first African-American to be elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada in 1922.
As the issue of race relations has become more prominent in the wider public conversation in recent weeks, youth have led the way in creating spaces to pray and talk how they can play a constructive role in promoting race unity.
A group of 40 youth in Brampton, Ontario, gathered together for several hours to talk about how they can promote change in their communities. In small groups meeting online, they studied quotations from the Baha’i study materials and works written by Black authors to help them think about the spiritual qualities and contributions that would be needed to help reshape their community to be more inclusive and accepting of all.
The space was organized by Jahzaiah Langley, a youth who has been participating in the community building processes led by the local Baha’i community. Martharoot Malungu helped Langley create the space. She said, “A lot of the questions we discussed focused on change, and how can that happen. What causes an individual to change? What habits have to be thrown away? What role do youth play in helping reshape our community to be more accepting?”
Afterwards, they shared some insights from the conversation on a social media account: “Having conversations with our family right now, is very important. It can be easy to say our parents are older and it’s fine, but it’s not. Everyone needs to have this conversation. Everyone needs to understand that racism is an issue and we all need to work towards change.”
In downtown Toronto, Deltin Sejour organized a gathering to discuss the Baha’i perspective on race and prejudice. “My motivation to start this gathering was simply to create a space where Baha’is and their friends can have tools to combat the destructive forces of prejudice that are fully revealing themselves in explosive ways,” he said.
“Unity is more than a word, it is action, it’s a philosophy, it’s a decision to be consistently aware of those around us and working to be on one accord,” Sejour continued.
A group of young people in the Rowntree neighourhood in Toronto have been gathering regularly for a devotional, and they focused on the theme of race several months ago. They decided to revisit the topic in light of recent events.
One participant reflected: “Is it enough to just know the history [of racism]? Racism is built into the institutions of our society and it will take a lot of effort to dismantle that. I am not sure if education is enough. It seems like people need a real spiritual commitment to changing things. Maybe this is part of why we say racism is a spiritual problem.”
In Montreal, Hoda Ghadirian and Samira Khajehi have been holding online gatherings with friends for meaningful and elevated conversations. As the issue of race relations quickly came to the fore of global consciousness in recent weeks, they reached out to a friend in London, Ontario to help facilitate a discussion on the Baha’i perspective on racism. Around 30 people participated in the conversation, which they plan to continue in future weeks.
A group of adolescents participating in the junior youth spiritual empowerment program in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, came together with an older youth who serves as their group animator to discuss the problem of racism. They discussed the nature of prejudice and how it starts.
“As you grow up, you’re exposed to more environments, like friend groups and schools, and racism is also learned in those environments,” said their animator. “We talked about the importance of education for the younger generation.”
In Hamilton, Ontario, some teachers of Baha’i children’s class have been thinking about how the children in their classes are affected by racism. They have been reflecting on their role as teachers, and consulting about ways to bring joy to the hearts of the children. The teachers decided to incorporate relevant themes in educational packages they had been delivering during the time of school closures to the families of the children's classes. One of the teachers, Aayah Amir, said: “The Baha’i teachings remind us of our great responsibility to address the issue of prejudice systematically.”