I started learning about the ministry and civil rights work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in elementary school in my hometown of Philadelphia. I recall asking my parents how he managed to do so many things, and I remember them telling me that he led them but depended on people coming together and supporting one another. It required many people caring about their communities and the people in those communities.
Love for one’s community does not happen automatically or easily. It is created and promoted through respect and dignity for others.
In his 1957 text, The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma, King describes this kind of love as “…agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.”
But how do we get to this kind of love? And how might this kind of love manifest itself in a university community?
This kind of love takes work that may, at times, bring up feelings of strife, bitterness, shame and pain. It may not be easy, but this kind of love is transformative in a beautiful way. Imagine, if you will, the transformation of sand into glass. The lightning strike is painful, but such pain produces the organic beauty of glass.
Dr. King recognized the collective pain of disenfranchised communities and worked alongside many people to address this pain. Addressing this pain led people with privilege, particularly those privileged by their racial positionality, to experience strife, bitterness, and shame. “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption.”
In my professional journey, I have witnessed university communities experience strife. Universities have been faced with social protests connected to war (i.e. Kent State) as well as gender and racial discrimination.
“We have valuable lessons offered by Dr. King and many other notable civil rights activists on how to transform ourselves from such painful, difficult moments through love.”
The good news is we have valuable lessons offered by Dr. King and many other notable civil rights activists on how to transform ourselves from such painful, difficult moments through love.
Transformation and healing requires minds and hearts that are open to this kind of love. It requires being willing to know more about ourselves and one another. We must be willing and able to demonstrate compassion and care. And we must have faith and trust in others.
King asserts, “This is a method that seeks to transform and to redeem, and win the friendship of the opponent, and make it possible for men to live together as brothers in a community, and not continually live with bitterness and friction.”
In a university community, in the nation, and the world, this is how we create and maintain the beloved community. The beloved community is created when universities, like UCF, produce missions and goals that promote access and opportunity and is maintained through the work of equity, inclusion and diversity offices and workgroups who address the concerns and issues raised through its faculty, staff, and students. The beloved community is created when municipalities as well as local and federal governments place in effect policies designed to promote equality for all of its citizens and its agencies carry out such policies in ways that support the general welfare of its people.
As we take today to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his valuable lessons on how to create a community based on agape, I hope we all continue to educate ourselves and one another with respect and dignity.
Theodorea Regina Berry is UCF’s vice provost of Student Learning and Academic Success and dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies. In her role, she drives efforts to offer students in her college robust programs while supporting universitywide initiatives to advance undergraduate education, take learning beyond the classroom, and promote greater student success. Berry works closely with the university’s provost, fellow deans and leaders of academic units to create and sustain a learning environment that enables students to thrive academically, professionally and civically.