Nashville Organized for Action and Hope: A Representation of the Beloved Community

In one of my many sermonic discourses, I urgently and adamantly proclaimed:

We are called to be one people, but despite our calling, there has always been one wall or another separating and dividing us. For we are separated and divided by walls of doctrinal dissent and denominational decisions; economic class and educational background; and unrighteousness racism and satanic sexism! We are separated and divided by walls of ignorance and arrogance; ecclesiastical associations and hierarchical oppression; and too much hateful spirit brought in as too much human spirit goes out! For there are too many walls of separation and division!

And walls keep us from understanding and appreciating one another! Walls stop us from being merciful to one another! Walls prevent us from loving, being patient or gracious to one another! But God is fracturing the walls against our fellowship; the divide against our unity; and the stuff that separates us!

For walls are not what God wants! Donald Trump wants walls—BUT GOD WANTS UNITY! Skinheads, Neo Nazis and the KKK want division—BUT GOD WANTS ONENESS!

There must be no more difference between Jew or Gentile; men or women; rich or poor! For all stand on equal footing, with equal access to all of God’s Blessings! For we share a common love and a common purpose! AND GOD HAS FIXED IT SO THAT “EVERY DIVISIVE WALL COMES TUMBLING DOWN (Sinkfield, 2017)!

Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) is a faith-led coalition that is multi-racial and interfaith, comprised of congregations, community organizations, and labor unions, engaging ordinary people in political and economic decisions affecting their lives. NOAH’s three key issue areas, determined by its members, are affordable housing, economic equity and jobs, and educational reform.

NOAH is a community of people who have owned the assignment to come TOGETHER intentionally and relationally to do exactly what Dr. King and his ministry were all about—that is, modelling and offering persons an opportunity to engage in efforts to become the Beloved Community, giving a voice to the voiceless, advocating for the under and unrepresented, and granting a hand up to those who are culturally and functionally pushed to the margins of our city and our society.

NOAH began in Nashville when certain faith leaders and a number concerned citizens assessed the social, racial, political, educational, and economic disparities and incongruencies in our city, got angry, and decided to do something about it. This problem was further exacerbated by the fact that there were several organizations in the city seeking to address these issues—but they seldom worked collaboratively because of their differences in approach and points-of-view concerning the issues. Each organization sought to do its part to address the city’s disparities, but their effectiveness was often limited and unsustainable. We realized that there were natural, untapped resources available to us that could be accessed to address these concerns, and we could act upon more from a united front than we could ever accomplish separately. There were many resources within our congregations (for instance: human, financial, professional, and other) that simply needed to be brought together with a singleness of mind and a unified agenda. Gill Hickman stated, “In the community change context, change agents turn to their own resources. . .This is one small manifestation of an asset-based approach, which concentrates on the resources a group has. . .” (Hickman, 2009, Kindle Location 2943- 2946).

We then concluded that there were also other “like-minded” resource pockets of persons outside of the Christian Faith community (in our broader faith community) to whom we could appeal. There were other faith groups, community organizations, unions, and other untapped and unapproached interested parties who shared with us a desire to bring balance where there was imbalance, and equity to unequal and unjust life situations and circumstances in our city. And so, we appealed to other leaders to see if they would join our efforts to bring positive changes to Nashville. Here again, Hickman wrote: “leadership in the community context generally emerges when a threat to a group with some cohesive identity surfaces. In an effort to thwart this threat and preserve community, community leadership conducts adaptive work that differs from that conducted by leadership in all other contexts in its lack of formal authority of position.” (Hickman, 2009, Kindle Location 2964-2966).

I am proposing in this article that one of the better efforts I have ever experienced at seeking to actualize this concept of the Beloved Community (particularly towards the aim of social change, equity, and a just society) is being pursued in Nashville, TN.  For this is indeed the effort that is being put forth in REAL TIME by the social change and community empowerment organization known as Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH). Without specifically articulating it in its by-laws, creeds, or precepts, I contend that NOAH aspires to be a walking, talking, and living manifestation of King’s Beloved Community for Social Change in its operational approach and its actions towards a just and equitable life for all Nashvillians.   

The Beloved Community: The Dreamer

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, GA, and died on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN. At the young age of 26, he began his public ministry for the dignity of all of humanity—and by the age of 39, his life was snuffed out by the violent imposition of a racist assassin’s bullet.

