Living the Reality of Dr. King’s Beloved Community

February 22, 2021

By Bishop Trevor D. Alexander (University Mission and Ministry and Adjunct Faculty)

Bishop Trevor AlexanderOn August 28, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. Many, if not all of you reading this blog, have heard this speech. The groundwork for this speech was laid out on September 25, 1960, when Dr. King delivered a speech at the Annual Freedom Mass Meeting of the North Carolina State Conference, the Branches of the NAACP. The title of the speech was "The Negro and the American Dream.”

He examined the document on which our country was established, the Declaration of Independence. Dr. King reflected on what it meant to be a Black and brown person in America. The Declaration states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I am sure that Dr. King had to wrestle with his faith and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. How are Black and brown people experiencing the Declaration? I am sure he heard the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” by Clare Herbert Woolston, a preacher from Chicago, and possibly taught this song to his four children. Some of you might be familiar with the refrain, “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, All are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

How do we live in a community where we all have a Declaration of Independence that speaks about equality and a theology that says Jesus loves all people, yet we experience a contradiction in the lived reality? For Dr. King, the answer was to build the Beloved Community. Dr. King saw that there was a great contradiction between the reality of life for the Negro and the document our nation was built upon.

For years I have heard people quote portions of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and miss the very essence of the speech. In 1967, Dr. King wrote the book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community. In the book, Dr. King developed the framework for the Beloved Community. The Beloved Community was and is a vision for global unity, where all can share in the wealth and goodness of the earth. He saw a barrier to building the Beloved Community, and it was what he called, The Triple Evils of Poverty, Racism and Militarism.

These three evils have hindered the building of the Beloved Community. Can you imagine a world without poverty and racism? Can you imagine living in a community where, in the words of Dr. King, “racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice, will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood?”

Can you imagine living in a world where countries resolve their conflicts by coming to the table for peaceful conflict resolution, without using their military might? Dr. King did and so can we.

This past summer, millions of Americans witnessed the killing of George Floyd, forcing our nation to have an examination of conscience. We experienced racial unrest that rocked our nation. Just like the murder of a young, 14-year-old Black boy, Emmett Louis Till in Money, Mississippi, in 1955 caused America to confront the ugly truth about racism, George Floyd’s death invoked an internal statement that says, “Surely, we are better than this!”  

With all of the advancements made through the Civil Rights Bills, we are still a long way from achieving what Dr. King envisioned for the “Beloved Community.” The Beloved Community is for ALL people to live together in harmony. In the Beloved Community, we are called to live and reflect on what I call the three B’s. 

The three B’s and the questions we must reflect on:

  • Belonging: How do we evaluate our experience, while feeling like we don’t belong in a particular community?
  • Becoming: How are we engaging in opportunities to become who we are called to be?
  • Beholding: How are we beholding the presence of God’s work in our communities?