On Aug. 28, 1963, American civil rights activist and Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to more than 250,000 supporters.
In that iconic address, he shared his vision for the “beloved community” in which “people of every race, religion and nation could live together in peace and harmony and work together for the common progress of humankind.”
Speaking to the Brigham Young University campus community on Tuesday, Sept. 28, Dr. King’s oldest son, Martin Luther King III, talked again of his father’s hope for the beloved community and then issued a call to students.
“Students of Brigham Young University, this is your time and your appointment with history is fast arriving,” King said. “Arise and answer the call, just as an earlier generation of young people rose up, answered the call of history and helped to win the historic victories of the modern civil rights movement. The torch of leadership is being passed to your generation, and the world is counting on you to light the way forward to a brighter future.”
King was the first in a six-part series of forums at BYU on “Creating the Beloved Community.” In his remarks, King not only described what the beloved community should be like but what individuals can do to build it.
“In the beloved community of my father’s dream, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because standards of human decency will not allow it,” King said. “Racism and all forms of bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”
Creating the beloved community is about creating hope for the forgotten, disadvantaged and marginalized, regardless of their race, and building bridges of greater mutual understanding and cooperation “across the gulfs of suspicion and distrust that divide our communities,” King explained. “It’s about healing the wounds of history with the light of truth and compassion.”
Becoming the beloved community is also about “lifting up the values of dignity, respect and goodwill for all people, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability” and speaking out against bigotry.
In order to build the beloved community, individuals must embrace the belief that all are brothers and sisters in the great human family, King said. “It means working together to create communities which have no barriers between black, white, red, brown and yellow. We are all members of the same family because we are all children of the same God. Our concept of family must transcend distinctions of race, religion, culture and even national boundaries.”
King further explained that the beloved community is not a place but a state of heart and mind or a spirit of hope and goodwill that transcends boundaries.
Love, he continued, can inspire miraculous transformations, break down barriers and overcome obstacles among individuals, groups and nations. “Those who learn how to express love in creative ways are the healers and leaders who blaze the trail forward to the beloved community.”
This type of love that is shared by all the great religions is summed up in 1 John 4:7-8, 12: “Let us love one another; for love is of God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. … If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
King declared, “Like my father, I believe that love is the essential foundation of the beloved community.”
King encouraged listeners to become leaders for the betterment of society and for humanity. “Leadership requires that we speak out for justice and equality. It means that we become champions of those who are less fortunate. It means that we become inspiring examples of courage and compassion in our families, communities, our nation and world. You don’t have to be famous to do this.”
One of the responsibilities of being a citizen of the beloved community is a spiritual obligation to serve humanity. King said he was encouraged to learn the strong emphasis placed on service as part of the BYU student experience. He then described how his first encounter with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came through service.
After a small Louisiana community was decimated following a series of natural disasters, including a hurricane, a host of Latter-day Saint volunteers came to serve. “That commitment is amazing,” King said.
Service can be a powerful healing force. “It is a potent force for transformation because it establishes a connection between the server and those who are served,” King explained.
Some people cross the self-imposed boundaries of culture to create friendships with people of different groups. “We need more of it — a lot more of it …” King said and encouraged his audience to seek out multi-cultural fellowship. “One of the best things about getting involved in community service is that you don’t have to go it alone. You can find all kinds of wonderful people to work with, and it’s an excellent way to meet people of quality and make new and interesting friends.”
King also encouraged his listeners to be civically responsible and to remember the sacrifices of past generations. “We need to create a critical mass of active visionaries — people of all races, religions and cultural groups who not only believe that the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. is achievable, but who are also ready to work and sacrifice and suffer, if necessary, to make it a reality.”
While dreaming is important, “there comes a time when we have to rise up from the dreaming and get about the work of fulfilling the dream,” King said.
As individuals accept the challenge of creative leadership with courage and commitment, “we will not only fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., we will set a radiant example of love and brotherhood that will prove irresistible to people all over the world,” King promised.
As citizens of the beloved community work and pray and struggle together in the months and years ahead, King noted that there will be times that they disagree about many great issues. “But let’s never allow ourselves to be dragged down into a polarizing and paralyzing hatred. Instead, let’s always make sure we disagree with our adversaries as brothers and sisters in a spirit of civility that befits the people of a great democracy.”