Let’s Keep King’s Dream of a Beloved Community Alive
Commentary by Walter Hesford
Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a beloved community is under threat. It is a dream of a community grounded in peace, justice and a fair sharing of resources and wealth. It is a dream rooted in the biblical vision of a covenant community, dear to the hearts of Hebrew prophets such as Amos and Micah, who were dear to the heart of King.
Violence threatens our beloved communities — violent policing and especially gun violence. Our legislators are unwilling to do much to control access to guns. Hence, there is much bloodshed in what should be our beloved communities.
Threats to public education also threaten King’s dream. We need an honest education about our history, which is marked by systemic racism, to foster the cultural awareness we need to do the work to create beloved communities.
Textbooks and courses that might provide an honest education are under attack. A proposed Advanced Placement class in African-American Studies has recently been rejected in Florida because it dared to address such subjects as critical race theory, queer theory, the intersectionality between poverty and racism, the need for reparations and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Still, there are those who inspire us with hope that King’s dream of a beloved community might still be realized. On Jan. 21, Scott Finnie, Professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University, gave a stirring speech at Moscow’s annual Martin Luther King Community Breakfast, sponsored by the Latah County Human Rights Task Force. He urged those attending to increase our commitment to a community grounded in human rights, in a sharing of stories and in a sharing of power.
Even more inspiring to me was a submission to the Task Force’s Martin Luther King Art and Essay Contest. In “Creating the Beloved Community,” Lilly Hume, an 11th grade student at Paradise Creek Regional High School — an alternative high school in Moscow, Idaho — offered a sharp account of how we have failed to achieve King’s dream and a solid suggestion for how we can come closer to doing so.
Under the guidance of her teacher, Susan Hodgin, Hume draws on King’s last book, “Where Do Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” as well as some of King’s last speeches and sermons in which he analyzes the reasons for the enormous racial wealth gap in America.
King points out that there have been no reparations for the centuries of stolen wealth under slavery, even though reparations were originally promised after the Civil War. In the latter 19th century, large Western land grants, along with land-grant universities, were open to whites, but not to blacks. Throughout our history, whites generated wealth that they could pass on to the next generation, while blacks did not have the opportunity to do so.
After establishing that the same race-based wealth gap decried by King exists today, Hume offers a way to close this gap: full support of free public education, combined with scholarships and internships. Hume notes that advanced education prepares people for jobs with benefits such as pensions and medical insurance, without which people easily fall into debt and ill health. Thus education may help “to end the contagious cycle of poverty and sickness.”
Finally, Hume calls on us to write our legislators, demanding that they protect and fully support public education. This is certainly necessary in a state like Idaho, where public education is under attack. “My dream for a beloved community,” concludes Hume, “begins with education at all levels for all people.”*
Yes, this is just a beginning, but what a just beginning. I think King would be very pleased that this student from a small alternative high school, with the support of a teacher dedicated to human rights, understands that the dream of a beloved community can only be kept alive by an education and a system that promotes equal access to economic opportunity. Would that our political leaders had such an understanding, such a dream.
*I have cited Lilly Hume’s essay with her permission. She, along with other winners of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force’s MLK Art and Essay Contest, will be honored at an awards ceremony on February 11.
Walter Hesford, born and educated in New England, gradually made his way West. For many years he was a professor of English at the University of Idaho, save for stints teaching in China and France. At Idaho, he taught American Literature, World Literature and the Bible as Literature. He currently coordinates an interfaith discussion group and is a member of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow. He and his wife Elinor enjoy visiting with family and friends and hunting for wild flowers.