The surge of hateful speech and action following the November election, and the attacks on civil rights leader John Lewis, had left me depressed and angry. A few days before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I attended Sabbath services at our family’s synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom. Music director Aaron Wolf was playing “We Shall Overcome” softly on the piano as the crowd was gathering in the room, and I started to cry. My tears didn’t stop all evening.
I sang the song around the house all that weekend and found versions of it on the Internet. A beautiful NPR documentary from 2013 recounted its 150-year history from its origins as a folk song sung by slaves in the fields, to a lively gospel hymn in African-American churches, to the version published by Methodist minster Rev. Charles Albert Tindley in 1901 as “I Will Overcome.” Tobacco workers striking in Charleston, South Carolina in 1945 picked it up as a rallying cry, and it has been adopted ever since by civil rights marchers, farm workers, union organizers, war protesters and members of resistance movements around the world, who have adapted its rhythms (and pronouns) to suit their message. Hearing its history comforted me with a sense of continuity and community.
So I bundled up, that snowy Monday in January, putting on boots I’d hardly used this long, dry winter, and walked to the Roundhouse for the NAACP’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration. I figured no gathering for Dr. King would end without that anthem of resistance.
By the time I arrived, a standing-room-only crowd had gathered in the rotunda and the balcony was ringed with onlookers. There was, actually, one empty seat on the floor, which several people offered to one another but no one took, like the last slice of pie that everyone politely leaves for someone else, or the extra cup of wine on the Passover seder table for the traveling prophet Elijah, a symbolic gesture of welcome.
African drummers set the mood for the multigenerational, multicultural crowd. Three high school seniors received honors for volunteer work in the community: Jason Duncan, of New Mexico School for the Arts; Irvin Peña, Santa Fe High School; and Jessica Sipos, Capital High School.
Dr. Natasha Howard, professor of Africana Studies at the University of New Mexico, spoke on Dr. King’s notion of the Beloved Community. She described, with calm resolve, the experience of seeing swastikas and racist graffiti around the UNM campus the morning after Trump’s election in November. With a historian’s long view she explored those acts, and other recent instances of rhetoric and violence against Muslims, immigrants and women, in relation to Dr. King’s concept of the “Beloved Community” — a society that goes beyond “tolerance” to true embrace of diversity. A society that does not accept racism, poverty, hunger or homelessness, and acts decisively against hate and discrimination.
The ceremony ended, as I had hoped, with the crowd linking arms and singing “We Shall Overcome.” This time I didn’t cry. I cherished adding my voice to the crowd.
Back outside, I saw a group of teens huddled together on the hill beside the west entrance for a group photo, before boarding the bus from the celebration back to their school. I offered to take the picture so the photographer could be in the shot. The kids scrunched together, laughing, teasing, making silly faces, putting up bunny ears behind each other’s heads, leaving me smiling at their joyous, communal activism. This, I thought, is a task of the Beloved Community: nurturing the next generation of activists, the ones (or so I imagined) who will march, lobby, sing, celebrate successes and reel from defeats, in their efforts to overcome struggles of today and ones ahead.
I thought back to my childhood in Maryland in the 60s, a solid blue state long before we knew the term. In our liberal, Democratic household, the ideals of the civil rights movement were ones we took for granted. But in our mostly-white suburban neighborhood, racial equality was a belief we adopted, not our daily struggle. Dr. Howard’s reflections stretch me to dive deeper in my own feelings, wishes and fears, to consider what a beloved community means to me and how I can contribute to its construction.
My beloved community is one that values the contributions of teens and helps them develop their strengths and share them with younger children, in programs such as Randall Davey Audubon Center’s Naturalist-In Training (see more on this in Samantha Funk’s “Growing Naturalists”).
A beloved community provides emotional and mental health support to families with young children as soon as it is needed, to help children be whole, and help parents break generational patterns of trauma and dysfunction. Jodi Rogers of Las Cumbres Community Services addresses this need in “Mental Health Begins In Utero.” Flor de María Oliva, our Spanish translator, chose this article to translate because she realizes how many families benefit from services that help them with everyday challenges, especially with early childhood services and education.
A beloved community aims to make education accessible to everyone, through efforts such as Pre-K for Santa Fe, led by Mayor Javier Gonzales, seeking to raise money for families who can’t afford private childcare or who can’t get into “universal pre-K” for lack of available spaces. See “Bridging the Gap” by Danila Crespin Zidovsky. This program — and others like it — is the sort of work on a local level that builds strength, resiliency and vibrancy in Santa Fe.
Beloved children are heard and listened to from their very first words, as father Will McDonald relates in his essay, “Conversation.”
Beloved elders share the culture and values they picked up in their own childhood by passing down stories of their heritage and culture, as does our prolific local treasure Nasario García. See “Nasario’s New Mexico,” by Barbe Awalt.
Beloved communities don’t tolerate hunger or poverty and find creative ways to feed those in need. The Food Depot has added a new program to provide hot meals to kids after school — just one of their many services for children and families in northern New Mexico. See Jennifer West’s “ ‘Square Meals’ Provides Hot Food After School.”
Beloved critters are fed, housed and treasured. Our beloved intern, Brianna Neumann, describes her adventures in animal adoption as a kid and adult, in her article, “Four-Legged Family Members.”
And beloved communities make a commitment to inclusivity of all religions and ethnicities.
Our frequent contributor and wise friend Rev. Talitha Arnold writes straight to my heart in her letter, “Seeking Rainbows, Finding Helpers.”
This year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day coincided with my own birthday. My husband and son took me to dinner, and their beloved and loving company reminded me that the beloved community begins in the home and ideally ripples far, far beyond. You, Tumbleweeds readers and writers who care about children, who share your concerns, efforts and feelings on these pages and in our town, are co-constructors of this community, and I’m honored to have a place in it with you.