Building on a century-old tradition, the Northern Virginia Baha’i Center on Saturday hosted a Race Amity Day program that focused Loudoun County’s efforts to promote diversity and mutual understanding.
While the Baha’i efforts to influence public discourse on race in the United States can be traced to a May 1921 amity event in Washington, DC, Sunday’s program resulted from a Loudoun NAACP program promoting community allyship and urging participants to take action.
The five-week program, designed by Jan Wilson, was just one of the community outreach efforts highlighted during the event. Others included the county government’s hiring of a chief equity officer; the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce’s formation of a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee; and County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s Multicultural Advisory Committee.
Anthony Vance, of the Baha’i Office of Public Affairs, highlighted efforts of the religion’s leaders to build racial unity following the Red Summer race riots in 1919, in starting with interracial conferences held in several cities around the nation.
He noted the progress that has been made over the ensuing century and that many racial justice movements and protests today are collaborative efforts, joined or led by large groups of young, white community members.
“Today, with so much despair resulting from the proliferation of hate groups, the corruption of the internet and social media, the undermining of democratic norms, the spread of terror, legislative gridlock, heightened partisanship among our citizenry, the increase in lawlessness and violence, the widening of the gap between rich and poor, and the continuation of systemic and institutional racism, it is important to keep in mind that much racial progress has actually been made even though it has been at times partially reversed,” Vance said.
He said the Baha’i writings depict the United States as suffering from “an excessive and binding materialism,” “one of the most virulent and longstanding forms of racial prejudice,” and “political corruption and lawlessness.”
“And yet at the same time, in what appears to be a paradox, the Baha’i writings also indicate that the destiny of America is to ‘lead all nations spiritually,’” he said.
Program emcee Mitchell Jacobson said the Race Amity Day event resulted from a call to action put to participants in Wilson’s The Power of Allyship program.
Wilson said she launched her course after realizing she could not sit idle in the fight against injustice.
“We see so much evil, backlashes against progress that we’ve made, so much injustice and heartbreak—so there is a lot of work to do, but that also means we have a lot of opportunities,” she said.
“Yes, we have made progress on race relations, but every day we see how much work is needed to get to racial justice,” she said. “And a minority can’t get there so we need allies to change hearts and minds and law and norms and language. We need everyone working together to do that. And diversity makes that work stronger.”
A new The Power of Allyship program begins June 15, and runs online Thursdays through July 14. For registration and information, email email@example.com.
Learn more about the Northern Virginia Baha’i Center at novabahaicenter.org.