COLUMBIA — At first Debra Byndom was reluctant to let her son marry a white woman. Tyree Byndom’s past relationships with white women made his mother believe this one wouldn’t work. Tyree is black, and Jesca, the woman he had been dating, is white.
Debra was going to make sure that if Tyree was going to marry Jesca she understood how important family was.
“She asked me if I was going to love him or the family,” Jesca Byndom said. “I was ready to love the family.”
United by a common faith in God, Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i faith, and a belief that they can help create world peace as a married couple, Tyree and Jesca fell in love. And the idea of the oneness of humanity, the most important belief to the Baha’i faith, has guided the Byndoms through the tests of being interracially married and ultimately, to a greater faith.
“The principal elimination of prejudice of all kinds was very important to me,” Tyree said. “Once I expanded my mind, I forgot about my oppression. I always put my life in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ before. But the Baha’i faith erased the ‘my’ people and ‘their’ people perception. It became ‘our’ people.”
The monotheistic Baha’i faith has roots in many religions. Through the oneness of humanity, Baha’is believe that many of the world’s religions and their prophets are manifestations of God and linked by his evolutionary path for humanity. Baha’is believe that humanity’s oneness will inevitably produce world peace as people come together.
By believing in the importance of world peace, Baha’is are strong believers in learning about different cultures and are usually positive about the prospects of interracial marriages connecting divided people.
“If me and Jesca can come together with our history and our color, I think this shows that people can show commonality and love for one another,” Tyree said. Tyree and Jesca agree that had it not been for the Baha’i teachings they wouldn’t have tried to love each other’s family as much as they did.
“I’ve grown to love (Tyree’s family) for God’s sake, not myself or themselves,” Jesca said.
Still there are family tests that are hard to get past. Jesca’s mom is more passive while Tyree’s mom is more aggressive, and the two have yet to connect. They’re polite with each other but aren’t friends, Tyree and Jesca agreed.
Tyree and Jesca’s wedding was another test. Although some racial tensions were revealed, other signs pointed toward the positive.
Many of Tyree’s aunts and uncles didn’t attend the wedding, and many of the uncles still don’t fully regard Jesca as a family member, Tyree said.
But Jesca’s dad was supportive of the marriage and was offended that Jesca thought he had a racial bias, she said.
By being interracially married, Tyree and Jesca know they have come to understand each other’s background better.
“By being Baha’i I’ve learned about black culture,” Jesca said. “I could have real friendships and not just surface relationships.”
For Katrina and Kurt Saxton, also members of Columbia’s Baha’i community, being interracially married has been reaffirming for them by helping them show unity in diversity.
“I think because the faith puts so much stress on being loving towards one another in marriage, but not to make a bond out of the love the faith has affected us,” Kurt Saxton said. “We became very accepting of each other’s differences. It’s something we incorporated into our vows — strings on an instrument might be different but they are tuned to the same melody.”
Coming into the faith
Jesca introduced Tyree to the Baha’i faith when they first met, and within two weeks he had joined the faith. Although Tyree was initially attracted to its beliefs in gender equality, he was also impressed with the faith’s emphasis on interracial marriage.
It was also his goal for his relationship with Jesca to be pure.
It was a difficult decision, Tyree said, because he was physically attracted to Jesca but they both wanted to base the relationship in a mutual love for God and Baha’u’llah. That meant no kissing or sexual relations, he said.
“I didn’t use any game with her,” Tyree said. “I stopped running game two or three years before because I knew it wasn’t holy. I wanted to be a true representative of God.” While Jesca was in Santa Cruz, Calif., teaching at a Baha’i school, she asked Tyree to marry her. Jesca returned to Columbia more than a year and half after they met, but Tyree and Jesca didn’t get married for another two years.
To marry, Baha’is must have their parents’ permission, which was something Debra wasn’t initially willing to give. Between each other they disagree about whether or not race was an issue for their parents, but the couple do agree that their parents wanted them to get to know each other better first.
Tyree and Jesca know the tests they went through in order to be together were worth it.
“We really are one soul,” Jesca said.
Like the Byndoms, Katrina Saxton introduced Kurt to the Baha’i faith before they got married. Both Katrina and Kurt had been bothered by the hypocrisy and discrimination of members of their former Christian churches.
After seeing a poster at her college for a Baha’i faith meeting on interracial dating, Katrina decided to read more about it. She found herself in agreement with much of the religion’s teachings.
“I was amazed,” she said. “I would read and think, ‘Oh, I believe that.’ I liked the idea that religion should be a cause of unity and should never separate people from one another.”
After talking to Katrina about the Baha’i faith, Kurt said he “instinctively felt it to be true.”
“I read how the religion encouraged people of different cultures to come together, so to better understand one another,” Kurt said.
Kurt was surprised when he came across interracial marriage support within the Baha’i faith. For both Kurt and Katrina’s families, being married interracially wasn’t an issue.
“Other religions might accept inter-ethnic marriage, but they don’t encourage it,” Kurt said.
While interracial marriage is considered as a way for different cultures to learn about one another, the Byndoms and the Saxtons agree that the Baha’i faith believes marriage should ultimately be based in a love for God.
“Just because we’re inter-ethnically married doesn’t mean we’re better than anyone else,” Kurt said. “Marriage is based on love, and when cultures come together and learn from one another, these people become richer in person.”
For Tyree and Jesca, getting married was about their love for each other, not skin color.
“The focus is on us as a human race,” Tyree said. “People don’t date because of a race but because of a soul.”