Why the Beloved Community?

Alternate title: Which MLK essay we’re re-reading today

When people ask me how we chose our name or what it means, I describe it in deliberate, painstaking language. Because usually, if they’re asking, it means that they haven’t yet encountered the concept of the beloved community anywhere else, and I feel an immense responsibility to get it right. Today I’m re-reading Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom, Dr. King’s 1966 essay that inspired our name with the following:

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

Josiah Royce coined the term beloved community, but it was Dr. King’s vision for the Poor People’s Campaign that signaled a particular transition towards multiracial coalition building for economic justice.

That’s at the heart of what we do.

If you grew up in a Black faith tradition or dedicate time in Black faith and justice communities, you may assume that our work is faith-based, or at the very least direct service oriented. I often hear “Are y’all that group home on…?” Are you doing the homeless ministry over by…? But there are lots of ways that the beloved community manifests today and I wanted to understand that complexity before invoking this legacy for our work. When I was testing the name out with some of our advisory council members, one of them suggested that I speak with the pastor of her beloved community congregation for his perspective.

During a call with Rev. Starsky Wilson of St. John’s United Church of Christ (The Beloved Community), he introduced me to the theology of the beloved community, where tension exists in King’s teachings and how people interpret the unfinished economic aspects of his vision (check out Keri Day’s Unfinished Business: Black Women, the Black Church, and the Struggle to Thrive in America). He encouraged me to figure out our organization’s relationship to capital. In developing the Poor People’s Campaign, King admonished extreme capitalism and advocated for economic justice. If we’re to carry out our work under this name, we are obligated to economic justice for all people.

When we say “sustainable economic equity” I’m confident that we’re moving in the right direction of economic justice. Advocating for and helping communities develop sustainable cultures for integrated schools and neighborhoods is a means to achieve economic equity. We believe that people change systems. If we expect a multiracial coalition to lead a change for economic justice, part of our work is creating equitable spaces for them to live and work together.

Reverend Starsky concluded our call with a word that I humbly share with you today. “[The Beloved Community] is something to really wrestle with. It’s an aspirational hope. We’re claiming it already, but we’re actually not yet [a beloved community]. This is a hope for the future. This is us trying to manifest and get a glimpse of what God has promised.”

Rhonda Broussard is the founder of Beloved Community and didn’t grow up in a Black faith tradition. She has all of these conversations a lot.