As animators, Mona and Aaron were exploring with the group how the twofold moral purpose of personal transformation and service to the community, contributes to the advancement of society. And how, in the face of prejudice and hostility, our thoughts and behavior can either aggravate or help to terminate a vicious cycle of violence.
Reading these conversations required loving patience and perseverance on the part of each junior youth so that they could understand how the concepts in the story might relate to their own reality, and how there are moral implications underlying their own everyday interactions with one another, even in their private use of language.
To better understand the shoes in which Kibomi found himself walking, the animators suggested they could visit their city’s black history museum and learn how the disintegrative forces of society, such as prejudice, institutional racism and tribalism,
manifested themselves both in past and also in the present in their community and across the nation. Mona and Aaron did all they could to prepare the junior youth for the visit, even spending time on a home visit to each family to talk about the nature and scope of the moving experience to which the junior youth would be exposed.
Once actually in the museum, pausing at each exhibit, two of the junior youth, Gloria and Katie, became progressively more aware of the heart-wrenching horrors of slavery, the systemic prejudice and racism institutionalized over 400 years ago against those of African heritage in America. Beyond the overwhelming injustice presented, the junior youth also learned about courageous individuals, communities and institutions that demonstrated spiritual resilience and nobility of soul. They heard the stories of those who selflessly rose to the forefront of human rights to stand up against the endless tide of oppression and inequality, in order to help forge ahead towards race unity, oneness, and freedom from prejudice.
After the exhibit, the junior youth group walked over to a nearby park, flopped down and reflected at great length about their experience, recalling the many images, stories, art and artifacts in the museum, trying to explain to each other how it affected them and their view of the society around them.
Mona asked, “Imagine how Kibomi experienced such heartbreaking despair and yet drew on his capacity to find a glimmering of hope. How do you see us contributing something right here and now in America, walking together on a path towards race unity and oneness?
“I don’t know. It’s hard. This world is so crazy,” Gloria said reflecting with deeper appreciation. “My Grandpa told me a ton of stories about what he went through growing up. I didn’t believe him… till now…”
“I wish my parents would come to see this.” Katie shared.
“White people don’t care about black people.” Gloria declared abruptly. She quickly felt the heat of some of the junior youth thinking she said something she shouldn’t have. “It’s just a fact.”
Aaron encouraged Gloria to analyze what she was thinking and feeling in her heart, asking, “Then how do we change that perception?”
“That white people don’t care, or that I think white people don’t care?” Gloria questioned without pause.
“Both,” Aaron suggested.
Gloria took the time, seriously considering Aaron’s remark. “…We have to find a way to get them to come.”
Jamila, one of Gloria’s friends from school, who recently joined the JY group sparked at Gloria’s reflection, suggesting, “Maybe we could bring the museum to them.”
Katie and Gloria both stared at Jamila. “Huh?”
They all looked at Jamila, “I’m just saying that we maybe could make a museum and invite everybody to come to it.”
Excited by the idea, the group imagined what their museum might offer, what the invitations might look like, what place they might find to rent.
After a few minutes, Mona asked, “I think it’s a great idea …, but how would our museum be different from what anyone can already see at the black history museum?”
It gave them pause to reflect with deep breaths. Katie and Gloria shrugged to each other, stumped. Then Jamila spoke out, thinking aloud, “What if they could see it through our eyes. I mean, from what we’re learning in our junior youth group?”
Aaron then added, promoting the line of thinking a little further, “So as a junior youth group, how would we help our families and our neighbors to understand we are all walking together on a path towards race unity and oneness?”
Gloria found her inspiration. “We just show them things. Like art and pictures and stuff, that can tell a story – make us all find hope in thinking about the constructive forces and actions that contribute to race unity, like we learned in “Glimmerings”!”
Mona quietly shared an idea with Aaron, who nodded as he heard her thoughts. Then she said, “This could be a really good service project. Aaron and I were thinking, maybe we could all meet with the Local Spiritual Assembly and ask them for their spiritual and material guidance and support. They are very concerned about the issue of race unity, as “freedom from prejudice” is the watchword of the Bahá’í Faith.
“What’s a Local Spiritual Assembly?” one of the group asked.
