“It was a celebration of peace,” shares W. Imara Canady about the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication held in Washington, DC on October 16, 2011. A lifelong friend of the King family, Canady was among the thousands of people in attendance, including President Barack Obama.
“This gathering was a special moment in time where folks were celebrating an African-American during the presidency of an African-American. It was beautiful to see people celebrate a man with moral principles that he gave his life for.”
One common vision
Along with his role as Vice-President of Strategic Partnerships at the proposed National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Ga., Canady is also a member of the Baha’i Faith. He notes some interesting parallels between the vision that Martin Luther King Jr. had to end racial segregation and poverty in America with the spiritual destiny of America as described in the Baha’i writings.
The American nation, Baha’is believe, will evolve to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership, a champion of justice and unity among all peoples and nations, and a powerful servant of the cause of everlasting peace. But, in order to achieve this destiny, America must go through a series of tests and trials and overcome several persistent spiritual challenges, including the removal of racism and eliminating the inordinate disparity between the rich and the poor.
“In the rolling out of America’s spiritual destiny, inequity issues such as the gaps in education, economic disparity, etc., are forcing Americans to realize that we are part of a global community,” Canady explains. “And furthermore, [these inequity issues] are causing us to really begin looking at how we can work together collectively to address the issues of the day.”
He continues, “If you look at the movement that Dr. King started, it was focused on basic civil rights. But, right around the time of his death, it was moving towards a global human rights movement. When I think about the teachings of Baha’u’llah, it’s almost as if Dr. King’s actions were a physical manifestation of these teachings.”
As for identifying indicators of how far America has progressed in achieving its spiritual destiny, Canady notes the memorial dedication as a prime example. “This dedication is the closest thing I’ve seen, outside of the Baha’i Faith, to Baha’u’llah’s vision being represented,” he shares. “The Baha’i Writings talk about the inevitability of establishing racial unity in the world. It’s about having a common vision and common causes and putting them into action. Culturally, religiously and socio-economically, individuals were gathered at this dedication around one common cause. This is what community is all about, not the divisiveness that is so engrained in our society. Spiritually it was a really powerful experience.”
Canady adds, “During this glorious time period, the spiritual destiny of America is unfolding and it’s happening rapidly and quickly. We’re in a physically challenging time, but also an exciting spiritual time.”
Turning vision into action
Canady is leading the charge of cultivating relationships and building collaborations that connect the vision and mission of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights with a broad array of organizations and institutions.
The Center will serve as “a space for ongoing dialogue, study, and contributions to the resolution of current and future freedom struggles of all people at the local, national and international level.” Drawing from the lessons of the civil rights movement, particularly Atlanta’s role in it, the Center seeks to be a catalyst for change and inspire action on today’s human rights challenges.
Integrating his beliefs as a Baha’i and commitment to building a just society into the multiple facets of his work, Canady seeks out opportunities to offer a Baha’i perspective on the Center’s programming, much of which has a spiritual focus. “I try and create opportunities for Baha’i scholars to come and share their work in relation to various aspects of the Baha’i teachings,” he offers. “These unique opportunities have been personally uplifting for me because I’m able to look inwardly and say, how do I really feel about this and how does my faith community respond to it? It’s also challenged me in life to become more connected to my own belief system.”
Employing Baha’i methods, such as consultation, a distinctive, non-adversarial method of decision-making, has also helped Canady and his team.
Arising to a call from a receptive society
Canady notes, “I’ve had a lot of conversations with leaders of various faith communities and really looked at the role they play in social change and community issues. There are many faith organizations doing the same work as Baha’is, just not under the same spiritual lens. But, as we work hand in hand with them, we see that there is a great societal openness to the Message of Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i approach to bringing about social change.”
What does this openness mean for members of the Baha’i community? He explains, “The challenge is for those of us that have accepted the Baha’i Faith as a way of life to step up even more and share the Baha’i teachings and approach to social change with the masses of society.” But, he adds, “Our intention is not to say that our approach is better. We simply acknowledge that, thanks to Baha’u’llah, we have been blessed with the knowledge of how we should be living our lives.”
I called my mother the other day and thanked her for sharing the Baha’i Faith with me and introducing me to a spiritual way of life. I can‘t imagine how people are living in this world and not having this spiritual framework.”
Canady poses, “Scholars have written about how Martin Luther King Jr. was an average man that arose to a calling. So, as Baha’is we need to be asking, how do we, who have Baha’u’llah’s message and the spiritual solution to the world’s problems, arise to our calling?”