And so, considering his youth at the outset of his work and the relative brevity of the time that he lived, it is nearly impossible to give any serious consideration to the King Legacy without being magnetically and undeniably drawn to the urgency and immediacy of the concept of selflessness and the notion of NOW! Even Dr. King himself said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late” (King Jr., Beyond Vietnam, 1967).

And so, to speak or write concerning Dr. King’s Legacy requires an answer certain challenging and probing questions such as: How are we utilizing and maximizing the limited time we have to evoke and promote a common good within our country and among all people? What are we intentionally doing for others as we pass along the way of this life? How are we honoring King’s Legacy by standing for what is right in our communities and taking steps to make a positive impact on the world?

For one of the most pervasive philosophical concepts that remained a constant and consistent part of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s theological and ideological operative ministry and social change motif was the notion of the Beloved Community. Rufus Burrow and Dwayne Tunstall stated, “It is indisputable that the keystone of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s theological and social ethic was his beloved community ideal” (Burrow & Tunstall, 2015, p. 17). And because this governing ideal was so pervasive in King’s approach to social change ministry, one cannot help but ask: What is Martin Luther King’s coveted Beloved Community? And where is it located?

King, himself, appeared to be describing this utopian communal reality in his “I Have A Dream” speech as a place where “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls as sisters and brothers” (King Jr., I Have A Dream, 1963). He called it a community where we “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. . .” and “. . . we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together” (King Jr., I Have A Dream, 1963). King said this “Beloved Community” is that blessed place where “. . . all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last’” (King Jr., I Have A Dream, 1963).

Is this place (this Beloved Community) a real place? Is this a community that can ever actually exist? Is there any manifestation of—or even an attempt at this “Beloved Community” idea at work in our times—in our world—as a living testament to the King Legacy?

The Beloved Community: A Dream Defined

Before presenting NOAH as a community change representation of the Beloved Community, it is in order to give some definition and understanding of the Beloved Community. As stated earlier, King (in many ways) preached and presented many wonderful word pictures of his idea of the Beloved Community. When he used language to envision a place where “. . . all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing” (King Jr., I Have A Dream, 1963), he was envisioning the Beloved Community. When King wrote. . . 

In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. . .This is the inter-related structure of reality (King Jr., Strength to Love, 1963, p. 54)

. . .he was describing the interconnected nature and relationally binding reality of the Beloved Community.

The King Memorial Center states the following concerning Dr. King’s dream of the Beloved Community, “Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.  Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood” (King, 1968). Burrows and Tunstall captured King’s dream of the Beloved Community writing:

For America and the world, Martin Luther King dreamed of a thoroughly integrated society wherein power, privilege, and the world’s material goods will be shared equitably by all people. In such a society, the humanity and dignity of every person will be acknowledged and respected in the most concrete sense. . .King acknowledged this society as the beloved community; a community that acknowledges, affirms, and celebrates the values and contributions of both individuals and the community. It is a community in which every person is valued and respected just because they are persons (Burrow & Tunstall, 2015, p. 139).

And so, King’s dream of the Beloved Community was a state where equity, justice, and rightness would always be applied without impunity to all people. The Beloved Community is a place where every person is valued in the fullness of who they are. It is a place where all perspectives are important, and each persons’ point of view matters to the whole. It is a place of total human reconciliation one to another; total redemption of strained and broken relationships; and total restoration of brotherhood and sisterhood. In King’s own words,

The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men (Golden & Rieke, 1971, p. 253).

Burrow and Tunstall state, “Simply put, the beloved community is a community, even more intimately a family of insiders, which is another way of saying: Everybody belongs, because every person belongs to–and is loved and revered by God” (Burrow & Tunstall, 2015, p. 139).

The Beloved Community: A Dream Desired

What is a dream? If one relies on dictionary definitions, a dream is a series of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through our minds while sleeping. A dream is an involuntary vision that enters our mental and/or emotional being while we are awake. But even more poignant and profound, a dream is an awesome aspiration, a grand goal, or an enormous aim for our individual and/or collective lives.

I would further offer that to dream is to grow, but to not dream is to diminish. To dream is to live, but to not dream is to die. To dream is to move progressively forward, but to not dream is to stagnate, settle for status quo, and stay in the same state that we have always been. I would even advance this thought on dreaming by saying that inspired and actualized dreams move us upward, activate us outward, inspire us onward, and press us forward!

