Local News : Monday, May 29, 2000
'Spirit' runners exemplify message of racial unity
by Paysha Stockton
Alfred Khan Jr.'s uncle saw it in a vision: The Navajo boy was running
with a group when he saw an eagle on a rock. He stopped to pray as the
others passed, then caught up and finished the run.
Seattle Times staff reporter
There was never any question he would do Spirit Run, a three-month,
3,000-mile journey across the northern United States, says 15-year-old
"A lot of people around me had visions I was going. I felt like it
was my spiritual duty."
Today, he and eight other young runners were to rise at dawn at
Daybreak Star Art and Cultural Center in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood
and slip on their running shoes. Together, they will run from Seattle to
New York. One milelong leg at a time.
Their goal: to run the message of racial unity from the Pacific
coast to the Atlantic - through mountains, prairies and reservations,
cities, badlands and campsites.
Carrying a sacred bundle - a hand-made leather satchel with words
of faith, called "talking leaves," and a medicinal packet of buffalo
eyeteeth and hide, rose petals, cedar, sage, tobacco and sweet grass -
the nine runners will together cover 54 miles a day, says run founder
Each will run six miles a day with the bundle. Three vans of
supporters - accompanied by advising elder William Ekomiak, an Inuit
from Quebec - will precede and follow them.
They'll rest a few days between camping and dinners on Native
American reservations. Fernandez-Scarberry and John Foguht of the Navajo
Tribe will spell them if they get tired. And they'll end the run in
mid-August with a United Nations visit and party on the Shinnecock
reservation in New York.
In this Spirit Run - sponsored by the Baha'i Faith - the
messengers are also the message. There's only one race, and it's human,
say the diverse runners, some of whom claim several cultures.
Fernandez-Scarberry, of Seattle, has Choctaw heritage. His brother
Billy Harris, 19, is Guamanian and Choctaw.
Khan lives on the Navajo reservation in Arizona but is also Cherokee
and Hungarian. Charles Nelson, 17, of North Seattle is Japanese, African
American and white. Micah Reed, 23, of Raymond, Calif., is African
American and white.
Sahar Sattarzadeh, 20, of Irvine, Calif., and her brother Samaan,
18, of Las Vegas, are Iranian Americans.
Chris Shattuck, 20, of Eugene calls himself Anglo. Both parents of
24-year-old Nancy Torres of Portland were born in Mexico.
Mike Pennington, 15, of Portland, is white.
They are tanned and freckled, pink and caramel, with red, brown,
black and even dyed hair. But the deferential and deadly earnest group
in baggy pants, sneakers and matching Spirit Run T-shirts have a common
They are all Baha'i, members of a worldwide religion founded
in the 1800s by Persian nobleman Baha'u'llah. Racial unity is a central
teaching of the religion, Fernandez-Scarberry says.
The run founder says the idea came to him about five years ago
while he was walking with his mentor.
"It was like a flood of loud thoughts," he says. "Basically, it
haunted me." Several years later, he mentioned it at a meeting in Neah
Bay, Clallam County. "Once it was shared, there was no turning back."
Support and funding poured in from Baha'i communities
nationwide, says organizer Nancy Griffith.
Yesterday, the group gathered at the Daybreak Star center to
receive blessings from local Native American elders, drummers and
The runners, who met for the first time this weekend, were a little
anxious at first, but that quickly faded. "There's a lot of family-ness
with the group already," Harris says.
Most are students, but one is a teacher, and several sacrificed
jobs, graduation ceremonies and other opportunities to run.
Sahar Sattarzadeh, finishing her sophomore year in college, must
e-mail four essays to professors from the road. The group will share
three laptop computers, she says.
Are they physically ready? Some trained for months. Others weeks.
Some are accomplished athletes. Others, like Khan, had to work hard.
"I've gone from couch potato to pretty decent," he admits.
Of course, they're nervous.
"Sometimes I'm afraid because I don't know how to pace myself
because I won't know where the end is," says Sahar Sattarzadeh, a soccer
player and sprinter.
They have squirmy stomachs but high hopes, too - for their own
spiritual growth. And for the relationships they'll build with each
other and on the reservations they will visit.
And for everyone else, too.
"I'm hoping that we fill a lot of our country's empty hearts,"
Harris says. "We are taking action instead of talking. People say we
need to be more united, but they only hang out with their own race."
Paysha Stockton can be reached at 206-464-2752. Her e-mail address is
©Copyright 2000, The Seattle Times Company