Thursday, July 24, 2008

Goin' Back to The Father

Photo of Baha'is laying roses at the resting place of Hand of the Cause of God Louis G. Gregory and his wife Louisa Gregory

I'm goin' back to the Father
when I die
I'm goin' back to the Father
when I die
I'm goin' back to the Father
when I die
Back to the Father when I die

These are the words to the first verse of a song that was taught to us by the incomparable Van Gilmer at this years Black Men's Gathering Leadership Forum held at Green Acre Baha'i School in Eliot, Maine. The purpose the Leadership Forum is to convene those who have assisted the development of the activities of the Black Men's Gathering in some forty locations throughout the United States as well as South America, Africa, and the Caribbean. The mission of the Black Men's Gathering (or BMG) was captured eloquently by the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith the Universal House of Justice:

“...the Gathering is a distinctive activity with a different agenda. It does not concern itself chiefly with race unity in the Bahá'í community as such. It addresses itself to a special situation faced by a minority that has suffered severe social and spiritual afflictions imposed upon it by the majority. The program of the Black Men's Gatherings is unique and exemplary as an avenue for transcending the legacy of anguish, frustration and social pathology that is peculiar to black men in the United states; it urges them towards a fullness of life within the spirit and principles of the Bahá'í Revelation.”
(The Universal House of Justice, 2000 Mar 14)

The Forum this year began as always with a day long study of the 2008 Ridvan Message from the Universal House of Justice which was addressed to the Baha'is of the World with a focus on applying its guidance to the activities of the BMG. This included sharing the message of the Baha'i Faith with peoples of African descent and serving the needs of black pre-teens (or junior youth). These two important activities emerged as the overall focus of consultation and reflection the entire week. Regarding junior youth, we heard a panel of black men sharing their experiences working with this population in various places including, Bermuda, Chicago, Savannah, Georgia, and Los Angeles. We also viewed a short video presentation about an initiative called the "Urban Juke Joint" which uses poetry and hip-hop to building community and promote the spiritual development of urban youth in New York City. Two new initiatives were taken on by the BMG this year including a "BMG fellows" program providing a training retreat for black youth from the South to empower their participation in the Baha'i Faith in their local communities and "BMG reads" a literacy program in collaboration with the "Baha'i-inspired" Health for Humanity organization. Additionally a gathering for black Baha'i youth similar to the "BMG fellows" initiative will be held at Greenacre next summer including youth from 15 to young adults who are 35. The week ended with a triumphant devotional meeting embracing the wider community and procession to the resting place of Hand of the Cause of God Louis G. Gregory and his wife Louisa Gregory.

This year's forum made a deep impression on me as far as the importance of taking seriously the spiritual and moral empowerment of youth of African descent through the teachings of Baha'u'llah. I'm looking forward to discovering this year how I can contribute to loving and serving this important population more effectively.