In His travels to North America in 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited Washington, D.C. three times. He spoke at dozens of gatherings to hundreds of people; met with statesmen, inventors and leaders of thought; rich and poor, black and white. And with each and all He shared His depth of love for humanity and demonstrated how to live a coherent life of service. He also proclaimed that the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh would enable the diverse peoples of the world to come together in unity and love.
This truth was beautifully demonstrated when, from 16-18 August, over 700 young people from five states gathered just outside of Washington, D.C. to discuss how they could continue to build on a process so powerfully exemplified over a century earlier with the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
“I learned many things this weekend about being courageous and what to do with my life.”
A participant at the conference
In both plenary gatherings and in smaller workshop groups they studied and reflected on several themes, including the unique period of youth, how to assist those younger than themselves, and what contributions everyone can make in advancing their neighborhoods and communities.
Some of the participants were already actively engaged in community-building activities in their neighborhoods. They shared the challenges they faced and insights they had gained, and encouraged others to make similar efforts when they returned home. Those who were new to this process were inspired by the stories and concepts they studied over the weekend and made concrete plans with their friends on how they could begin to walk together on a path of service.
Strong bonds of unity and friendship were developed throughout the weekend and the sounds of singing, drumming, and laughter filled the venue between sessions.
On Saturday evening the youth were inspired after viewing portions of the film Frontiers of Learning. One person shared how important it is to keep a positive attitude when facing the inevitable challenges of serving their communities: “When you’re having rainy days,” she said, “perseverance is key. Let’s get out there and make things happen!” Another offered how important it is to keep moving when things go wrong, “Because the end is so worth it.”
Arts were a significant aspect of the gathering as the participants found numerous creative ways to explore and express the concepts they studied during the weekend. One group performed a skit on the false choices that youth sometimes face, such as choosing between service or study, when in reality the two are essential aspects of a coherent life. Another group led the entire gathering in a rousing song on guitars and drums with the lyrics: “Two lungs take one breath, two feet walk one path, like two wings of one bird, we can kick it and serve!”
On the final day of the conference the focus seemed to be on the courage required to walk a path of service in a society that invariably encourages materialism and selfishness. Continental Counsellor Ann Boyles shared the story of Zaynab, a young woman who was one of the early followers of the Bab and had displayed enormous courage in the face of innumerable challenges.
When the weekend came to a close the youth were inspired by the vision of unity, service and courage they had experienced together, aware that before them was an opportunity to contribute to a process of community building so patiently and lovingly delineated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and in doing so to fulfill their own potential.
One of the participants shares her insights during a workshop session
Each group found creative ways to present what they were studying in the workshops
The workshops were times of thoughtful reflection and joyful interaction
Youth from the same communities gathered to consult and plan
Singing and other arts infused both plenary and group sessions
A participant shares some insights from her group on what it means to live a coherent life
A group of youth studies one of the sections of the material together
Participants consulted on ways they could assist those younger than themselves
Study of the materials was enhanced by creative expression through the arts
Songs were used to articulate the concepts during several of the sessions
Youth shared some of the fruits of their workshop consultations
The conference was characterized by joyful and uplifting artistic presentations
The enthusiasm and unity of the participants was evidenced throughout the weekend
A group photo of the participants