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Sonjel Vreeland

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.

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

Personal Reflections on the Baha’i Faith from Around the World – Collection 17

“Personal Reflections on the Baha’i Faith from Around the World” is a Baha’i Blog initiative in honor of the bicentenary anniversaries of the Births of Baha’u’llah and the Bab, the two Prophet-founders of the Baha’i Faith.

In this initiative, we share portraits of Baha’is and their friends from different countries and territories all over the world, along with a few of their words about what the Baha’i Faith means to them or how it has touched their lives. 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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Leonora Armstrong: Spiritual Mother of South America [Audio Version]

Baha’i Blog is delighted to share an audio recording of one of our articles titled “Leonora Armstrong: Spiritual Mother of South America” in which we hear a tribute to an outstanding early Baha’i woman who responded to Abdu’l-Baha’s call to spread the teachings of the Baha’i Faith throughout the world. This article was written and read by Sonjel Vreeland. 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