A couple of weeks ago, myself and other members of the Urban Hope Leadership Team travelled down to Atlanta, Georgia, with three youth from our Young Leaders Group in order to attend The Navigators’ bi-annual AFAM Congress on Discipleship. The AFAM Congress gathers together people of all ethnic groups engaged in both advancing the gospel and pursuing whole-life discipleship among African American people and communities. During our time, we took advantage of the opportunity to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site hoping to gain a greater insight into the life of one of America’s greatest leaders in the fight for racial justice, equality, and social change. Our orientation to the civil rights movement took us on an emotional and eye-opening journey to the home Dr. King grew up in, the church he preached in, and tomb he was buried in. Located outside his tomb burns “The Eternal Flame.” It is a flame that symbolizes the continuing efforts—efforts that require a lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles—to realize Dr. King’s ideals for a more just, loving and equitable community, what is referred to as the “Beloved Community.”
The term was first coined by philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce and later popularized by Dr. King (both were members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation). It envisions a radical community much like the one described by Paul in Colossians 3:1-14, a community that is rooted in the transformational power of love and elicits a determined commitment to non-violence, peace, justice, mercy, friendship, and good will. When I reflect on the work of Urban Hope and the community that it represents, I am reminded of the Eternal Flame. When I reflect on the relationships that I’ve entered into, the spaces I’ve been welcomed into, and the experiences I’ve lived into, I am compelled to express my gratitude for the ways Urban Hope embodies what it means to become Beloved Community.
One relationship that has been especially meaningful to me this year has been the one I have cultivated while mentoring a young woman named Jahzamire. At the start of our journey together we were total and complete strangers but as time transpired, we began to walk together and share our lives with each other. Over the last six months, we’ve shared our hopes for the future and our pains from the past, we’ve laughed, we’ve learned, we’ve grown…we’ve truly come to walk alongside one another.
With the recent celebration of Easter, I am reminded that it is this “walking alongside” that embodies the heart of the gospel and points towards the Old Rugged Cross upon which a man named Jesus was nailed down with arms stretched wide, welcoming us into His holy and beloved community. Not only does Jesus welcome us, but he also calls us to participate: to work and worship together, to fight against and defeat the principalities and powers that seek to destroy and divide that which God has restored and brought together. It is in this place of participation—this place of solidarity—that my friendship with Jahzamire has continuously developed into a sisterhood. A sisterhood that strives to live into a type of “togetherness” that has been fostered by a covenantal, beloved community at Urban Hope that seeks to honor God and one another in ways that uplift, empower, and transform.
-Elizabeth Styron, 2015-16 Urban Hope Ministry Apprentice. Liz is a graduate student pursuing a dual master's degree at Duke Divinity School and UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work. She has spent the last year with us leading our Bible Jump Off and mentoring youth from the neighborhood.