Concerning the reality, relevance, and power of dreams, former 1st Lady of the United States and statesperson, Eleanor Roosevelt said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” (Zhang, 2014, p. xv). Harlem Renaissance Poet Laureate Langston Hughes wrote: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die—life is a broken-winged bird, that cannot fly” (Hughes, 2001, p. 409). World-renowned 19th century essayist, poet, and lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson penned the words: “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true” (Graham, Adams, & Giraffe Project, 1999, p. 33).

Even in one of America’s darkest hours, the dehumanizing and degrading period of slavery, God elevated an underground railroad conducting dreamer named Harriet Tubman who said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world” (Every Great Dream Begins with A Dreamer. Always Remember. . ., 2012). And in one of America’s brightest moments, the administration of this nation’s first African-American president, that sun-kissed executive administrative dreamer named Barack Obama said, “the true genius of America (is) a faith in the simple dreams of its people, and the insistence on small miracles. That we can say what we think and write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody’s son” (Dupuis & Boeckelman, 2008, pp. 150 – 151).  

And on January 29, 1929, the world was blessed by the birth of a drum major for justice dreamer named Martin Luther King, who believed a dream deferred is not a dream denied. He said, “America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’ But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt…and that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity…So we’ve come to cash this check…that will give us on demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice” (Clayton, 1964, p. 112). This dreamer dared to say: “I have a dream that (one day) my four little children will live in a nation where they won’t be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (Clayton, 1964, p. 115). And when this dreamer considered the time when his dream would come to pass, he said: “. . .however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, for “truth crushed to earth will rise again. . . How long? Not long, for the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (Sundquist, 2009, p. 91).

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a communal reality being worked out within the human arena where people of every ethnicity, socio-economic status, religious background, culture, creed, walk or persuasion could come together on equal footing; respect the uniqueness and personhood of the other; and work together for the common good of all. The actualization of such a dream carried within it the potential to be transformative to the human mind and spirit, to bring healing and wholeness to the world, and to challenge humanity to intentionally pursue a higher way of being in their relationships with one another and the world at large.

The Beloved Community: The Driver of the Dream

NOAH is an organization with no centralized, hierarchical model of leadership. We decided to utilize a leadership model that was not charismatically fronted by pastors, rabbis, mosque leaders, or union/organizational presidents in traditional leadership roles. The only authority that exists in this conglomerate, collaborative, collective group was those position(s) held by the elected or appointed persons in their “individual” organizations. It is an organization governed by intentional relationality and collaboration. There are key point persons in varying responsibilities in NOAH, but there is no charismatic, authoritative figure dictating the movement of this group. It is a community, and Hickman writes, “The community context also best illustrates leadership without authority or at least without positional authority.” (Hickman, 2009, Kindle Location 3171-3172).

The driving force and cohesion of NOAH is in its member organizations exercising an intentional willingness to surrender authority and control—while binding our collective efforts and resources towards an agreed upon common good. There is, quite simply, a collective and agreed upon desire to provide advocacy for the underserved and unheard of our city. For “advocacy plays a role in community change not seen in other change contexts.” (Hickman, 2009, Kindle Location 2946)

The interesting outcome of this work is that both individual persons and individual organizations have acquired a sense of empowerment for change within their individual spheres of operation and influence. Not only does NOAH enable its people and organizations to feel and be enfranchised through the work that we are doing collectively, but this empowerment is having a carry-over effect into the work that the persons and organizations engage outside of the purview of NOAH. Hickman writes, “A true sense of empowerment does not take the form of power over other group members but is much more aligned with a sense of power to bring about change by developing a sense of power within one’s self and then seeking to direct that power in collaboration with others.” (Hickman, 2009, Kindle Location 3255-3258). 

