An act, however infinitesimal, is, when viewed in the mirror of the knowledge of God, mightier than a mountain. Every drop proffered in His path is as the sea in that mirror. – Baha’u’llah, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 78.
Community servant and social activist Michael O’Neal founded Parent University in 1999 as a way to empower marginalized populations in Savannah, Georgia, who suffered from systemic racism and poverty. In its twenty-year history, Parent University has served thousands of Savannah residents, strengthening family cohesion through family-based skill training, workshops, and community building initiatives. To date, he has given multiple public addresses on the impact of the program in both national and international settings. In 2015, Michael was named one of the Heroes of the 500 by Fortune Magazine.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, O’Neal moved to Savannah to attend Savannah State University, a historically black university. During his tenure, a friendship with a white classmate introduced him to the Baha’i Faith and led to his subsequent embrace of the religion. The Baha’i teaching of the oneness of mankind and its emphasis on service as the apogee of human achievement resonated with the young engineering student, and helped cultivate in him a desire to help others. As the Baha’i writings so eloquently state:
In a world of interdependent peoples and nations the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and … no lasting result can be achieved by any of the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are neglected. – Shoghi Effendi, The Faith of Baha’u’llah: A World Religion, Statement to the Special UN Committee on Palestine, 1947.
In this episode of America’s Most Challenging Issue, we sit down with Michael to discuss his work in community service, particularly in the context of Parent University, and how that work reflects the teachings and spirit of the Baha’i Faith.