|About the Authors|
Phyllis Unterschuetz has been a student of writing, language, and cultural diversity all her life. She earned a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on intercultural relations from DePaul University in 2002. In recognition of her work, “Understanding Prejudice Using Mind, Heart, and Will,” Phyllis received the Arthur Weinberg Memorial Prize for Social Justice, awarded to one DePaul graduate each year. She was also the recipient of the DePaul University School for New Learning Award of Excellence for her research paper, “Collaborative Learning,” which was based on the race unity workshop she developed with her husband. Before going on the road, Phyllis worked as an international logistics specialist for a German company, using her language and relationship-building skills in her daily interactions with people from around the world. She speaks German, French, and some Spanish, writes poetry, and plays the djembe, a West African hand drum. Her upcoming writing projects include a book-length memoir and personal essays.
Eugene Unterschuetz earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wabash College in 1967 and a master’s degree in studio art from Northern Illinois University in 1988, during which time he spent three semesters studying art education. He worked for twenty-five years as a graphic artist, both in the Chicago area and in Germany, and has taught art and drawing to children and adults. Gene received training in the Race Unity Module of the Bahá’í Core Curriculum Program; he also became a certified trainer in Dialogue Racism and facilitated a number of workshops in Illinois before becoming a full-time traveler. Gene speaks German and is an accomplished artist. He is developing an arts curriculum that focuses on making value choices and developing an authentic identity through art.
Phyllis and Gene have been married since 1971; they both grew up in the Chicago area and, with the exception of five years spent in Germany, lived there until they began traveling. By autumn of 1996, their three children had grown up and left home, and the Unterschuetzes were ready to make some changes in their lives. They had both been members of the Bahá'í Faith since they were young adults, so they decided to undertake an extended period of travel to visit Bahá'í communities around the country. After a year of preparation, they put their house up for sale, moved into a small RV, and set out on what they thought would be a six-month journey.
Since that time they have visited forty-seven states, speaking about racial unity. Motivated by their belief in the oneness of humanity and their Faith’s mandate to eliminate racial prejudice, Gene and Phyllis conducted classes, gave public talks and interviews, and developed a workshop entitled “From the Same Dust”, which they presented for universities, community colleges, civic organizations, neighborhood groups, and religious gatherings. Among their most notable presentations were a mini-workshop for staff and interns at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta; a workshops series entitled “Nine Weeks for Racial Unity” in South Carolina; a three-session race unity workshop for students at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga; and a day-long program for incoming freshman at the University of Arkansas. The authors have been interviewed by newspapers across the country, featured in the Bahá'í Newsreel in 1998, and have appeared on cable TV shows in Illinois and San Antonio, Texas.
About half way into their ten-year trip, the authors replaced their workshop format with informal story-telling, sharing with diverse audiences around the country their personal struggles to overcome their own racial conditioning. Listeners from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds have attested to the importance of these stories in contributing to the healing of racial separation. The Unterschuetz's unusual experience of living full-time on the road and forming close friendships with people of color in every part of the country gives their readers an inside look into the process of building authentic racial harmony.