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, Pennsylvania. I recall asking my parents how he managed to do so many things. I remember them telling me that people came together and supported one another because they cared 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 that 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, be experienced as strife, bitterness, shame and pain. These experiences are like a chisel and sandpaper molding and shaping something wooden from one form into a new form. This kind of love is transformative in a beautiful way. Imagine, if you will, the transformation of sand high in silica or quartz to 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 with many people to address this pain. Addressing this pain led other people 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 regarding war and conflict, working conditions, and other social and economic matters.
“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 require minds and hearts to be 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, the nation, and the world, this is how we create and maintain the beloved community. It is created when universities, like UCF, produce missions and goals that promote excellence and opportunity and are maintained through the work of dedicated faculty, staff and administrators. The beloved community is promoted through the partnerships of universities with local and regional communities in efforts to support and enhance environments toward the welfare of all of its citizens. UCF’s Carnegie Elective Classification for Community Engagement designation exemplifies the significance of universities as members of the beloved community.
In the cherished memories of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the many other dedicated civil rights leaders of the modern civil rights movement of the 20th century who left us valuable lessons toward the creation of the beloved community, may we all continue to educate ourselves and one another with respect and dignity.
Theodorea Regina Berry serves as the University of Central Florida’s vice provost and dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies with a tenured faculty appointment as professor of curriculum studies in the College of Community Innovation and Education. She spearheads UCF’s academic policy initiatives and praxis for all undergraduate students and leads UCF’s curriculum efforts while supporting university-wide initiatives to advance undergraduate education. Berry also provides leadership to College of Undergraduate Studies faculty and the college’s four degree-granting programs, among them the innovative Bachelor of Integrative General Studies.