This past Saturday, I was fortunate enough to be a part of an MLKJ weekend celebration. A group from Starfire met up with a group of students from Northern Kentucky University and a few community partners at Coffee Emporium downtown and read aloud the book Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community, holding small group discussions afterwards.
On the first page of the book is the following quote by Jim Lawson:
"The beloved community is not a utopia, but a place where the barriers between people gradually come down and where the citizens make a constant effort to address even the most difficult problems of ordinary people. It is above all else an idealistic community."
This quote hit me right upside the head from the moment I heard it, and it definitely impacted the way I interacted with the rest of the book... Waddie's story came alive in a whole new way than it did the first time I read this book (Saturday was my second time of taking part in such an event). As I reflected on the events of Waddie's life - outliving his parents and siblings and being shuffled around from one nursing home to the next, meeting the first few people who began to form his "beloved community", moving in with Jeff Alden and taking the steps to life as a fellow citizen, and eventually seeing all of his deepest dreams coming true in the last decade of his life - Lawson's quote dwelling in my mind, I realized just how relevant Waddie's story is to both remembering and commemorating the mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ministry, as well as to the work that we must continue to do today to ensure that this very mission does not fall by the wayside.
"Beloved community" refers to those people who will be there through thick and thin, there regardless of what situation presents itself, no matter how difficult it may be to wade through. In Waddie's case, as an elderly man with cerebral palsy, his "beloved community" was made up of those people who decided to overlook Waddie's label of "disability" and actually care about what his wishes and dreams were. Above and beyond just caring, though, they actually (as my friend, Tim, likes to encourage everyone to do) bent over backwards and helped Waddie accomplish these things... And if they could not, they found someone else who could and introduced them into the "beloved community".
So why am I writing about this? For two reasons. One, we are each called to be the "beloved community" for those in our lives who tend to be overlooked. Look past whatever labels or differences are present; these are merely superficialities. Look, instead, at the innate humanity in each person who has been placed in your life. Each person has so much to offer in terms of gifts, ideas, and just purely potential awesomeness. The second reason is to remind you that you also are surrounded by your very own "beloved community", composed of those people who have your best interests at hand, who are genuinely concerned with you achieving your hoped for accomplishments and cheering you on, even when you have stopped believing in yourself.
I encourage each of you to take this challenge with me and live your life outwardly focused in a "pay-it-forward" mentality to include each person in this journey we've been called to make the most of... Always remember that everyone has something to offer their fellow humans. All they need is an invitation to share this innate wealth. You would want this opportunity; make sure everyone gets to experience it.