“If we say we are on the road to a beloved community,” Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu repeated again and again when she spoke at the second Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Convocation last week. Referencing one of Rev. King’s ideas that was the theme of the entire week, Tutu’s keynote speech emphasized “if” as the crucial part of the question. Because building a “beloved community” is about more than just saying the words. It is a goal which we must constantly work towards and one to which we can never be satisfied we have achieved.
King’s original idea of the beloved community was of a community of people committed to peace, justice, love, and trust for all. It was an ideal that could only be met if every member in the community was striving for these things. This is what Tutu urged the entire Providence College community to do. If we want to truly work towards a “beloved community,” every member of this community must be committed to doing the work. “Something is called for from us,” Tutu said, we are called “to make choices, maybe choices nobody else notices we are called to make,” but we must make them anyway.
Tutu’s words remind us that it is not about the things we do when others can see us, but about the difficult choices we are called to make when no one is watching us. It is in the hard conversations that we must have with people that we care about. It is in the way that we must be committed to building this ‘beloved community’ even if it might be easier for us not to be. It is in the way that we must always question the things we think we know and strive to see and understand the other side, as mutual understanding is the only way to build bridges towards mutual peace and love.
Tutu’s sentiments, inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. could not have come at a better time. As the country faces huge challenges and seems more divided and polarized every day, it can be easy to become discouraged, to lose sight of the beloved community. It may be uncomfortable, it may be difficult, it may be such a fight that, as Tutu said, we can only live this struggle for five minutes every day. But we must make that effort, even if it is only for five minutes, because as Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu reminded us, this beloved community is and always will be worth the struggle.