Beloved Community Initiative2018-07-13T16:51:33-04:00



A partnership between Virginia Tech and Virginia Union University to explore and advance Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s conception of the Beloved Community in the 21st Century

The challenges confronting our communities and nation today are daunting. They include religious, racial, and ethnic divisions that have resulted in violence and displacement of populations, economic despair accompanied by crumbling infrastructure, hunger, unequal access to healthcare and education, and more. The tragic events in Charlottesville and the national conversation that has ensued reminds us of the critical need for morally courageous public and civil society leaders informed by history, research, and evidence, who are dedicated to inclusion, collaboration, and thoughtful engagement. Now, more than ever, is the time for examining and pursuing moral fortitude in public leadership.

Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs and Virginia Union University’s School of Theology have partnered to create a space for intellectual and practical engagement and experimentation to identify the ideas, steps and practices that together could foster a more beloved American community. In honor of Dr. King’s important ideas, this will be called the Beloved Community Initiative and it aims to bring together faculty, students, and the public around the following overarching objectives:

  • Create opportunities to educate and prepare well-rounded, empathetic, and creative public service leaders who are aware of the fundamental importance of social justice to the preservation of freedom and the insurance of human rights;
  • Help communities bring scholarship and evidence to bear on structural problems and challenges linked to citizens’ understanding of their identities and place in the world;
  • Conduct research on social policy and social justice that could help advance collective understanding of the steps necessary to realize the Beloved Community;
  • Build strong partnerships with communities and other universities to learn and grow and enhance educational opportunities linked to deeper understanding of the critical role of social imaginaries to democratic self-governance.

The VT_VUU partnership has launched a 2018 Essay Contest to provide junior and senior high school students across Virginia with an opportunity to explore individuals who sought to help realize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s concept of the Beloved Community in American society. Click here to see the invitation letter sent to every superintendent in Virginia.

This initiative is led by Dr. Virgil Wood, a veteran civil rights activist and former colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who has joined VT SPIA as the Ridenour Faculty Fellow for this academic year. Dr. Wood is working with several Virginia Tech and Virginia Union University faculty members as part of a core working group for the effort, including: Dr. Ralph Hall (Associate Professor, VT SPIA), Dr. Corey Walker Vice President (Dean, School of Theology, and Professor of Religion and Society, VUU), Dr. Sylvester Johnson (Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities, Professor and Director of the Center for Humanities, VT), Dr. Max Stephenson (Professor and Director, Institute for Policy and Governance, VT SPIA), Dr. Marc Edwards (University Distinguished Professor, Civil Engineering, VT), and Dr. Amy Pruden (Professor, Civil Engineering, VT).

Virginia Tech faculty engaged in this project will draw on their institution’s guiding creed of Ut Prosim (which translates to ‘That I May Serve’) to promote conversation and support research and experimentation concerning King’s idea of the Beloved Community as a possible social imaginary for the 21st Century. Engaged VUU faculty will draw similarly on a distinguished history of teaching and scholarship rooted in a vision of citizenship, moral leadership, and education as they address the challenge of this work.


In partnership with Dr. Virgil Wood, the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech and Virginia Union University, are pleased to announce the 2018 Beloved Community Initiative Essay Contest.

This contest provides junior and senior students at high schools across Virginia with the opportunity to explore exemplars of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s notion of the Beloved Community – a community based on social and economic justice and a common love for fellow human beings.

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. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.

Dr. King’s Beloved Community was not devoid of interpersonal, group or international conflict. Instead he recognized that conflict was an inevitable part of human experience. But he believed that conflicts could be resolved peacefully and adversaries could be reconciled through a mutual, determined commitment to nonviolence. No conflict, he believed, need erupt in violence. And all conflicts in The Beloved Community should end with reconciliation of adversaries cooperating together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill. Source: The King Center, The Beloved Community.

Dr. King Jr. often thundered “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice,” quoting American Bards of generations gone. Dr. Woods life-long search for the elusive promised land of the American Dream led to the realization that at every point where the moral arc did bend, even ever so slightly, there stood a pair, or in some cases triplets, of Black and White ancestors of the Beloved Community. Sometimes these ancestors were not contemporaries, but they can be linked by the spirit they exemplified.

Through this essay competition, we invite junior and senior students at high schools across Virginia to choose one set of ancestors, and prepare an in-depth exploration of those two (or three) persons focusing on how the legacy of their life’s journey came together to advance the Beloved Community. The essays must be submitted by 6pm, April 4, 2018.

For a PDF version of the material contained on this website, please click here.


The following individuals have been identified as exemplars of the Beloved Community. Students are required to select and research one set of exemplars for their essay.

Muhammad AliThomas MurtonMuhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.) was an American professional boxer and activist. He is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century. From early in his career, Ali was known as an inspiring, controversial, and polarizing figure both inside and outside the ring (Source). Thomas Merton was an American Catholic writer, theologian, and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion (Source).

