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.
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
Saichiro Fujita (April 15, 1886 - May 7, 1976), one of the earliest Japanese Baha’is. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
Saichiro Fujita, known to the worldwide Baha’i community simply as “Fujita,” became the second Japanese Baha’i in 1905 in California.
Fujita first saw Abdu’l-Baha in Chicago when he climbed a lamp post in order to see over the crowd that had gathered to meet Him. When Abdu’l-Baha saw Fujita He said, “Come down Zachias, for this day I would sup with thee.” Abdu’l-Baha was referring and repeating the Biblical story of a short man named Zachias, who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Christ. Together, Abdu’l-Baha and Fujita drove off to home of Corinne True, an early American Baha’i. After resting, Abdu’l-Baha met with Fujita and stated:
So, how is our Japanese Effendi? Recently the government of Japan has undergone a change. A new emperor has come to the throne. The sovereignty of the former Mikado has come to an end… But as you are a believer in God, you have a kingdom which will never collapse and will be everlasting.
Fujita came from a prominent Japanese family and had heard of the Baha’i Faith from Mrs. Helen Goodall in San Francisco several years prior to his personal meeting with Abdu’l-Baha. Once a notorious party-hopper, Fujita became a Baha’i and received a tablet of praise from Abdu’l-Baha. Not believing it to be about himself, Fujita dismissed it. After received two more tablets from Abdu’l-Baha, Fujita began to realize he truly was the recipient of Abdu’l-Baha’s warm words and he asked what he could do to better serve the Faith. When they met, Abdu’l-Baha asked him to finish his engineering education in order to be able to work for Him in Haifa. For seven years, Fujita lived with the Trues and finished his schooling. He then travelled to Haifa where he lived, with the exception of a few years in Japan during World War II, until he passed away in 1976 at the age of 90, and is buried in the Baha’i Cemetery at the foot of Mount Carmel.
The Universal House of Justice addressed the Baha’is of the United States in a letter dated 22 July 2020. The letter is regarding racial prejudice and the American Baha’i community’s distinctive contribution to its eradication. Continue reading
In The Advent of Divine Justice, Shoghi Effendi laid out a path for the U.S. and Canadian Baha’i communities to contribute to the transformation of their societies, as summarized in introduction to the Advent of Divine Justice. Addressing the United States in particular, he identified “racial prejudice” as “the most vital and challenging issue confronting the Baha’i community,” for this issue permeated the entire nation, which he called “a prey to one of the most virulent and long-standing forms of racial prejudice.”
Though this message was penned in 1938, I believe it remains highly relevant today because the “cancerous growth of racial prejudice” continues to eat into the body politic. “Black Lives Matter”: this basic assertion of human value, proclaimed by the protestors who are filling the streets of U.S. cities, responds to the routine, systematic treatment of People of Color* as disposable. Racism remains “the most vital and challenging issue.” I wish to share with you Shoghi Effendi’s guidance on deconstructing it, along with my reflections as a white person living in the United States. Continue reading
Baha’u’llah proclaimed to humanity that “these great oppressions that have befallen the world are preparing it for the advent of the Most Great Justice.” His teachings lay out a blueprint for establishing a just world civilization founded on international cooperation, and the paramount task of His successors has been to give people around the world access to this blueprint.
To that end, Shoghi Effendi worked tirelessly to build the capacity of Baha’is around the world to share Baha’u’llah’s message. The crucial channel for his guidance was letters to individuals and national bodies alike. The Advent of Divine Justice is one such letter—a particularly powerful one in its rallying cry for Baha’is to engage in a double crusade of improving the self and improving society. Though addressed to the Baha’is in the United States and Canada and written in 1938, its guidance applies to the life of every Baha’i and maintains its relevance today. This article seeks to aid your study of this significant message by commenting on its significance, reviewing its history, and summarizing some of its major themes. Continue reading
Masud Olufani is an African-American multidisciplinary artist, actor and writer currently based in Atlanta, and you may have seen some of his incredible work featured on Baha’i Blog over the years. For instance you may recognize him from his 2018 ABS presentation “The Residue of Memory & The Clarion Call of Truth: Healing Through Reclamation and Art” or his BahaiTeachings.org talk Freeing Ourselves from the the Stain of Racism. He was also featured on their Cloud9 podcast series, and the episode is called Masud Olufani: An Artist Rooted in Justice and Unity.
More recently, Masud teamed up with our friends at BahaiTeachings.org to host a new podcast series called ‘America’s Most Challenging Issue’, and it tackles the subject of racism. As its host, Masud interviews Baha’is throughout the United States who are actively building racial unity by building community.
We reached out to Masud to hear more about the America’s Most Challenging Issue podcast, and here’s what he shared with us: Continue reading
Ellsworth Blackwell (August 1, 1902 – April 17, 1978). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community. Source: Baha'i World, Vol. 17.
Ellsworth Blackwell (1902 – 1978) was an African-American Baha’i who was dedicated to sharing the principles of the Baha’i Faith in America, Haiti, Madagascar, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In this article I would like to share a challenge he faced when confronted with racism within the Baha’i community, and how his commitment to justice, combined with wholehearted co-operation with the governing or administrative bodies of the Baha’i Faith, allowed this instance of prejudice to be resolved while maintaining a unified spirit.
Ellsworth became a Baha’i in 1934, and in 1937 he decided to serve at the Wilmette House of Worship (the Temple was not entirely completed until the 1950s, but it was open to visitors and Baha’is volunteered as tour guides). He had the capacity to be a tour guide, but was informed that it was “policy” that African-Americans could not be tour guides. This example of discrimination was of course not in keeping with the Baha’i teachings on the elimination of prejudice. This quotation from Abdu’l-Baha amply elucidates the Baha’i view:
… as to religious, racial, national and political bias: all these prejudices strike at the very root of human life; one and all they beget bloodshed, and the ruination of the world.
We wanted to bring together some of the content found on Baha’i Blog related to racism, both materials that the team here at Baha’i Blog has created, and resources put together by others that we’ve featured in our video or audio sections. These resources include articles, interviews, books, talks and presentations that approach racism from a variety of perspectives. Continue reading
Louis Venters is a historian and historic preservationist with a particular interest in the histories of race, religion, and social change in the United States. He has just released a new book titled A History of the Baha’i Faith in South Carolina and it features some incredible photographs.
I first met Louis in West Africa when I was a junior youth — many more years ago than I’d care to admit! My family was pioneering in Benin and he was completing a year of service in Togo and Benin. I learned some valuable lessons from Louis about speaking truthfully, lovingly and at times courageously, about being a Baha’i. I feel really honoured that our paths have crossed again, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from his experiences once more. Here’s what he shared about his new book:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in South Carolina, and I became a Baha’i in the late 1980s when I was a junior youth. In fact I first heard about the Faith on Radio Baha’i WLGI, the station that broadcasts from the Louis G. Gregory Baha’i Institute, so in that sense I’m a product of the large-scale growth that made South Carolina such an important part of the American Baha’i community in the 1970s and 1980s. I teach African and African diaspora history, U.S. history, and public history at Francis Marion University, a small public institution in Florence, South Carolina. I also do some public history work, especially through Preservation South Carolina and the state’s African American Heritage Commission. One of the public history projects I’m proudest of is the Green Book of South Carolina, a new mobile travel guide to African American heritage sites across the state. When I’m not being a historian, more often than not it’s my wife and me trying to keep up with our two little boys and serve in our cluster. Otherwise, I’m either at the gym lifting weights or outside running or working in our garden.