Bahá’ís to mark visit, interracial marriage anniversary
From the early to mid-20th-century when interracial love was considered taboo or even illegal in parts of the United States, followers of the Bahá’í faith have sought to practice and share teachings of racial equality, ending prejudice and marrying outside one’s race.
Mike and Karen Watt, an interracial couple formerly of Slidell, will illustrate their faith’s history and teaching through drama during “Teaching Peace: A Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to America.” The dinner theater and multimedia program will begin at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Baháe_SSRqí Faith Unity Center, 4270 Perkins Road in Baton Rouge.
The Watts plan to embody the life of early interracial couple, Louis Gregory, a black man, and Louisa Matthew, a white woman, who married in 1912 and promoted the Bahá’í teachings of peace and unity, Mike Watt said.
The celebration will also showcase the legacy of Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the faith’s founder and an interpreter of the Bahá’í teachings who visited the U.S. in 1912. Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged Gregory and Matthew to get married.
“The celebration is a way to share some of the truly inspiring stories about Abdu’l-Bahá with the Baton Rouge community and hopefully inspire all of us in the same way to pursue unity, justice…and peace within our community and world,” said Patrick Garrett, co-coordinator of the event.
About 100 Bahá’ís and guests from throughout the state are expected to come and hear the early teachings of the founder and prophet of the faith, Bahá’u’lláh, the self-proclaimed universal messenger of God. Bahá’ís teach that he gave up his life of nobility and privilege in Tehran, Iran, and was banished, imprisoned and exiled for his beliefs and teachings. He died in 1892 after having written books, tablets and letters that formed the holy writings of the Bahá’í faith.
The principles he outlined for a new pattern of human society included oneness of religion and humankind, elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, the unity of all peoples, elimination of prejudice, a spiritual solution to economic problems and the harmony of science and religion.
Diane Broussard, who grew up in the faith and jointed as a member at age 15, said her husband, Kenny, was originally Catholic, until he investigated the Baha’i faith and later joined it. “His parents were OK with it once they confirmed that we did believe in God and Jesus,” she said.
“When joining the Bahá’í faith, you are joining a worldwide faith community that acts like a very large extended family,” she said. “Universal peace will come about when more and more people, whether Bahá’í or not, align themselves with God’s teachings and really view and act as all of humanity are their brethren.”
Mike Watt said he and his wife want to continue to spread their religion’s important message “of equality of women and men and the races and seeing humans as one family” and see their drama as a way to promote peace and unity.
“It’s a way of giving people information and a feeling of how things were at that time. What strikes me is how much the two of them (Louis and Louisa) were committed in their faith 100 years ago,” Mike Watt said.
The Watts’ traveling drama shows have taken them to about 30 states, including Louisiana where they have put on their two-act, one hour drama.
“It’s a huge blessing. We get to travel and proclaim our faith for our God and our Lord,” Mike Watt said.
Mike and Karen Watt converted separately to the Bahá’í faith in the 1970s.
They met in 1991 in Hawaii where she worked as a traveling nurse and he drove a taxi. Their first meeting came as he drove her from the airport in his taxi. Their faith and other commonalities pushed them toward marriage in 1993, she said.
They lived in Slidell several years until her nursing job relocated her to Meridian, Miss., in 2004. They later moved to Pittsburg, Texas, close to Mount Pleasant, Texas, where Karen works as a nurse/midwife.
Mike Watt, a creative artist and vocal musician with interests in community theater, grew up in St. Louis, where his parents, who were Baptist, sent him to Catholic schools where he was baptized.
He converted to his new faith as an adult.
“As time went on, I found my own conviction about religion and God’s existence,” Mike Watt said.
He met a member of the Bahá’í faith on his job and started attending religious meetings. “It’s a lifelong process of learning and investigation,” Mike Watt said.
His family members grew supportive of his religion after they saw his conviction through the years, he said.
Karen Watt, who is originally from Pittsburgh, also grew up Christian. “I was raised Catholic, but my mother always taught me to question things,” she said. “I believed Catholicism didn’t have the only answers about God.
“I met a member of the Bahá’í faith and I started reading Bahá’í Scriptures and learned the history,” she said. “And I came to the conclusion that this (faith) was something right for me.”