Portsmouth, NH Monday, June 10, 2002
Race Unity Day tackles challenging moral issue
ELIOT, Maine - An ethnically mixed audience of about 80 people gathered Sunday at the Green Acre Baha'i school, retreat and convention center on Route 103 to celebrate Race Unity Day and honor a pair of Nashua men who are "striving to heal the wounds of racism in America."
After a near-flawless performance of a pair of classical selections from child pianist Henry Chen, The Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Exeter presented this year's Vision of Race Unity award to Lee Jones, a founder of the New Hampshire Circle of Friends organization, and Nashua Chief of Police Donald Gross.
"The solution to the challenge of racism is not simple," said Exeter assembly member Phyllis Ring, one of the organizers of the local observance of Race Unity Day. Reading from a prepared statement, she added, "It involves commitment on many fronts - including those of education, economics and politics.
"But none of these can have lasting effect without the kind of inner commitment, the kind of spiritual and moral imperative that aims to honor all Americans for the dignity of their human spirit and the unique role they have to play in the shaping of this nation."
Ring said the "tireless" Jones was honored because "long before dialogues about race became popular, Lee was working hard to gather people together ... to build real friendships across racial barriers."
For his part, Chief Gross was recognized for his cheek-by-jowl work with Nashua's minority community leaders and his contribution to establishing the Gate City's Latino Community Center, as well as for implementing an "Ethnic Access Committee of 6 to 8 police officers with specific skills and knowledge about the cultures of the populations they serve."
Race Unity Day, celebrated the second Sunday of every June by adherents to the Baha'i faith, was launched in 1957 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, in an effort to promote racial harmony and understanding. Originally called Race Amity Day, the name was changed to Race Unity Day in 1965.
According to the faith's religious materials, the purpose of Race Unity Day is to focus attention on what Baha'is believe is the most challenging moral issue facing America and the world: racial prejudice. The Persian Baha'u'llah (1817-1892), the "prophet-founder" of Baha'i, made the "oneness of humanity under God," and the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the central point of his teachings.
Michael Penn, an associate professor of psychology at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., who had led a seminar at the Green Acre retreat center this past weekend, capped his stay by giving the keynote address for Race Unity Day. "The principle of the oneness of mankind," Penn pointed out, "has been greatly accepted" with near unanimity among physical and social scientists, yet organizations still haven't universally accepted this notion.
Penn said there are "three dimensions" to the idea of the oneness of mankind: contingency, an acknowledgment of natural, though unseen, forces and the concept of servitude.
According to Penn, "Entering into a station of servitude to forces that transcend us" attracts the blessings of God and leads the way to a racism-free reality.
"All power is a function of relationships," said Penn. "With an attitude of gratitude and humility, there can be no place in the heart" for racism.
©Copyright 2002, Portsmouth Herald