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When I was in fifth grade, a family friend invited me to come check out a group for kids, an interfaith circle for ages 10 through 14.
It sounded interesting to me, because the group came together weekly to pray, study, explore ways to serve the community, and make music.
The group began after a girl my age, Kevalin, and her mom attended a conference focused on the important role that young people can play in bettering our world.
I remember the first time I met everyone—they were putting on an artistic performance about Harriet Tubman at an old folks’ home. I’m not sure if it was the group’s focus on history, art, or justice, but the next week I joined the group. Though most of us came from widely diverse social contexts, we fostered lifelong friendships through meaningful study, what felt like endless sleepovers, and working at our community garden.
My enduring friendship with Kevalin has proven especially crucial in contributing to finding my spiritual identity. While we do not see each other on a weekly basis like we did back in our youth, we still play important roles in one another’s lives.
So I interviewed Kevalin about how her understanding of Baha’i principles has shaped the ways she contributes to her community and interacts with her educational program:
Q: What are you studying? Can you tell us a little bit about the culture of your school or program?
A: I am studying international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The culture of my program is really collaborative and mission-driven. Everyone in my program is there because they believe it is possible to make the world a better place and decrease health disparities between groups of people, and have chosen to dedicate their careers to working to make that happen.
Q: Has being a Baha’i given you a unique perspective in your program/major? If so, how?
A: Yes—being a Baha’i has definitely given me a unique perspective. What I have noticed most is that my exposure to the writings of the Baha’i Faith has allowed me to question the underlying assumptions of my field and realize that structures in society are not static, but rather can be shaped, molded, or replaced if they are not serving the needs of individuals and communities.
Q: Do you fuse your education with the Baha’i focus on community building? If so, how?
A: Yes, I try to balance both sustaining and participating in community building activities with my schoolwork. I am currently tutoring a study circle of youth who are interested in guiding junior youth groups, and I regularly participate in a number of devotional gatherings. I am also working with a nonprofit organization in Baltimore to strengthen wellness programming for high-school aged youth served by this organization. I am currently trying to think more about how to truly integrate my school life and community building, and hope to soon start a devotional gathering where I can invite my friends from school.
Q: What do you contribute to your school’s community? Do you feel your Baha’i identity affects how you contribute to the community you are in? If so, in what ways?
A: My identity as a Baha’i has helped me to contribute to my school community in that I am able to be very intentional about cultivating relationships with my classmates because I believe that building a strong community with my peers is just as important as my coursework.
Q: Do you have a favorite Baha’i quote?
A: My favorite quote is actually a section of a prayer that goes:
O Thou the Compassionate God. Bestow upon me a heart which, like unto a glass, may be illumined by the light of Thy love, and confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose garden through the outpourings of heavenly grace. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 71.
Q: Why is this so impactful for you?
A: I feel that this prayer can help me as I work to make my inner self more beautiful and the world more just and peaceful. This prayer is useful to me both in my personal and professional lives.
Q: How does it affect the way you operate as a young person/student?
A: This quote reminds me that my inner life influences groups that I am in, and that individual pursuit of excellence is needed if I am going to be able to make the kind of impact I hope to make on improving the health and lives of others.