As a result of this very intentionally relational, communal, and empowering approach that is the hallmark of NOAH’s structure, this organization has accrued what Robert Putnam calls “social capital” (Hickman, 2009, Kindle Location 3187). That is to say that NOAH has acquired the recognition, respectability, and positive reputation and response from a wide circle of both the people whom we serve, and those who we often challenge correctively towards equity and justice in our city. The existence of this social capital is evident in NOAH because we are committed to consistently recruiting, training, and empowering ordinary persons in our communities to embrace this opportunity to be included in our “beloved community,” and to engage the body politic of our city as a unified voice—speaking for justice in the areas of affordable housing, economic equity and jobs, and education reform. Hickman writes, “The lens of citizen leadership provides another look at social capital, especially when citizen leaders are considered social capital entrepreneurs. Citizen leadership suggests that social capital is not so much a characteristic of a group or an individual as it is an investment in people as members of a community” (Hickman, 2009, Kindle Location 3197-3199).   

The Beloved Community: A Dream Delivered (My Ministry and NOAH)

My entire career as a pastor and community activist has been spent studying the contextual spheres of influence in which I work and reside to inspire individuals and congregations to actively engage in social and community change for the betterment of the lives of both the community and constituencies we serve. The denomination in which I pastor, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is missionally driven to be at the forefront of the fight for spiritual, social, political, and relational liberty. Our denomination (and my personal ministry) stand in the gap for individual and communal liberty and justice for ALL people from spiritual, economic, mental, social, institutional, and systemic oppression. Our denominational mission statement says:

The Mission of the AME Church is to minister to the spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional, and environmental needs of all people by spreading Christ’s liberating Gospel through word and deed. At every level of the Connection and in every local church, the AME Church shall engage in carrying out the spirit of the original Free African Society. . .that is, to seek out and save the lost, and serve the needy through a continuing program of preaching the Gospel, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, cheering the fallen, providing jobs for the jobless, administering to the needs of those in prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, asylums, mental institutions, and senior citizen’s homes; caring for the sick, the shut-ins, the mentally and socially disturbed, and encouraging thrift and economic advancement (The African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2016, p. 23).

And so, I have sought to enact the challenges of this mission through my work within this organization in which I have engaged in a pivotal and pillar role in the formulation and founding called Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH).

The Beloved Community: The Dream Making A Difference

As a direct result of the intra-organizational listening campaigns that take place in each of NOAH’s member organizations, an inter-organizational listening campaign is also carried out among all NOAH member organizations. At this point, each member organization (through its own listening campaign) will have discussed and decided on (1) the issues that they will pursue and address within their organization, and (2) the issues that they are interested in NOAH pursuing for the greater good of ALL in the city of Nashville. The bringing together of all NOAH member organizations for this collective and collaborative listening campaign is called our Issues Convention.

Leading up to the Issues Convention, there is a series of inter-organizational listening campaigns—where people who have engaged in one-on-one meeting sessions with one another throughout the year can begin to discuss among themselves and other groups the issues in the city that were highlighted as concerns within their own organizations. Petra Kuenkel affirms our approach here writing, “Creating an innovative organization requires a people-centered approach; after all, it is people who come up with ideas and transform them into innovations. . .It is impossible to command innovation, you have to inspire people to want to contribute.’ It is the emotional connectedness between people around the issue to address that brings about new ideas” (Kuenkel, 2016, Kindle Location 3900-3903).

At the conclusion of this series of inter-organizational listening campaigns, the Issues Convention is planned; and the Beloved Community of NOAH decides the issues that it will emphasize and confront towards justice, rightness, and equity in our city. Task forces are formed to serve as the chief researchers, informers, teachers, and strategists on the decided upon issues—and they also are tasked with inspiring and inciting organizational mobilization around actions needed to be taken to bring and speak truth to power related to the issues that NOAH deems pertinent for liberty and justice for our members and the persons in the communities we serve. Kuenkel contends, “Collaborative efforts are most robust in such a web of relationships when diverse actors come together around a common cause. Networks. . .draw together individuals with a passion for change through a compelling purpose” (Kuenkel, 2016, Kindle Location 3813). 

The Beloved Community: Dealing with Dream Destroyers

One of the greatest fascinations and frustrations of my career has been both watching and likely participating in the creation and maintenance of the chasms and divides within the faith community. The inescapable questions that arise concerning this division are: Why is there such a wide (and seemingly unbridgeable) gap between our varying faith perspectives? Why is there such a great divide between Christians and Jews; Jews and Buddhists; Buddhists and Muslims; Christians and Muslims; and black, white, and other nationalities even among Christians? Why do these divides exist among the faithful when there are already so many divisions in other segments of our world?

