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.
Lisa Blecker is a bit of a celebrity in our household. My three young children have, at various times, all held our board book copy of Blessed is the Spot during prayers and we have read, and sung, The Good in Me from A to Z by Dottie as a family and in our children’s class more times than I can count! When I saw that Lisa had put out a new book called Sweet Neighbors Come in All Colors, I knew it was going to be a hit with our family — and I wasn’t disappointed! It is cheerful, vibrant, sweet, fun and a book the kids ask for over and over and over again!
Because of how much her books have meant to us, I was a little star struck when I approached Lisa to find out more about her book and when I told my six year old that Lisa and I were in touch, she was floored! It was a pleasure to find out more about the book and I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did: Continue reading
Photo: courtesy of the Baha'i International Community
Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet, whether of your country, your race, your political party, or of any other nation, color or shade of political opinion.
The security of people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent living in the United States seems to be on thin ice: bearing brown skin and a “foreign” name are dangerous liabilities. Evidence comes in recent hate crimes like February’s Kansas killing. Engineers Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani were attacked by a man who told them to “get out of my country.” Kuchibhotla died. The attacker later disclosed that he thought his victims, who were natives of India, were Iranian. In March, Hasel Afshar returned to his Oregon town from vacation to discover his home ransacked and hateful messages coating the walls of his house. The messages indicated that the attackers believed Afshar to be Muslim. He is actually a Baha’i refugee from Iran. Persecuted for his faith in his homeland—attacked for his foreignness in his refuge. Continue reading
Have you ever wondered if you’re culturally insensitive or racist? Having grown up in a Baha’i family, I was raised with Baha’u’llah’s words that the human family is like the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch, and the waves of one sea. Like many others, my family moved from country to country in order to assist with the needs of the Faith and I grew up with these words of Abdu’l-Baha ringing so true:
The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. […] Think of [people of different races] as different coloured roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them.
Racism with a capital “R” was not something that I consciously experienced in my daily life but it is such a complex topic, with a vast array of manifestations and biases. It can sometimes be deep-seated and unconscious. Recently, I have noticed that more subtle forms of prejudice and racism are becoming mainstream topics of conversation. Concepts such as white privilege, cultural appropriation, the racist roots of some common English words and phrases, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are really hot topics. Continue reading