Black History Month

A Black Woman’s Musings on the Beloved Community

The term “Beloved Community” first came into the American consciousness through the Californian philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce in the 19th century, but it was not until the 20th century civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that it was reignited. The Beloved Community describes a global vision of humans cooperating together in sharing the Earth’s abundance so that all people thrive and are cared for, and are absent of poverty, hunger, and hate.

The great feminist cultural critic bell hooks stated, “The Beloved Community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world. If we want a Beloved Community, we must stand for justice, have recognition for difference without attaching difference to privilege.”

As the director of the Racial Environmental Justice Committee (REJC), we come at the concept of the Beloved Community through the framework of “Buen Vivir,” or “the good life.” It is based on the belief that true well-being is only possible as part of a community. The good of the community is placed above that of the individual. Furthermore, this is community in an expanded sense; it includes nature, water, plants, animals, and the earth. It is a consciousness that seems very ancient to me, almost Indigenous. Basically, the Beloved Community can only be achieved if there is true harmony and synchronicity in every place that humanity interacts with its external experience. This is the cornerstone of our work in community engagement and environmental justice.

For me personally, there is a portion of all this philosophy that sounds like a utopian make-believe fairy tale based on an idea that equality is the goal in a syrupy concoction of the future and how we humans understand the past through a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalistic gaze.

And then… After I calm down, take a breath, and maybe have a glass of red wine (or two), I remember a spiritual concept that I learned as a child – “That we (humans have the capacity to) must speak that that is not as though it were,” and then I remember to ask myself – what if it wasn’t?

What if we (humans) really did want to engage in a direct connection to move forward, into a future where all of this suffering was not to bring humanity towards a dystopian beauty? What if, instead we decided to concentrate on a true desire for a reality of absolute equality and a true Beloved Community. Could we handle such a prophetic future? Would we remember what our true inheritance was before we were born on this rock? Beauty, love, mercy, and equity? Can we abandon the greed, jealousy, and hate we were taught as adults? Will we?

I am a lover of science fiction from books like Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, to N.K Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, to television shows like “Buck Rogers” to “Lovecraft Country.” For me, this genre was where I saw the manifestation of possibilities. Black women in power, flying cars, spaceships, and talking phones; the smallest potential actualized into a victory. I saw myself in the future and science fiction allowed me to believe that perhaps humanity did desire a reality that looked like “Space: the final frontier” or “A time when all beings were unified as one,” or just the desire for all freedom to be the goal of every sentient being.

We are a long way off from achieving the idea of the Beloved Community; we don’t even understand how to truly love each other. But I am hopeful. I have to be, because the alternative is death, and I am not ready for that truth just yet. It has been my experience that deep healing is hard-fought and there is deep suffering that comes before the dawn of righteousness.

Needless to say, I am very interested in the future truth that leads us to a true Beloved Community.

April Brown is the Director of the Racial Environmental Justice Committee and the Co-director of the Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading Committee.