Monday, January 23, 2006

Baha'is and MLK Day

Just found an article in the U.S. Baha'i News about Baha'i involvement in the commemoration of MLK Day and other efforts at promoting racial unity in America. I've included the entire article below: Enjoy!

Baha'is have long history of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hundreds of Baha'i communities throughout the United States observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day by helping to organize public events to commemorate the great, slain civil rights leader.

Jerry Cott, a Baha'i and Maryland pharmacologist, has been on the coordinating committee of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Park Tribute since 1992, one year after it came into being. Now in its 15th year, the tribute was held Saturday, Jan. 14, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.

“The tribute started in church basements and has grown to about 400 attendees in the last several years,” says Cott, whose racially mixed committee has included the current and past mayors and other public officials of College Park as well as neighborhood organizations.

This year’s program included the Metropolitan Washington Baha'i Chorale, which has sung since the tribute began, the Maryland State Boychoir, the Daughters of Embry A.M.E. Church and a Muslim prayer for unity.

For more than a century, American Baha'is have worked for social justice and racial harmony in keeping with the faith’s belief in the oneness of humanity. Their wide-ranging activities include youth assemblies, prayer meetings and race unity workshops.

In 1957, the National Spiritual Assembly, which governs U.S. Baha'i activities, inaugurated Race Unity Day to promote racial harmony and understanding, and annual commemorations on the second Sunday in June are growing in popularity throughout the country.

In 1991, the NSA issued a landmark statement on “The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue.” Baha’is have distributed the statement widely and presented it to local government officials, civic organizations and interfaith groups to encourage dialogue and activities to foster an end to racism.

"In no other country is the promise of organic unity more immediately demonstrable than in the United States, because it is a microcosm of the diverse populations of the earth,” the statement reads. ”Yet this promise remains largely unrealized even here because of the endemic racism that, like a cancer, is corroding the vitals of the nation."

In 1992, two Baha’is served as Federal Commissioners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission. As members of the Commission, Robert Henderson, current secretary-general of the National Spiritual Assembly, and Maryland Baha'i Carole Miller helped coordinate the efforts of Americans of diverse backgrounds and organizations to encourage appropriate ceremonies on the holiday.

Miller’s affiliation with Martin Luther King Day activities began when she met Coretta Scott King in 1988 at the Fort Lauderdale airport baggage claim.

“We were on the same plane and her luggage had gotten lost,” Miller says. “We had a long conversation about the challenges of race in America, Dr. King’s dream and the Baha’i Faith. One of her best friends in high school was a Baha’i (Dr. Robert Hatch), and she had a lot of respect for him and the teachings of the Baha’i Faith on race unity.

“I offered my services to assist with her work at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Change (now The King Center) in Atlanta,” Miller says. “This was the beginning of my wonderful friendship with Coretta Scott King and her family.”

Baha’is believe that the achievement of racial unity and harmony in America will have a profound influence on the world and assist in the establishment of world peace. To that end, Baha'is say the Prayer for America, which says, in part, “Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world.”