This story was originally published on Columbia Faith & Values (ColumbiaFAVS.com).
Tyree Byndom’s decision to jump in to the City Council race for the First Ward representative spot involved serious prayer. There was the typical prayer seeking God’s guidance. After hearing “yes” coming from that place deep in his spirit, Byndom had to receive sanction from leaders of his faith tradition.
Byndom is a Baha’i, and the faith group prohibits holding membership in any political party and requires followers to avoid contention. Byndom says he is the first American Baha’i to run for political office. The first Baha’i assembly in America was formed in Chicago in 1907. If elected, Byndom says he will be the first Baha’i elected worldwide in their 170 year history.
It started when Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, a 25-year-old merchant in Persia, proclaimed God chose him to prepare the way for the coming of another Messiah called the Bab’s. From 1844-1850, the teachings of the Bab’s spread rapidly despite being viewed as heretical by the Persian government. More than 10,000 citizens were present when they executed the Babs in the city of Tabriz, Iran on July 9, 1850.
Baha’is recognize the Babs as the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i religion. Baha’u’llah, who was a member of a noble family that traced its lineage to imperial Persia’s Sassanian dynasty, rejected a life of wealth and privilege to become a disciple of the Babs.
It was in 1852, after being arrested, beaten, and thrown into a dungeon, that Baha’u’llah received the Revelation that He was the Messenger foretold by the Babs.
Byndom is a disciple of a faith that honors the sacrifices of Baha’u’llah. From 1863-1892, Baha’u’llah wrote volumes of scriptures outlining his views regarding his faith. Byndom had to be sure that he was abiding by the teachings of Baha’u’llah.
“My running for political office is teaching members of my faith about what it means to be Baha’i,” Byndom says. “I had to show leaders there is nothing that restricts me from running.”
If elected, Byndom would be Columbia’s third African American to serve on the City Council. He was mentored by Almeta Crayton, a three-term Columbia City Councilwoman, who represented the First Ward. Her death on October 21, 2013, has stirred Byndom’s memories of conversations with Crayton.
“I remember one weekend, when we were done doing our radio show on KOPN 89.5 FM, called Straight Talk, Almeta and Wynna Faye (Albert) were joking with me and they said ‘Well, Tyree, I guess we have to pass the baton to you, because ain’t nobody else around,’” Byndom says. “My response to them was ‘I don’t want it!’”
What followed felt like a calling.
“The truth is that I didn’t feel worthy. When we lost Almeta Crayton this past year, it did something to me,” Byndom says. “Her words, the things she fought for, the people that she cared about, her lamentation at the challenges facing her son, this community that she loved, all echoed in my thoughts and the phrase ‘Be worthy’, was the reply.”
Straight Talk, Byndom’s weekly radio show on KOPN, offers Columbia’s black community a place to voice opinions. Listeners talk about increasing gun violence, substance abuse, unemployment for youth and minorities, underemployment for professionals with skills, high cost of living, fast cash stores, growing poverty and a loss of middle class jobs.
The radio show is a constant reminder of the problems facing Columbia’s African American community. Byndon kept listening, but his faith made it hard for him to say yes to running for office
The First Ward was formed in 1979 to make it easier for an African American to get elected. Still only two African Americans have been able to win a seat in the ward with the highest percentage of African American voters. Crayton and Albert were correct to assert a need for someone to run.
“People often mention that I was the first African American to serve on the City Council,” Harold Warren, Sr. says. “I tell them it’s not a good thing. It’s sad that I was the first and only one has been elected since.”
Warren mentioned a lack of interest among Columbia’s African American community.
“We need to mold leadership,” Warren says. “Where is the next generation of leaders? We need to find them.”
Byndom was willing, but his faith stood in the way.
Byndom had work to do before running. He met with the Mayor and those interested in serving the First Ward to ask for their support in his running.
“I asked them to support my bid for office,” Byndom says. “In doing so, I proved there is no contention in my running, but support from those running against me.”
Byndom stood in the middle of two callings: the one to honor the teachings of his faith tradition, and the other to concede the needs of the African American community. There is a lesson related to the challenge of being caught in the middle of divergent needs.
It’s also a lesson about leadership, forming coalitions and bonds beyond the normal conflicts found in America’s political landscape.
Sounds like a model that all of us could follow. If so, let the Baha’i’s lead the way.
Further reading on the Baha’i Faith: