I am Adrian McKee, the Webmaster of the Northern Illinois Bahá’í Web Site. I became a Bahá’í in late August, 1971. It was the end of turbulent times, the end of the “Flower Power” movement, and the winding down of the “Black Power” movement. It was 3 years after the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the summer of the Police Riots at the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 1968. Being a Black teen in the ‘burbs of Chicago was very troubling and very confusing. There was excitement of some of the gains that were being made in the Civil Rights movement, but the reality is that there is still a long way to go.
I spent the summer at the local pool, and there I got to know one of the lifeguards by the name of Andy. He invited me to see a movie (it was called "It's Just the Beginning" about the Bahá’í Youth Conference that was held in the Chicago area in the summer of 1968) at the local park one evening in mid August. I rode there on my bicycle, watched the movie for a few minutes, got on my bike again and rode around some, came back and watched a little more of the movie. I did this several more times till it was over. At this time I was approached by Andy who then asked me how I liked the movie. I responded positively to this. He then asked to come to a get together at a friend’s house to something he called a “Fireside”. Being a teenager I did not have that much going on so I agreed to come by Andy’s friend’s house the following night.
When I arrived, I was one of 8 – 10 other people. It was a mixed crowd of black and white people. This included the hostess who was white and middle-aged, her 3 daughters, and a white teenage male from Odessa, Texas (who was a house guest). Additionally, Andy was there, as well as several other 20-something folks of diverse heritages. All-in-all, it was the most diverse group I had ever experienced in a social setting.
They proceeded to tell me all about something called the Bahá’í Faith (which took me a couple of days to learn how to pronounce, but I did finally master it). They shared with me the basic teachings, about the Oneness of Mankind, the Equality of the Sexes, Universal Education, the Abolition of Prejudice, One Universal Language, etc.; I listened to their whole spiel, listening, nodding in agreement, but not saying much else. After the talk I sat down with everyone and got a lesson on how to play pinochles (which to this day I still have not grasped the finer points) but had a good time laughing, playing and joking around with them.
At the end of the evening they gave me a card that they explained that I could fill out if I decided to join the Bahá’í Faith. I was also invited to come back the next Saturday after which I said good night to them and left to go home.
I spent the next couple days thinking about what had happened, the movie that I saw, and the “Fireside” I attended. I also thought about the mix of people that were present, how unusual that had been. My experience up till that point was not being welcomed by white people. Knowing the struggles that have gone on and ones I had experienced and witnessed, I acknowledged what a unique experience this had been.
When I was younger I had attended church and for my family the usual criteria for which church we attended was, “which ever church is closest to home, that is the one we will attend.” So I grew up Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, and My Grandmother’s house was next do to a “Sanctified” Church. This meant that I never saw much of a difference between churches. They all celebrated Jesus, and sure, there were differences in “how” they worshipped, but I never saw those differences as being that important in the grand scheme of things.
As I got older one of the things that I was dealing with myself was that I could not see how the church I was going to was making much progress in the way of civil rights, not in the way I was looking for. I saw churches as being segregated, people worshipping separately in the name of God. They always talked about all men being brothers, but their "different" brother was not welcomed home. This did not make sense to me and so I quit going. I love Jesus, and I love God. Never stopped doing that, but I could not find a place to worship in a way I felt comfortable.
I remember being told at the “Fireside” that the Bahá’í Faith believed in one God and that all the major religions come from that God. That God was not in competition with himself, that his representatives came at different times, to different places, to educate all men and to teach us how to live as God wants us to, and that God’s latest representative had brought mankind the Bahá’í Faith.
I have always been a shy person, and never talked much, but when I listened to what they told me it all fell into place for me. It all made perfect sense to me. Much of it I already felt, the rest of it made me go, “OF COURSE!!!” Now all the pieces that did not fit together before fell into place (along with some additional benefits I hadn’t planned on)..
I then signed the card they had given me and embraced my new Faith.
I am a Bahá’í because I stumbled across the answers I had been looking for and I thank God that I was able to accept this as easily as I was able to.
(Photo taken by Adrian McKee)