Our culture seems to thrive on division and separating people from one another. We have attitudes, politics, media arms, and institutions that are all fueled by a doctrine of separating people from people. James Wilson suggested that these divisions have been impacted, further expanded, and exalted by “ideology, on the one hand, and congressional polarization, media influence, interest-groups demands, and education”—and the divisions within these entities. He further stated, in “How Divided Are We” that our divisions are a type of cultural war writing,

To a degree that we cannot precisely measure, and over issues that we cannot exactly list, polarization has seeped down into the public, where it has assumed the form of a culture war. The sociologist James Davison Hunter, who has written about this phenomenon in a mainly religious context, defines culture war as ‘political and social hostility rooted in different systems of moral understanding. Such conflicts, he writes, which can involve ‘fundamental ideas about who we are as Americans,’ are waged both across the religious/secular divide and within religions themselves, where those with an ‘orthodox’ view of moral authority square off against those with a ‘progressive’ view (Wilson, 2006, p. 20).

And so, NOAH seeks to bridge these varying divisions and move its people past cultural discord towards communal accord. This is done by challenging and training those persons within NOAH to engage each week in one-on-one relationship-building sessions with other members of the organization who are not a part of their own race, faith persuasion, socio-economic status and/or professional peer group. The task, here, is for each NOAH member to personally know a significant number of persons outside of their normal sphere of influence or circle of interaction within one year.

These one-on-one sessions have proven to be a crucial building block in establishing a spirit of collaboration, cohesion, and community in the operation of NOAH. These sessions challenge persons to become vulnerable by forcing us to acknowledge how we have contributed to the divisions in our world, and by exposing us to accessibility to people and groups with whom we have not historically nor intentionally been willing to be in relationship. To this end, Harold Vogelaar rightly stated, “Vulnerability is the one thing we try to avoid at all costs in this country. Yet. . .it is the only way that will make us open to one another” (Vogelaar, 2004, p, 399). But it also presses us to clearly know who we are personally, what we bring to the table of the organization, and how we are not lessened by being more communal and embracing of a wider range of other people from other worlds.

This exercise in intentional relationality builds community towards the Beloved Community even when people are not in total agreement on all issues. They learn how to appreciate each other’s perspective(s) even in disagreement because a real relationship has been established between them. Abe Ata wrote, “Significant differences in lifestyle and attitudes. . . are not to be sidestepped. Differences of interpretation towards social values and ways of life should be acknowledged, respected, and addressed without aiming at a fine compromise. Not because we don’t need a dialogue, but because these different approaches have concrete implications to both communities living together in a shared place.” He continued, “At the end of the day, each community should ask: what are we doing to portray a better image of the other community” (Ata, 2005, p. 59)? 

These one-on-one sessions open the door of opportunity for persons in management to engage with union persons—persons of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other faith groups to interact and come to know each other better—persons of different races, classes, educational attainments, and persons of other cultural nuances to intentionally get to know what moves one another to action—and no one is threatened nor do they lose the value of who they are by participating in these intentional engagement opportunities, Again Vogelaar wrote, “the more secure I am. . . the more open and hospitable I can be to all people.” He continued, “this issue of being more inclusive, of being open to those who are different, in particular, who have different. . . perspectives, is epitomized in trying to avoid the terrible distinction so prevalent today of ‘us’ versus ‘them;’ (and) the ‘good’ versus the ‘bad’” (Vogelaar, 2004, p. 398).      

            Along with these intentional and planned regular one-on-one sessions within our broader organization, NOAH also engages in bi-annual intra- and inter-organizational listening campaigns. These sessions begin as one-on-one sessions within one’s own organization led by persons within the organization who commit to having these one-on-one interactions with each person in the organization/church/union/synagogue. The purpose for these listening campaigns is to do exactly what the name implies—listen intently to the concerns, hurts, fears, aspirations, desires, and needs both individually and communally of each of the members of our organizations to begin to develop strategies for change in both our organizations and city based on the felt-needs of our constituencies.

