For the Wellbeing of All: Eliminating the Extremes of Wealth and Poverty – A New Compilation

Bonnie Taylor has compiled a selection of passages on one of the key aims of the Baha’i Faith: the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty on a global scale. The excerpts from the Baha’i Writings gathered in her book, titled For the Wellbeing of All: Eliminating the Extremes of Wealth and Poverty, present the vision of a just and unified global civilization that is both materially and spiritually prosperous.

I reached out to Bonnie to hear about her work in compiling this volume, released by the Baha’i Publishing Trust, and I am grateful she took the time to tell us all about it:

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up in the country in Ohio, and had virtually no contact with people of other races or cultures until I turned 21. That year I signed up to serve as a volunteer under a U.S. government anti-poverty program. This was during the 1960s. As part of our training for service I learned a great deal about the history of slavery in the U.S., the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the history of the Native peoples in this country. I had known very little of this history previously, and it aroused in me an intense aversion to injustice.

After our training, I was stationed on a Native American reserve. It was there that I heard about the Baha’i Faith. I was immediately attracted. I became a Baha’i shortly thereafter, and fell in love with both the content and the eloquence of the Baha’i writings.

My husband and I now live in Northern Illinois. We have a growing multi-racial family that we proudly refer to as “our coat of many colors.”

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Cloud9: Benn Good – From East LA to the Grammys

Cloud9 is a podcast produced by Baha’i Teachings. Its aim is to feature interviews with artists and discuss what inspires them to make a positive contribution to the world. In this episode, Baha’i Teachings’ arts editor Shadi Toloui-Wallace interviews Benn Good or Benny Cassette, who signed to a major record label at the age of 18, has produced music and collaborated with John Legend, Kanye West, Sza, Miguel, Allen Stone, and countless other prominent musicians who dominate the charts today. Continue reading

Why & How Do Baha’is Pray?

Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

Prayer is an integral component of Baha’i life. It is the very foundation upon which our lives as spiritual beings are built. In my opinion, without prayer, we weaken the vessel which acts as our connection to the divine realm and revert to being physical beings living a solely physical life.

There are many different settings in which we can pray as Baha’is. But before we delve into some of these, it is important to explore what prayer is. Continue reading

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie: A Man, a Trumpet, and a Journey to Bebop – A Book for Junior Youth & Young Readers

Bellwood Press has created a series of books for junior youth and young readers called the Change Maker series which tells the true stories of individuals who worked to bring about positive social change. So far the series includes three titles: Robert Sengstacke Abbott: A Man, a Paper, and a Parade; John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie: A Man, a Trumpet, and a Journey to Bebop; and Richard St. Barbe Baker: Child of the Trees.

Susan Engle authored the first two titles, and I wanted to hear more from her about the book about Dizzy Gillespie (you may also remember Susan from when she shared all about her enchanting tiny books). Susan is a delight and I hope you enjoy this conversation:

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about who Dizzy Gillespie was?

If you had lived in his neighborhood when he was a child, you might have heard his family and neighbors calling out, using his first two names as is a southern tradition, “John Birks, sit a spell, why don’t you?” He was constantly on the move. When he was in elementary school, he was provided with a trombone for a small school band. From then on, he channeled most of his energy into playing music. Since his arms were too short to play all the notes on trombone, he would often borrow a neighbor’s trumpet, taking turns with Brother Harrington, practicing for hours at a time. As he grew and became better and better, finally leaving South Carolina for Philadelphia and New York City in his teens, he had years of playing and working out sounds and keys for trumpet tunes under his belt.

Trying out for the Freddie Fairfax Band when he was about 18, one of the band members said, “That dizzy little cat’s from down South.” The nickname “Dizzy” stuck. By the time he had helped bring about a new style of jazz called Bebop, performed for more than one President of the United States, traveled around the world for the State Department, and recorded dozens of records, Dizzy was well-known and loved—not only by many of his fellow musicians, but by jazz fans across the U.S. and around the world. He had many official and unofficial titles, including “King of the Trumpet,” “Ambassador of Jazz,” and “Diz the Wiz.” By the end of his life, he had also received many awards including 14 honorary degrees, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys, and the Kennedy Center Honors. He even has a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California.

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John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie: A Luminous Quality, a Distinguished Life

Dizzy Gillespie (October 21, 1917 – January 6, 1993). Photo courtesy of Roland Godefroy, accessed from Wikimedia Commons.

From childhood, John Birks Gillespie—famously nicknamed “Dizzy” in his teens—stood out: in his school, in his family, among his musical colleagues. According to Mrs. Wilson, his third-grade teacher, she would say to him, “John, do you have your lessons?” He would reply, “‘Yeah, I got it, I got it, Mrs. Wilson, I got it.’ And when the time for recitations came, he would know it. How? I don’t know, because he wouldn’t study.” Continue reading

A Life of Firsts: Discovering Elsie Austin

Knight of Baha'u'llah Elsie Austin (May 10, 1908– Oct 26, 2004). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

Elsie Austin’s passion for racial equality was in her DNA. Her parents taught at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, an African American educational establishment headed by Booker T. Washington. Even as a girl, Elsie was outspoken, incensed that a textbook failed to recognise any black people for their contribution to history.

