Welcome to The Beloved Community Project

“Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and you win it in every generation.” Coretta Scott King

The film Beloved Community, and this attendant website,  is based on the assumption that the heroes and exemplars of what came to be called the African-American Freedom Movement have much still to tell us, and to show us, in our current tumultuous time.

While many of these people have already passed from the scene, a number of people who were a part of those original struggles and who walked the line with Dr. Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ralph Abernathy, Diane Nash and others are still alive and still have something to tell us.

The intention of Beloved Community is to interview those people and gather their first person stories of those times while also asking them their views on the current situation. How do they feel things have changed? What still needs to be changed? What methods and theories from the past are still relevant today and what, as they see it, might be done anew?

The basic intent of Beloved Community is to locate and traverse together the paths from the past to the future as they move through our time right now.

Story is at the heart of all human imagination and interaction. It is through the stories we tell – of our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our struggles, and our lives – that humans find a path forward through the struggles of every day.

Stories are how we explain our history and how we explain our hopes and dreams. Stories are the heart of change.

The film Beloved Community is intended as a way of telling the stories of the African-American freedom fighters of the past while at the same time connecting those stories to the reality of right now. Building the Beloved Community that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of so eloquently, and imagined so deeply in his heart, requires continuously tracing the story of the early struggles and connecting those struggles and those dreams to the struggles, and the nightmares, of today.

The single most important aspect of the film is the attempt to interview as many of the people who were directly involved in the freedom struggle of the 50s and 60s while they are still around, and then work with the activists and organizers of today to piece together a picture of how the historical meets the contemporary.

We want to ask the two-fold question: Does the Beloved Community remain a dream, and a possibility for today and, if so, how do we learn from the past and bring the dream to fruition today?

Ultimately, the goal of the project is to find, in the words of Dr. Vincent Harding (the inspiration for this project), “…the fascinating common ground on which we and our students may stand to shape past and present into a vector of hope and responsibility.”

While there have been many films over the years that have provided a kind of retrospective history of the African-American Freedom Movement (most notably the wonderful series Eyes on the Prize) there has not been a comprehensive look at the personal memories and feelings of those directly involved, with the intention of bringing the lessons of these elders of the movement to the issues and experiences of today. This is the intention and task of Beloved Community.

Many of these elders have already passed on and the impetus for the film grew out of the awareness that it is needful to gather these stories and insights from those who are still here before it is too late. The initial idea for the project came from ten years of interaction that producer Thom Butler has had with a number of these folks while working with a group of church activists in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The group, Churches Supporting Churches, was formed by Dr. C.T. Vivian, one of the original soldiers of the movement alongside Dr. King, and a wide range of church leaders from throughout the country. Thom, who was living in New Orleans at the time of the storm, was an active participant in this work and a founding member of the board. Through his work with the group (on the ground in New Orleans and in speaking engagements around the country) he became good friends with Dr. Vivian and began to dream of the possibility of more thoroughly documenting his memories and perspectives on the movement and it’s relationship to the present day. From this initial idea has grown the larger concept of Beloved Community.

The Beloved Community was not simply a concept that Dr. King advocated for the movement of the 60s, but was an idea that was meant to bear fruit across all time. The Beloved Community is as much a dream in this time as it was then and the perspectives of those who were there at the time are of particular relevance and significance in the times of racial turmoil and chaos that we now face, particularly in the light of issues that have come to a head since the election of 2016.

Bringing these voices from the past into direct dialogue with those of the Movement today, and into the future, is of vital importance for bridging the gap of time between then and now.

The timing of this project is important both because of the advanced age of many of the primary subjects, as well as because of the particular timeliness of the situation in light of present day protests and discussions in virtually every area of public activity.

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