Panel in Delaware brings together police, activists for prayer and discussion
Reported by Yasmin Roshanian
The implications of social injustice, and possible spaces for meaningful conversation where racial healing could take place, are uppermost in the minds of many Baha’i communities.
In New Castle, Delaware, a Baha’i-organized study circle, whose focus was already on social action, organized an interfaith panel of Baha’is, local police enforcement and Christian clergy on Oct. 24.
Held over Zoom, the program included prayers from varied religious backgrounds and a candid conversation regarding racial unity from a myriad of perspectives.
“All over the United States there is a racial problem,” with police departments often at the fulcrum, says Shirley Ganao, a racial justice activist who is a Baha’i. As the study circle consulted on addressing this locally, “We decided that we would get some of the people involved — get a Christian point of view, the police point of view.”
In this diverse panel, Ganao spoke from an activist’s point of view, and a colleague offered Baha’i perspectives. “Each of us gave steps that we felt each [invited] organization needed to take in order to unify Delaware,” Ganao says.
Navigating a sensitive and timely topic, the panel acknowledged measures are needed to retrain law enforcement in areas such as domestic violence and mental health issues. Ganao notes that the police speaker delved into the department’s recent efforts to advance its understanding within the community. The chaplain also spoke on his church’s approaches to ending police violence and gun violence.
The Baha’i perspective emphasized the importance of working for unity. “We need to love each other,” Ganao says. “We need to consult with each other, and we need to be unified.” It was also shared how Baha’is work to align meaningful conversation with concrete action through the institute process, which applies the Baha’i teachings to develop programs and materials that advance service as part of community life.
Follow-up consultations, Ganao says, gave study-circle participants some insights into what went well — and into why a public internet devotional gathering, organized as a follow-up, did not gain enough momentum to be continued regularly.
The group, she says, saw that it could have read the reality of the community better before starting the venture. The discourse in the panel did help shape their understanding, she adds.
“One of the interesting things [they learned in this space] was that the police department has its own prayer service, one that is interfaith, and they asked us to join them the next time they host something,” says Ganao. She remains optimistic that these efforts have been woven into the fabric of New Castle’s efforts to heal racial injuries and build unity.