Sixty plus years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed about the creation of the Beloved Community.

“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.”

“The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends.”

Beloved Community was built on the idea of inclusiveness, in which people share in the wealth of the earth, and “poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.” (From The King Center.)

This past weekend, I traveled to an event to talk about beloved communities, narrowly missing the latest bombshell (literally) of terrible news. How far we still are from a society free from discrimination, prejudice, and racism!

In the beautiful spaces and forested grounds of The Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, Washington, I attended an event, The Magic of Thriving Communities: Arts, Culture and Deep Listening, sponsored by Thriving Communities. 

I went to listen to stories, and I heard many on the first day of the event. The team of Richard Geer and Qinghong Wei from Story Bridge shepherded us through the process of creating a piece of theatre in a day, based on our stories.

The stories I heard pierced my heart. I heard accounts of discrimination and what gentrification is doing to The Central District, Seattle’s historically black neighborhood.

Pastor Pat Wright, founder of the internationally acclaimed Total Experience Gospel Choir, talked about her fear of losing her home, the only remaining black-owned house left on the block where Pastor Pat has lived for years. Affluenza and Amazonia have taken their toll on Seattle. Neighborhoods are being taken apart and reassembled to match Seattle’s booming new look and many lower-income people are being forced to leave the city.

Where is our Beloved Community?

In an individuated, separated world, problems of gentrification can be set aside if they don’t affect us directly (“that’s too bad, but it’s not about me”) so that we can pursue our busy lives.

But once I’ve heard what these trends are doing to people I care about, my capacity to distance myself dissolves. In each of the three Story Bridge events that I’ve attended, I’ve listened to stories from people very different from me and I’ve fallen in love. Once I begin to carry their stories within me, I drop the distance.

Fortunately, and quite intentionally, throughout the weekend we were buoyed by music, movement, poetry, song, and story. The arts and music opened my heart and made it possible for me to listen to the pain expressed in some of the stories, and still feel joy and find reason for hope.

When Pastor Pat conducted a special performance of The Total Experience Gospel Choir, our meeting room exploded with hope and spirit. I doubt there was a dry eye among us when the room burst forth spontaneously into the “Negro National Anthem.”

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won…

Dr. King’s Beloved Community was not utopic. One of our group members, Dr. Gus Newport, former mayor of Berkeley, California, knew Dr. King and has spent his long life working to fulfill Dr. King’s vision, working in many diverse communities.

There’s still so far to go.

As for me, as much as I know that action is called for, I am letting new perspectives simmer in me. I don’t have answers.

But I can bear witness.

I’m struggling to comprehend white privilege. White privilege is one of those phenomena that once you start looking for it, you find everywhere. I was blind to how much I took for granted and what a free pass the color of my skin was. Not so much anymore.

[Small detail: as I searched for photos for this post. I googled images of community. Up came lovely photos of circles of hands joined together, all white. This isn’t acceptable–and it hurts.]

But feeling guilty or contrite isn’t what’s being asked of me. Better to spend my precious energy learning about the patterns that keep the Beloved Community at bay.

As one participant said, “You have to see the game.”

Over the weekend, I needed to move, breathe, dance, sing, and join with others to gather the strength I need to face the daily assault of difficult news, while still finding evidence of hope.

I want to keep listening to those whose lives are so different, but still connected, to mine.

How about you? What kind of community are you building? Or dreaming of?

What calls you to act? Witness? Or be?

We all have different paths.

We’re all in this together.

With great thanks to Jerry Millhon, Anne Stadler, Richard Geer, Qinghong Wei and the many others whose commitment and effort created this event. And to my new friends, the participants.

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