Juneteenth community event in South Dakota finds focus in Baha’i statement

October 25, 2021
Juneteenth community event in South Dakota finds focus in Baha’i statement

By Lindsey Lugsch-Tehle

Last year, Dianne Nagy and Nieema Thasing were already taking part together in “Practical Solutions,” a space in Brookings, South Dakota, for dialogue about meaningful topics in light of a broad view of history.

Then Nagy got an idea after she and a friend studied the June 19, 2020, message from the Baha’is of the United States, “Forging a Path to Racial Justice.” She approached Thasing, who was on the committee planning the local 2021 commemoration of Juneteenth, about including the message in that program. 

The committee “embraced [the statement] immediately and enthusiastically,” Nagy says, and she was invited to help plan a panel discussion for Juneteenth. The panelists had a chance to study the statement, and their talks at the June 19, 2021, event included ideas that were consistent with its themes. 

Juneteenth panel speakers in Brookings. Photo courtesy of Enoch’s Photos

None of the panelists “had any concerns about religious affiliation. They embraced it and didn’t give it a second thought,” says Nagy. For her, this “speaks to how this is a message that people need to hear and that has been well received.”

At the conclusion of the panel, the attendees were invited to take a copy of the message and then participate in creating a prayer flag. Nagy notes that around 40 of the 100 attendees contributed. The prayer flag will remain on display around Brookings over the next year. 

Thasing, an African-American Muslim, is chair of the Human Rights Commission for the city of Brookings. At her recommendation, Nagy, a Baha’i who is white, has since been appointed vice chair of the commission.

Says Thasing, “I love the Baha’i concept and message; it is simple, truthful, kind, and denies nothing.” 

In the months of planning that led to the June 19, 2021, event, Nagy found that the panel discussion was originally to focus on slavery and the family. But after seeing the “Forging a Path” message, the planners changed the focus.

During the program, the moderator read four paragraphs from the Baha’i message, encouraging the four panelists to explore the present-day and local relevance of the selected passages. 

Dianne Nagy and a fellow Juneteenth event participant help assemble a “prayer flag” project. Photo courtesy of Enoch’s Photos

Comments from the panelists, Nagy notes, aligned with the “Forging a Path” message and even seemed to draw from it. “Some talked about what inclusivity means; one panelist even commented on how humanity is like a garden and how biodiversity in a garden enables it to flourish.”

Kas A. Williams, chief diversity officer at South Dakota State University, was elated to participate in the 2021 panel. “It is truly an honor to participate in a sharing of history, culture and belonging,” she says in retrospect. 

Another panelist, SDSU professor Emerita Fedora Sutton, observes, “We were all on the same page with respect to equal treatment for all. It was also clear that our past defined what we want for the future.”

Thasing says, “When you have something as beautiful as the message of the Baha’is — which highlights how to get around objections and deal with the community — you can have a gathering of people’s thoughts on how they can, on a daily basis, best contribute to a collective knowing that we are all one.”

On recommending Nagy for the Brookings Human Rights Commission, Thasing says, “I know her heart, and it is a joy to serve the community alongside her.” 

Next year Juneteenth will be on Father’s Day, and the Brookings Juneteenth committee “is already making plans to honor the role of Black fathers,” she says.


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