Scholar, filmmaker, photographer, and public speaker Justin de Leon uses his prodigious creative gifts to examine systemic structures of power, and how communities subject to the destructive machinations of these systems find creative ways to resist material and spiritual domination.
Informed in part by the Baha’i teachings, which emphasize the inherent nobility of every soul, De Leon has traveled to more than half a dozen countries to study how cultural practices such as narrative storytelling help preserve the ethos of a people in the wake of multigenerational trauma.
As the son of immigrants from the Philippines, Justin has drawn on his own family’s painful colonial past to drive his critical analysis of oppressive social structures based on racism, gender bias, and settler colonialism. He has worked extensively with the Lakota tribe of South Dakota, exploring their “ways of knowing” and the innovative methods they employ to resist hegemonic order. His work reflects a sincere appreciation for diversity and a profound commitment to justice, both core teachings of the Baha’i faith.
Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. Then shall we rejoice in the Sun of Justice, which shines from the Horizon of God. – Abdul-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 159-160.
In this episode of America’s Most Challenging Issue, we sit down with Justin de Leon to discuss his life, career, and how his embrace of the Baha’i Faith has helped to broaden his perspective and understanding of the intrinsic relationship between diversity and unity.
In the first part of the interview, Justin reflects on the four aspects of the human spirit as defined by the Lakota Sioux of North and South Dakota. Justin uses this spiritual paradigm to draw parallels between the Baha’i concept of oneness and the interconnectedness of all life as understood by the Lakota. He also cites the work of writer and poet Audre Lorde as an example of a progressive scholarship that views difference as a “creative function that can help us animate a new world.” Justin describes how the spiritual reality of unity in diversity informs his pedagogical approach in the classroom, as well.
Healing the Wounds of Oppression
In the second part of the interview, Justin reflects on his personal journey as a child of immigrants from the Philippines, and how the experiences of his family with colonialism helped frame his critical analysis of oppressive social systems. He also questions the shifting “positionality” of the oppressor and the oppressed, and offers a masterful articulation of the difference between the internal reality of the soul and the external reality of race. He draws clear distinctions between the social perception of marginalized communities, particularly African American and Native, and the high regard in which these communities are held in the Baha’i writings, describing the lingering affects of sustained intergenerational trauma. Justin then directs his attention to methodologies of healing.
Building Community through a Spirit of Service
In the final segment of the interview, De Leon shares his journey towards embracing the Baha’i Faith, and how some essential teachings such as work done in the spirit of service is considered as worship inspired his acceptance of Baha’u’llah’s revelation. He also reflects on how his multidisciplinary practice aligns with community building activities such as devotional gatherings, children’s classes, junior youth empowerment programs, and participation in social discourse, at the core of the current Baha’i plan of action. Finally, Justin shares several brief anecdotes that have become touchstones of inspiration and hope for the future.
Join us for this compelling episode of America’s Most Challenging Issue.