More than 5,700 people arrived for the Los Angeles regional conference, making it the largest of the first 20 gatherings in the series of 41 convened by the Universal House of Justice. The conference served the Southwest Region of the United States, comprising the states of Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico.
Dr. Penelope Walker and Mr. Juan Francisco Mora, both members of the International Teaching Center, represented the Universal House of Justice. Also in attendance were members of the Continental Board of Counselors, the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, and the Southwest Regional Council of Baha’is.
Mr. Mora and Dr. Walker spoke about the nature of Baha’i core activities, concepts that were complemented by reports from people from throughout the region.
The role of the tutor in study circles was discussed, particularly the attitude of learning that he or she must adopt. “The tutor is not a professor,” noted the speaker. “The tutor is a person who wants to learn….”
“Such an historic event was not planned by the House of Justice merely to be an event that would energize the friends for a few months but rather for many years to come….”
Another story came from a mother in Phoenix who wanted to start a children’s class in her neighborhood. She said that she was surprised to discover that the parents of all the children she invited said “yes.” Another surprise, she said, was that her own children, who had already done the lessons they were envisioning, got excited about helping to do the classes for their friends. A third surprise was that the children in the new class responded favorably, very favorably. The mother said that even when she was tired, by the end of class she was energized.
Also discussed was the idea that deepening our knowledge of the Baha’i Faith is not sufficient for building our human resources, that we must learn ways of performing acts of service and then continually practice, reflect, consult, and then act again and if we are to refine our skills and abilities.
As participants in all the conferences in the current series have done, attendees in Los Angeles consulted on the 20 October letter from the Universal House of Justice, which not only contained the call to the gatherings but among other points referred to the “continued strengthening of the (Baha’i) community,” a process that must go hand in hand with the world’s increasing receptivity to the message of Baha’u’llah. A special letter from the House of Justice to the U.S. conferences was also read and studied.
Sunday workshop sessions were designed to give participants a chance to consult more specifically about activities in their home communities, including how to develop intensive programs of growth in 15 areas by April of 2009. These consultations brought forth a number of commitments from people to assist friends in other communities.
Saturday evening program
The Saturday evening session brought artistic presentations and, given that it was Los Angeles, some were by professional performers who live in the area.
“This conference is about definitions and specifics, how things are and what needs to be done.”
Kourosh Derakhshan, student
One of the segments was a video showing photographs of Baha’i activities around the world, displayed with quotations from letters of the Universal House of Justice. Also, Anthony Velasquez, a painter, presented a slide show with Baha’i writings on the arts combined with images of famous paintings, architecture, and other cultural expression.
Several singers and instrumentalists performed, including Red Grammer who did an “echo” piece with the audience and also presented his well-known song “These Are the Places in the World,” where listeners raise their hands when they hear the name of a place they have visited.
Members of the Navajo Nation with tribal dress made a presentation with drums, chanting, and dancing.
The Los Angeles Children’s Theater – whose members come from different religious backgrounds but all take part in Baha’i core activities – performed in costume. One song about diversity of colors and the oneness of religion has the children doing hand motions and singing, “We’re just one world spinning in the night.”
Jamal Jaybird DeGruy with Kristen Barnes and Vahid Brooks as backup performed a rap with the audience echoing, drawing people out of their seats to dance and clap.
Grammy-award winner KC Porter sang in Spanish, played drums and keyboard, and also had people out of their seats and dancing.
But he switched gears and led the audience in singing a well-known Baha’i melody and then a quote from the sacred writings.
The final act was the Jeffrey Barnes Baha’i Choir, with gospel music encouraging listeners to “Rejoice! Celebrate!”
Matthew Cornelius: “Such an historic event was not planned by the House of Justice merely to be an event that would energize the friends for a few months but rather for many years to come….”
Justin Wang, age 14: “Seeing over 5,000 Bahais in one place is wonderful. It’s a warm feeling and makes you feel good about who we are and where we are going.”
Rainn Wilson: “This was mind-blowing. I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my day. We blew the roof off the L.A. Conference Center – the spiritual roof.”
Keith Stahl: “The conference is fulfilling what I have been wishing for.”
Kourosh Derakhshan, student: “This conference is about definitions and specifics, how things are and what needs to be done.”
Shawn Sullins: “I see that everyone is getting motivated. This is what we have to do. It’s time to get to work on the plan. I’m stoked about it.”
Shaunti Rashidi, student: “This conference shows that we are not alone in this endeavor of building the new world order.”
Darioush Charepoo and Natasha Bruss facilitate a workshop with people from Tempe, Arizona.
Participants discuss their own personal plans for future activities.
Gabrielle DeGange of Carlsbad, California, enjoys a performance of the Los Angeles Baha'i Choir.
Everyone is invited to get involved in the planning, and people consulted about how they could assist each other.
Martina Sarmiento of Phoenix, Arizona, participates in a workshop for Spanish speakers.
David Young shares some thoughts in a workshop with people from the Ventura, California, cluster.
Shohreh Javadan facilitates a workshop with residents of the Oceanside, California, cluster.
Participants came mainly from California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.
KC Porter (left) and JB Eckl have an impromptu rehearsal in the lobby at the Baha'i regional conference in Los Angeles.
The Children's Theater Company performs at the conference.
Juan Francisco Mora (in blue tie), a member of the International Teaching Center who represented the Universal House of Justice, greets participants at the close of the conference.
Red Grammer performs at the Saturday night session.
Old and new friends had a chance to connect.
Kiara Allen, from Claremont, California, is caught in a cute pose.
With 5,700 people in attendance, the Los Angeles gathering has been the biggest so far of the current conference series.