Is Dr. King’s ‘beloved community’ obtainable today?

(MGN Online)

A “beloved community” based on justice, equal opportunity and love was part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream. Poverty, racism and militarism, on the other hand, were the “the triple evils” that served as barriers, stated the late civil rights leader.

Dr. King learned this concept from philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a group that he belonged to. King reiterated his beloved community vision in a 1963 sermon, where he pointed out that “unconventional love,” even to those who hate you, is a prerequisite.

He stated that he didn’t see this community as “a lofty utopian goal,” but “a realistic, achievable goal that could be obtained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.”

Years earlier, in a 1957 “Birth of a New Nation” speech, King explained, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence is emptiness and bitterness.”

King later wrote in a 1966 article that “…a truly brotherly society [is] the creation of the beloved community.” Sixty years later, after King first introduced his beloved community ideas, the MSR asked the following question: What’s your dream for the community?

“Good jobs for our parents to take care of their families,” said Steve Johnson of North Minneapolis. “Good schools for our kids to go to. Good things for our kids to do after school.”

“My dream for the community would be that all of us would honor everyone’s perspective, although you don’t always agree,” said Teynae Richardson of St. Paul. “At least take some time and actually listen to other voices, and at least, try to see some things from another perspective.  At least respect it, even if you don’t agree with it.”

Lucy Laney Elementary School Principal Mauri Melander, whose school is located on the North Side, said she wished that a spirit of community could return. “One of the things I’ve studied a lot over the last 10 years has been what the old schools used to be like,” said Melander.

(l-r): Teynae Richardson and Mauri Melander (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“Between the Emancipation Proclamation and Brown v. Board of Education, we had segregated schools. Our resources were not strong. Our buildings were falling apart,” she said. “We met in the basement of the church or some community center. We had falling apart textbooks, but at the same time, we were closing the achievement gap at the most expedient pace.

“One of the reasons why [is because] we had licensed Black teachers at these schools,” continued Melander. “When Brown v. Board of Education [was decided by the Supreme Court], instead of looking at how we could truly integrate schools, all we did was shut down these Black schools. We released or terminated all those Black teachers and we picked out our children and stuck them in White schools with White teachers and White students. They were unwelcoming environments.”

This, in the long run, hurt Black students who “were taught in a way, in a culture and a language they were unfamiliar with,” contended Melander.  “And we have been playing catch-up ever since.”

“I don’t want to go back to subpar resources and material, but is there some way to get that feeling back when our children were valued and validated, and our teachers were valued and validated, and the school belonged to the community?” she asked. “I would love to see that spirit come back into public education.”

King’s “beloved community” stood in opposition to “racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice” in favor of “an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.” But a few days after this year’s annual MLK, Jr. holiday, America will usher in a new era as it transitions from the country’s first Black president for the past eight years to a new president who ran a campaign that many viewed as isolationist and divisive, seemingly using hate as a rallying cry.

When asked if the incoming Trump presidency will foster a community close to Dr. King’s dream and ideals, Richardson replied, “I’m one to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I believe that most people believe in good intentions.  But especially how divisive the [presidential] campaign was, I think some things [were] said and done that will please the base.  I’m hoping that not everything you read or hear about actually is true.”

Added Johnson, “With Trump getting the presidency, it put a dark spot on things. He isn’t the first president who doesn’t have our interest at heart and won’t be the last one. There are things that can be done for our community — resources for our community — but I don’t see us getting them.”

“I have a lot of fear…But my faith is bigger than my fear,” said Melander. “As long as those of us who have deep spiritual roots stand strong, then we will be OK,” she said.


Information from The King and the Huffington Post was used in this article.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to