Host city’s resources help ABS program achieve coherence
Atlanta has for decades called itself “the city too busy to hate.” For four days in August, the city’s vitality and diversity was woven coherently into efforts by the Association for Baha’i Studies–North America to create a vibrant learning environment.
The choice of Atlanta as host city for the association’s 42nd annual conference, held Aug. 9-12, was shaped by consultation that involved several senior Baha’i institutions, according to Nilufar Gordon, who served as conference coordinator for the ABS Executive Committee.
Both the U.S. Southeast in general and the Baha’i community in the region have higher percentages of African Americans than other areas where the conference has often been held in the past, such as the West Coast and eastern Canada.
As Gordon notes, that is “a population that the Baha’i community continues to make special efforts to reach and involve in all of its processes.” While the ABS conference has a continental and even global reach, making it more accessible to people regionally is a prime concern.
Also, Metro Atlanta as well as the region are home to some of the most advanced Baha’i-initiated activity to build community in neighborhoods. That helps create “the ideal context in which to advance the mission and purposes of ABS in developing capacity for discourse,” she says.
A practical advantage is that Atlanta is an airline hub with good hotel space at a reasonable price.
The location supported the conference’s focus on constructive resilience in the face of oppression and the pursuit of social justice, which resonates strongly with Atlanta’s history in the movement toward racial justice and civil rights.
Gordon says that is in keeping with the recent emphasis within the U.S. Baha’i community on “focusing the country’s attention on race and oneness and … taking action in countless ways within the inclusive framework of Baha’i development plans to advance social justice and eliminate prejudice.”
That focus constituted the strongest and most variegated thread running through this year’s conference. Many of its strands featured resources found in and around Atlanta:
- A nationally recognized local artist spoke on remembrance and healing through the depiction of oppression and resilience.
- A panel outlined an initiative to build community within refugee populations in Atlanta.
- The Rev. Andrew Young, a former mayor, reminisced about the city’s civil rights legacy.
- The conference’s youth program “was geared to highlighting the themes of the conference,” says Gordon, and included a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
- The Atlanta Baha’i Choir sent attendees home in full spirit with a rousing performance that touched on gospel and jazz traditions and featured a number of songs set to Baha’i scripture.
Other conference elements benefited as well from being in Atlanta. The panelists for a discussion of neuroscience, ethics and religion hailed from the area (see article, “One path to partnership in discourse: chance encounter, focused conversations”). A number of breakout facilitators did, too. And, of course, an army of volunteers from metro Baha’i communities kept the proceedings running smoothly.
“Conference planning is always a combination of very intentional choices generated directly from consultation on the vision and purpose,” Gordon says, and “keeping eyes and minds open to unforeseen opportunities arising along the way that advance that vision.”
Conference planning by the association benefits from sustained collaboration with a number of local, national and continental Baha’i institutions, and the results demonstrate the coherence that this can produce.