What these sessions do is assure that each of our members know that they have been heard (that is: listened to with intent) as it relates to their concerns for their organization and the city at large. They also produce a sense of ownership for the work and the people (human and financial) resources that will be needed to pursue the issues that arise from the listening campaigns and that are formulated as the focus issues for NOAH to address. This is because those very issues will have arisen from the one-on-one sessions and the listening campaigns that would have been taking place in all the member organizations of NOAH. Petra Kuenkel correctly stated that, “dialogue becomes a bridge between the individual’s capacity to tune in to sustainable action and the collective’s negotiated solutions for the future. Dialogue complements and improves democracy. . .dialogues are used as a first step to ensure collective input into road maps for the future” (Kuenkel, 2016, Kindle Locations 3364-3366). 

The Beloved Community, The King Legacy, and NOAH

In consideration of exactly how the work of NOAH relates to the King Legacy and his notion of the Beloved Community, I am drawn to the words Dr. King shared during a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) training session. These word address (for me) the relationship between the work of NOAH and Dr. King’s legacy. He said,

The great tragedy is that Christianity failed to see that it had the revolutionary edge. You don’t have to go to Karl Marx to learn how to be a revolutionary. I didn’t get my inspiration from Karl Marx; I got it from a man named Jesus, a Galilean saint who said he was anointed to heal the broken-hearted. He was anointed to deal with the problems of the poor. And that is where we get our inspiration.

We have the power to change America and give a kind of new vitality to the religion of Jesus Christ. And we can get those young men and women who’ve lost faith in the church to see that Jesus was a serious man precisely because he was concerned about their problems. The greatest revolutionary that history has ever known (King Jr., “To Chart Our Course for the Future,” Address at SCLC Ministers Leadership Training Program, Miami, February 23, 1968, recording in King Library and Archive, King Center, Atlanta, 2014).

Because of my vocation in ministry, I love the fact that my work with Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) gives me the opportunity to put arms and legs to my faith as a Christian—and my calling to pastor God’s people into becoming a community that values the worth and importance of every individual. I love the idea that Jesus’ great concern for the problems of the people whom he served is taken seriously in this work. For this is why I want my ministry to be taken seriously as well. My concern is for the real problems of the people I serve. And taking action to address this concern is indeed revolutionary, and in fact, it revolutionizes the world.

This work also places me in a space to move from my denomination’s hierarchical and positional leadership role to what John Maxwell calls Permissive Leadership. This is the leadership space where a person leads people if the people “allow” them to lead, and this leadership reality is allowed based on the prevalence and potency of building relationships, which is essential to becoming the Beloved Community. Maxwell wrote, “. . .when a leader learns to function on the Permission level…the leader begins to influence people with relationship, not just position. Building relationships develops a foundation for effectively leading others. It also starts to break down organizational silos as people connect across the lines between their job descriptions or departments” (Maxwell, 2013, Kindle Locations 1109-1113).

NOAH’s governing ethic of relationship building and people valuing through one-on-one sessions and listening campaigns are pragmatically approaches used to actual King’s Dream of the Beloved Community. NOAH equips and empowers its constituency to make one another feel appreciated, valued, and needed for this organization to survive and thrive. Karenga captures this spirit of the Beloved Community using the African term Ubuntu writing,

Again, at the heart of the concept and practice of ubuntu is the principle of reciprocity in our relationships and our actions. Indeed, it is this mutual responsiveness that informs and undergirds the process and practice of our coming into the fullness of ourselves as human beings. Mutual respect is an ancient African ethical value as expressed in the Maatian teachings of ancient Egypt which defines humans as possessors of dignity and divinity, sacred and deserving of the highest respect. This respect is also a rightful recognition and appreciation of our similarity and diversity, and our embeddedness in and responsibility to community and the natural world. (Karenga, 2015, p.2)

Maxwell added, “When people feel liked, cared for, included, valued, and trusted, they begin to work together. . .And that can change the entire . . .environment” (Maxwell, 2013, Kindle Locations 1113-1115). 

It is in this way that NOAH is aligned with the King Legacy of the Beloved Community. NOAH is an intentional representation that demonstrates how people of divergent cultures, occupations, social economic statuses, races, and other distinctive characteristics can be brought together to bridge their varying differences towards a place of a singleness of heart and mind for the purpose of promoting and providing a social change response for justice in the Greater Nashville community. This is a representation aligning with King’s idea of Black, White, Jew, Gentile, Protestant, and Catholics coming together, joining hands, and working for good together. It proves the truth of the idea that each of us being a separate thread in a huge garment of destiny must come together to accomplish this destiny.


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