Just over 100 years ago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá completed his six-day visit to Chicago, in the heartland of the United States. From 13 to 15 July, close to 500 youth, alive to the vision of Bahá’u’lláh, which was shared so generously by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with the people of Chicago over a century ago, gathered at the Schaumburg Conference Centre to consult on the role each generation plays in helping to contribute in positive ways to the advancement of civilization. The diversity of participants, from across six states, reflected the hope that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá expressed during his stay there, that humanity could come to recognize itself as members of one human family, working together for the good of all.
The spirit of collective action animated the efforts of the youth even before the conference began, as one large group rented a bus and travelled together from their home state.
Each session opened with song, and in such an atmosphere, imbued with joy and excitement, the participants met in large and small workshop groups to reflect on themes of friendship, the period of youth, the positive and negative social forces in their environments, and the role of knowledge in empowering individuals and communities.
“It’s been really helpful being here and learning how to engage other youth in this conversation.”
– A participant at the conference
In one workshop where the opportunities for working with others in a spirit of mutual support were explored, a participant commented, "In the culture we're in, we are encouraged to win. At this conference, we are learning the value of working with people, helping them. The image of walking together with others on a path is so beautiful. It will help us in our service to others."
Another described how the experience at the conference helped him see his community in a new way: "It’s been really helpful being here and learning how to engage other youth in this conversation. Before, I thought my community had only one or two youth. Now, I see it has thousands of youth. This call is not just for me, it is for everyone."
Beginning to see the connection between service to younger generations and the development of qualities such as generosity or perseverance that assist in all aspects of one’s life, a participant shared his reflections on the experience of studying the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith with a group of university friends. They decided to participate in a campaign in which they studied the Writings and consulted on ways in which they could be applied to their individual lives and the life of the community. He noted that among the group, one of his friends was particularly quiet and reluctant to share thoughts. He went on to say, “After the campaign, though, he started a group for younger youth in a neighbourhood, and now he shares his thoughts and ideas. His new sense of courage and confidence was developed through his service."
As a result of the inspiration derived from the consultations and the study of the materials, participants created skits, poetry, and composed songs that were shared during the evenings and the morning devotions. As the conference drew to a close, the youth set off to their home communities with a spirit of hope and excitement at the opportunity to contribute to the advancement of their communities.
One of the large workshops group studies the material together
A group of youth begins planning together
Two youth share their insights with the group
Participants work on one of the many arts activities
One workshop moved to the lawns outside the venue to study
Youth from the same community gather to consult and plan
The conference was characterized by joyful and uplifting artistic presentations
114 roses, representing the youth conferences taking place around the world, mark the stage at the conference centre. Donated by the local community, they reflect the spirit of the city described by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as the heart of its country