Robert C. Turner

A Portal to the Past and the Future

Robert C. Turner

... O Thou Provider, O Thou Forgiver! Exalt dearly loved Robert [Turner] in Thy Kingdom and, in the garden of the Abhá Paradise, make him an intimate of the birds of the meadow. O All Knowing God! While that innocent soul was black in colour, he was, like unto the black pupil of the eye, a source of radiant light.O Thou Forgiving Lord! Enable that yearning soul to behold Thee and cause that thirsty one to drink his fill of the water of life. Thou art the Bestower, the Pardoner, the Loving.
Baha’i World Centre

Make yourself at home. You’re about to take a journey with your friends. Before you begin, please introduce yourselves to one another as members of a family. Seated in a circle in your group, the first person turns to the one on their right and says, “My name is [your name], and I am a member of the human family. You must be my brother or sister. What is your name?”

By the time the circle is complete, each person will have acknowledged both a relationship to and a sense of belonging to the next, and a sense of common responsibility that comes with that honor. Welcome one another to the family.

Robert C. Turner in a suit facing to the left.

Activity: An Interlocking Puzzle

To further appreciate the need for truly cohesive, loving relationships, each person will receive an envelope with a piece made of felt or stiff fabric, pre-cut into puzzles pieces of random shapes. One puzzle piece in each envelope will be missing, as the facilitators will have placed it into someone else’s envelope.

Each person must put their own puzzle together to identify the extra piece. By offering this to others until the right matches are found, each person will help complete the puzzle of another.

(Later, we will use our felt pieces to create an art piece, so let’s save them.)

puzzle pieces that are pieced together

After the puzzles are filled in, discuss the process. Some groups find that if each person focuses only on finding their own missing piece, the progress of the group moves slowly, but if each person seeks the right space for their extra puzzle piece and offers it to another, all the puzzles become whole more quickly.

This process calls to mind the African concept of ubuntu – “I am because you are/we are.” This idea of connection to humanity, with its translation among several tribes, honors the individual for their oneness and willingness to contribute to the wellbeing of others. It recognizes a relationship more essential that connection to personal ego or even to tribe but to all who live.

It recognizes that spiritual identity that has kept us close as family since the moment we were born. If you are not sure of that identity, let’s fetch a cup of milk for each participant in the group. (If some prefer it, nut milk will do.)

Now please close your eyes as you take a sip and savor it on your tongue.

Try to recall the first time you ever tasted milk. It’s a little difficult to remember, for most people, because milk was probably the first drink that touched your lips.

Can you describe the texture and taste of milk? What makes it so unique?

Ah, yes. It tastes comforting because it made the world a more welcoming worldly experience. Whoever offered it took on the qualities of a mother.

What, then, does milk symbolize? Perhaps that universal sense of belonging?

Our awareness of family distinctions, heritage, regionality, friendships, of cultural and spiritual identity layer our childhood perceptions, but in the early moments of life, when someone offers milk and comfort and holds us close, all we know is tenderness and belonging. In fact, it takes about six months for a baby to realize that its own mother or nurturer is a separate person!

What would life be like if everyone remembered that sense of belonging and paid it forward--to continually welcome others to a new world, even when walking outside our own comfort zone. I am in you and you are in me. Ubuntu helps us solve the puzzles that perplex us in life by reaching out and filling in the puzzle pieces for another—because we all share a spiritual and a mortal identity, above all, as brothers and sisters in this world.

As family, we will now take a journey together, to explore the life and times of a man named Robert C. Turner, the first Black American Baha’i.

Each time we step through a new door, we will have a chance to experience what made his life significant, and to reflect on what we can learn in order to open the same welcoming doors for others and eventually leave our own group legacy.

Go ahead. Knock on the door of a farmhouse and imagine it belongs to Robert Turner’s family.

A black and white photo of an old door of a wooden house.

Bring your own journal along and take notes on your impressions and discussions.