“I was taught…that Africans worked iron before Europeans knew anything about it,” she announced to her class. “I was taught that they knew how to cast bronze in making statues and that they worked in gold and ivory so beautifully that the European nations came to their shores to buy their carvings and statues.” While her protest was met with barely suppressed snickering, Elsie was undeterred. “If there had been no protest,” she later said, “what ingrained prejudice and hostility would have been implanted in the minds of those children, and what humiliation and degradation would have been stamped upon us.”

Similarly, when she and seven other African American women students were admitted to the University of Cincinnati, they were warned to be inconspicuous and have low expectations. “That speech traumatized us,” Elsie remembered. The eight resolved to prove their worth, and by the end of the year each took home an honor.

Elsie was angry about prejudice—often justified by religion—towards race. She told her father she was not able to “believe anymore in these religions that are all separate, all fighting with each other, all enforcing prejudice against some group, and yet they say God is the father of all mankind.” George Austin knew something of the Bahaʼis, thought they had interesting views, and encouraged her to investigate this new Faith. Guided by Louis G. Gregory and Dorothy Baker, Elsie joined the Baha’i community in 1934. Continue reading

Will You Break the Silence? Poetic Practical Steps Toward Race Unity – A Book by Andrea Hope

Poetry is powerful. Writer, poet and spoken word artist Andrea Hope has penned a poem about racism and what we can do to heal its wounds. Will You Break the Silence? is a work we’ve needed now more than ever before.

Andrea Hope has appeared on Baha’i Blog wearing various hats: you can watch her perform her spoken word piece called “World Citizen” here; you can read her thoughts and reflections on that poem here; you can also read an interview with her about her children’s book A is for Allah-u-Abha here; or you can read and reflect on her article on failure (titled “Failure…You’re Doing it Wrong”).

I was grateful to Andrea for taking the time to tell us about this book. Here’s what she shared:

Baha’i Blog: Could you please tell us about this work of poetry?

Will You Break the Silence? Poetic Practical Steps Toward Race Unity is composed of a single poem, accompanied by black and white illustrations. It uses simple, evocative stanzas to envision how a friend or ally might support a person struggling with the harsh realities of racial injustice.

Baha’i Blog: What inspired or compelled you to write it?

After several stories of racial injustice gathered media attention yet again in the United States, I was feeling quite exhausted and wondering what more I could do to contribute to enlightening and encouraging others. I also face the challenge in my personal life that I am in an interracial marriage, with a partner who has not been raised in the United States. After a restless night, I recorded a video calling on my friends and allies to take a larger role in addressing prejudiced statements, outlooks, and laws before they become dangerous actions. It felt like for too long the responsibility of explaining and overcoming injustice has fallen on the minority and the oppressed. Little did I know, at the same time, many Black artists and businesspeople like myself were feeling that heaviness and were creating content that asked people in positions of privilege to show their concern and support. I received several emails and responses from friends who wanted to help, but who didn’t quite know where to start. Drawing on my own insights and information gathered for an article I did with Brilliant Star Magazine called “More than Two Colors”, I sat down to put some practical steps into poetic form.

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Caring for the Poor: Some Stories to Reflect Upon

Every year in our village, our Baha’i community participates in the annual autumn festival. We set up a beautiful booth with Baha’i literature and information, and photographs of the Shrine of the Bab and the Baha’i Houses of Worship. We also have a fun game for the children to play, where the prizes are candies and small gifts, but more importantly, they are also given the opportunity to write their name on a can of soup or vegetables that will be donated on their behalf to a local charity.

This year, because of the pandemic, our annual autumn festival was cancelled. In order to be of service to the poor in our community, my husband Robert and I organized a delivery of canned goods to our local charity.

This is one small action, inspired by the many beautiful examples from the lives of Baha’u’llah, Navvab, and Abdu’l-Baha. Here are a three of my favourites. Continue reading

Remembering Earl Cameron

Earl Cameron (8 August 1917 – 3 July 2020). [Photo courtesy: Helen Rutstein]

Many actors must dream of landing a leading role in a major Hollywood thriller with an A-list cast. But to be offered such a part at the age of 87 would likely be a stretch of the imagination for anyone. It happened, though to Earl Cameron. The Bermudan-born, British actor, who was a Baha’i, passed away last year at the age of 102.

Yet, for Cameron, even getting the chance to act alongside Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in The Interpreter (2005) did not match the thrill that he got from giving a speech in the film to the United Nations General Assembly—even though he was speaking the words of an unsavoury despot and the ambassadors were a multi-racial array of 2,000 film extras. Just to be standing at the lectern before the world’s nations reinforced Cameron’s strong belief in justice and global cooperation. “Seeing the names of all the countries on the desks in front of me, I got a real sense of the importance of the UN,” Cameron would often say afterwards. “The world is desperate for peace and there’s no other way it can go but towards greater cooperation at a global level.”

For an actor so passionate about the unity of humanity—who himself led the way in breaking down the colour bar in film and television—it was a strange twist of fate that the issue of racial equality was leading the news agenda around the world on 3 July 2020, the day he died. The extensive coverage of his passing did not fail to pick up on the fact; there was a huge outpouring of affection in the press and on social media, including from fans of James Bond (Earl appeared alongside Sean Connery in Thunderball), and the cult TV series Dr Who and The Prisoner, through which Cameron became a familiar face in the 1960s. Continue reading