Building Beloved Community for Racial Justice

January 19, 2015 2 Comments

“Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. we must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution”

Recently I have been blown away by the ability of people, in the midst of racialized tension and harsh accusations, to move through insults and injuries, listen deeply to one another, account for the hurtful impacts of their behaviors, and recommit to a new level of partnership and trust. I have witnessed this kind of healing among a multiracial group of people including government employees and grassroots community leaders I am working with in a U.S. city. These folks are coming up against the same big barriers I believe all of us doing racial justice work are coming up against: people acting from unspoken and deep-seated sets of cultural values that are seemingly at odds and a lack of common language to understand how racism is playing out in our communities. Without addressing these barriers, it is too easy for us to take things personally, become defensive, and continue believing that folks who don’t think exactly like us are wrong or inferior. We can go along collaborating and making surface-level reforms, but I think it is time for us to do the deeper work.


Image from”On the Eve of Reclaim MLK”

That deeper work is the work of building a “beloved community” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called us to do. At IISC, we believe that harnessing love as a force for social transformation is key to effective collaboration. By love we don’t mean sentimental love or people being nice to one another. We mean the kind of love that takes work to live out in practice. This is the kind of love that requires us to:

  • look critically yet gently at the way our actions and behaviors impact other people (intentionally and unintentionally)
  • check our assumptions
  • cultivate humility
  • give and receive honest feedback
  • make mistakes and learn from them

And above all, this kind of love requires us to stay present with each other as human beings in an evolving quest for reconciliation of racialized harms done and for an end to all forms of racism (internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural).

Dr. King’s call to build beloved community rings louder than ever now. The growing movement across the U.S. spurred into action by the unjust deaths of Black people including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner has a deceptively simple chant at its center – Black Lives Matter – a phrase that was coined by three Black women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors. #BlackLivesMatter has gone viral as a meme and hashtag because the fact that Black Lives Matter still needs to be stated, stated again and heard (both within Black communities and everywhere). In order for Black lives to truly matter, we must figure out how to do this building beloved community thing. It is a matter of life and death.

What does honoring Dr. King’s legacy look like in 2015?

Above all, find ways to love deeper and more authentically in 2015 – in your family, at work or school, and in your own community. Practice loving in ways that contribute to the liberation of all people from oppression and injustice.

“I know all our love can change the ways of the ignorant and the hearts that have been hardened. Not just for us now, but also for all the generations who will come after us. So that they can live and thrive and show each other love, vividly and honestly.” – CeCe McDonald


  • Miriam Messinger says:

    Jen–I was hoping that you would write about this as I was so moved to hear about the work from you. I hope you will keep writing about this and share the story as it emerges. How does one do the deeper work, particularly in a public context? What do you think/see that it takes?

  • Amen. This is the work.

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