Public connections flourish at Baha’i centers of learning
Even as Green Acre Baha’i School conducts dialogues with police regarding matters related to race, other Baha’i centers of learning build their own relationships with surrounding communities:
Louhelen Baha’i School, Davison, Michigan
Through a relationship with Children’s Theater Company (CTC) of New York and community partner The New Standard Academy, Louhelen Baha’i School has developed beneficial relationships in nearby Flint using theater and education.
Together with CTC, local community organizations and Baha’i institutions, Louhelen presented musical performances for schools at the local community theater located at New Standard and the University of Michigan-Flint. The musical Henry Box Brown was so well received, a relationship developed allowing the Louhelen outreach team to provide Baha’i-inspired after school programming, says Louhelen Administrator Cam Herth.
“New Standard invited us to play a major part in their performing arts program and we welcomed the opportunity to cultivate the relationship that is continuing to develop,” Herth says, adding that Children’s Theater Company was invited back to perform a musical based on the Baha’i junior youth text Glimmerings of Hope.
Louhelen staff worked closely with students during and after school leading up to the Glimmerings of Hope performance, and helped school staff prepare the students and families for the musical. Subsequently, relationships are evolving with additional schools. Upcoming plans for Louhelen include an artistic collaboration with CTC and New Standards on a Celebration of Black History, to launch Parent University in Flint.
The pandemic created uncertainty about the school partnership’s future. “But it’s given us creative options on things we wouldn’t have thought about if our standard mode of operation had not been interrupted,” Herth says. Case in point, Louhelen started a children’s class that is completely online.
Life-size puppets are used, and a prayer and new coloring page are introduced at each class, with the super power word of the day. With a focus on younger children, seven families and about 15 children participate. Children are asked to memorize prayers, parents accompany their children in activities, and entertaining videos are shared to reinforce the day’s theme. The puppets engage the children and parents in a fun learning space.
Bosch Baha’i School, Santa Cruz, California
So that people can become agents of change, Baha’is in the Santa Cruz/Sunnyvale area have been learning about how to foster the transformation of hearts and minds through organized prayer gatherings, which they call convivios in Spanish.
“What would it mean if a family saw themselves as catalysts for change in the neighborhood? The family is where values are honed and nurtured,” explains Ymasumac Marañon-Davis, outreach coordinator at Bosch.
It began with home visits by Roya Mason and Marañon-Davis with parents of young people attending junior youth groups. “The initial home visits were to get to know families, deepening the bonds of love, over a series of weeks,” Marañon-Davis says. They often discussed deeply personal topics, and it felt natural to end the visit with a prayer. “We’d bring up quotes [from the Baha’i writings] around ideas that were shared, and we’d reflect on them organically because we were all excited to learn more together.”
Families were invited to a conference that illuminated how Baha’is are engaged in a worldwide movement. In response, the parents, uniting in friendship, were instrumental in organizing a regular convivio devotional. In these gatherings they would cook together, eat, and pray. They would share and discuss quotes from Baha’i writings or videos from Frontiers of Learning, which shows Baha’i community building around the world.
Two study circles with parents emerged and two successful family camps were organized in which race unity materials were studied. On the last day of planning the first camp, the parents took over the process. “They facilitated the whole thing. Roya and I stood back and thought wow–this is great!” Marañon-Davis says.
Due to the pandemic, the convivios have moved to Zoom, where heartfelt discussions continue on a weekly basis. These conversations have presented parents opportunities to talk about racism, as well as other topics, with their children.
“We share about difficulties and share writings that relate. We share personal and vulnerable things like depression and anxiety, worries about work and rent, personal challenges and tests. It’s a nurturing space,” Mason says. “It’s a really exciting evolution. We were working with youth, junior youth and children, but now we have a handful of families that understand the process and are committed to it, to learning and to growing. It’s very exciting.”
“Everyone feels welcome. It’s a very diverse group of people from all different walks of life, people who might not be connected otherwise,” Mason says.