For “a person of African descent from this country, visiting the homelands of their ancestors [is] a very moving experience,” says Billy Roberts, a Baha'i living in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
He is referring to a trip he took to South Africa with eight other friends in the late 1990s after the Universal House of Justice, the global governing body of the Baha'i Faith, encouraged African American Baha'is to visit Africa. The Universal House of Justice asked them to “be a unique source of encouragement and inspiration to their African brothers and sisters.”
Billy shares how meaningful and powerful this experience was in an interview with “The Race Unity Project,” a video project that shares “the century-long story of the American Baha’i community and its efforts — as well as its tests and challenges — in promoting race unity.” Produced by Journalism for Change, Inc, a nonprofit media organization founded by filmmaker and human rights activist Maziar Bahari, videos from “The Race Unity Project” include candid conversations about everything from the trauma of racism to how the Baha'i writings show that Black is beautiful.
Billy says going to Africa helped them “realize the impact in capacity that the Baha’i Faith can have not only on us as individuals but on others, and how we can play a dynamic role in enabling and assisting other communities to rise to their own capacity.” Baha’is believe that people of African descent have much to offer the Baha’i community and the broader society.
Abdu’l-Baha, the authorized interpreter of the Baha’i writings and the son of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote of people of African descent, “Thou art dark in countenance and bright in character. Thou art like unto the pupil of the eye which is dark in colour, yet it is the fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world.”
Such an affirming and encouraging message is not what Black people usually hear, given the racism that permeates every facet of American society.
“Many people of color have never been in an environment where they look around, and everyone looks like them,” Billy says.
Watch as Billy shares what insights he gleaned from building community with the South African Baha'is and reflects on the impact that this trip had on his spiritual well-being.
Radiance Talley is the director of operations at BahaiTeachings.org. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in communication, a College Park Scholars Arts Citation, and a cognate in journalism. In addition to her writing, drawing, presentation, and public speaking experience, Radiance also...READ MORE