Aaron opened his cell phone and scrolled through some pages. “There are many Bahá’í institutions assisting and supporting the core activities in a neighborhood and community, like children’s classes and junior youth groups. The Universal House of Justice, the supreme Institution of the Bahá’í Faith wrote about regarding some of the duties and functions of a Local Spiritual Assembly, the governing body of nine individuals elected by every adult Bahá’í in a community, once a year. Its duty is to…”
Then handing his cell phone to the junior youth next to him, she read:
“…properly assess and utilize resources, financial and otherwise, both in support of community activities and in discharging its administrative functions … its ability to nurture an environment conducive to the participation of large numbers in unified action and to ensure that their energies and talents contribute towards progress. In all these respects, the spiritual well-being of the community remains uppermost in the Assembly’s mind. And when inevitable problems arise, whether in relation to some activity or among individuals, they will be addressed by a Local Spiritual Assembly which has so completely gained the confidence of the members of the community that all naturally turn to it for assistance. This implies that the Assembly has learned through experience how to help the believers put aside the divisive ways of a partisan mindset, how to find the seeds of unity in even the most perplexing and thorny situations and how to nurture them slowly and lovingly, upholding at all times the standard of justice.”
Aaron took back the cell phone and scrolled down for the next junior youth to read:
“…Much will fall on the Local Assembly, not as an executor of projects but as the voice of moral authority, to make certain that, as the friends strive to apply the teachings of the Faith to improve conditions through a process of action, reflection and consultation…”
28 December 2010, Universal House of Justice
Later that day Mona and Aaron reached out to Mrs. Page, Katie’s mom, who was serving as the secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly. They requested to meet with the Assembly to seek its guidance, support and assistance. A few days later Mrs. Page, on behalf of the Assembly, invited the group to her home to meet with the “LSA” the following Sunday morning so that all the junior youth could attend.
The junior youth group agreed that Jamila would present the proposed service project. Jamila was very nervous but the opening time for prayers and singing helped to calm her soul. She had never been to a meeting with a Spiritual Assembly. She began, a little hesitantly, “To prepare for this meeting we learned a lot about how a Local Spiritual Assembly is the voice of moral authority and supports the core activities and community life.”
Little by little as Jamila spoke about studying “Glimmerings of Hope”, and their experience with the black history museum, her powers of expression and confidence grew. After sharing the proposal, a few members of the Assembly had some questions, in particular, as to how the service project might be materially assisted.
Jamila spoke clearly, “The middle school gave us a quote to use the auditorium, so we need help to pay for that. And we need some funds to get art supplies and make a few posters. And ink so we can print our invitations to the families and school. We’re going to ask our families to provide the refreshments.” Then remembering, she added, “And you’re all invited too.” She turned to her group, asking, “Anything else?”
Gloria leaned over to Jamila and whispered…
Jamila shared loudly, “And we need lots of prayers!”
Everyone in the room laughed, realizing this was the most important spiritual requisite for their project.
Mrs. Page assured them all, “We will definitely say prayers. Thank you Jamila, friends, for coming and sharing your vision. It sounds very exciting. As I am sure you know Bahá’ís in every community are very concerned about the issue of race unity. In all honesty, we are all trying to learn, as “freedom from prejudice” is our watchword.”
Everyone in the junior youth group nodded, knowing this principal from what Mona had shared with them earlier.
Mrs. Page continued, “The Local Assembly will consult together on your proposal. When it makes a decision, can we call you? …”
The next day, Aaron and Mona texted all the junior youth that they had heard that the Assembly unanimously approved their proposal and offered some guiding quotations to assist their thinking.
Everybody couldn’t wait to get together to begin thinking about all the work they would have in order to make this small social action meaningful for the group and those they hoped to reach and inspire through the service project.
Feeling inspired herself, Gloria confidently told Katie, “Know what? I think your parents are gonna attend!”
Please consult and reflect on the following questions with your break-out group. Each individual is encouraged to share his or her thoughts and perspective:
1. How did the junior youths’ earlier study of the junior youth materials help to elevate their understanding of spiritual concepts when they later explored the issues of racism and prejudice?
2. How might the concepts in the junior youth materials have helped illuminate the Local Spiritual Assembly’s consultation as it came to a consensus of understanding and a decision of how to guide, support and assist the junior youths’ initiative?
3. How might institutions and families be more systematically engaged in learning about and supporting junior youth groups in your community?
*Special thanks to our “The Museum” audio play actors- Zeferino Guerrero, Ruhiyyih Wartchow, Zoe Fransson, Layli Yaganagi, Will Starr, Ciana Yaganagi, Amita Yaganagi, Maxwell Starr