Hint: A Louisville gift to society

Marian AndersonEleanor Roosevelt

Marian Anderson was an American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. She made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spirituals (Source). Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was an American politician, diplomat, and activist. She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, and served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952 (Source).

Hint: A 1939 Easter performance

Ruth BatsonRobert DrinanRuth Batson was an American civil rights and education activist. Batson’s career began with the NAACP Boston Branch. While representing the NAACP in local, regional, and national capacities, she led the challenge to the Boston Public School system for educational equality for African American students in Boston (Source). Robert Frederick Drinan, S.J., was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, lawyer, human rights activist, and Democratic U.S. Representative from Massachusetts. During the latter 26 years of his life he was a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center (Source).

Hint: Boston desegregation efforts

Frank Bell Sr.Henry Martyn StringfellowFrank Bell Sr. was one of the early settlers of the 1867 Settlement Community. In the late 1800s, Frank Bell was able to purchase land and build a home in Texas City in an area called The Settlement. Bell’s 1887 home is still standing and now owned by the City of Texas City (Source). Henry Martyn Stringfellow, born into a prominent family of Virginia clergymen, was a graduate of the College of William and Mary in 1858. After the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863, Stringfellow married Alice Johnston, and decided to make their postwar homes in Texas, where Henry soon found himself dedicated to horticulture (Source).

Hint: Post Civil War settlement

Mary McLeod BethuneEleanor RooseveltMary Jane McLeod Bethune (born Mary Jane McLeod; July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955) was an American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida (Source). Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was an American politician, diplomat, and activist. She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, and served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952 (Source).

Hint: A fruitful historic friendship

Susan BuffettRosa ParksSusan Thompson Buffett was the first wife of investor Warren Buffett, was active in civil rights, abortion rights, and population control causes. She was a director of Berkshire Hathaway, and owned 2.2 percent (worth US$3 billion in 2004) of the company at the time of her death. She was also the president of the Buffett Foundation (Source). Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African American civil rights activist, whom the United States Congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement” (Source).

Hint: Collective spiritual impact

Robert ByrdLeon Howard SullivanRobert Carlyle Byrd (born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr.) was a United States Senator from West Virginia. A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd served as a U.S. Representative from 1953 until 1959 and as a U.S. Senator from 1959 to 2010. He was the longest-serving U.S. Senator (Source). Leon Howard Sullivan was a Baptist minister, a civil rights leader, and social activist focusing on the creation of job training opportunities for African Americans, a longtime General Motors Board Member, and an anti-Apartheid activist (Source).

Hint: Sons of West Virginia impact America

George Washington CarverBuckminster R. FullerGeorge Washington Carver was an American botanist and inventor. He was born into slavery in Missouri, either in 1861, or January 1864. Carver’s reputation is based on his research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, which also aided nutrition for farm families (Source). Buckminster Fuller “Bucky” was an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer and inventor. Fuller published more than 30 books, coining or popularizing terms such as “Spaceship Earth”, ephemeralization, and synergetic (Source).

Hint: Scientific geniuses impacting economic life

Frederik de KlerkNelson MandelaFrederik Willem de Klerk is a South African politician who served as the country’s State President from September 1989 to May 1994. He was the seventh and last head of state of South Africa under the apartheid era (Source). Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist, who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 (Source).

Hint: Freeing South Africa

* Frederik de Klerk is the sole surviving person

Frederick DouglasAbraham LincolnFrederick Douglass was the most important black American leader of the 19th century. He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, in Talbot County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1808[sic]. He was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman (Source). Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He led the United States through its Civil War and paved the way to the abolition of slavery (Source).

Hint: Emancipation and the American future

Jerry FalwellAlfred KeeJerry Lamon Falwell Sr. was an American Southern Baptist pastor, televangelist, and conservative activist. He was the founding pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. He also founded Lynchburg Christian Academy (now Liberty Christian Academy) in 1967 and Liberty University in 1971 and co-founded the Moral Majority in 1979 (Source). Alfred Kee served as Pastor of the Fellowship Church of Christ, Lynchburg, Va., for over 30 years. He also served as General Vice-President of the International Youth Department, Minister of music for the International Youth Congress, and Chairman of the Board of Evangelism (Source).

Hint: Early efforts to reverse the jail trail

C.L. FranklinGeorge W. RomneyClarence LaVaughn Franklin, often known as Bishop or The Reverend C. L. Franklin, was an African-American Baptist preacher, a civil rights activist, and father of R&B/Soul and Gospel singer Aretha Franklin (Source). George Wilcken Romney was an American businessman and Republican Party politician. He was chairman and president of American Motors Corporation from 1954 to 1962, the 43rd Governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, and the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1969 to 1973. He was the father of Mitt Romney (Source).

Hint: Marching with Martin Luther King

A.G. GastonRussell B. LongGeorge Gaston was a businessman who established a number of businesses in Birmingham, Alabama, and who played a significant role in the struggle to integrate Birmingham in 1963 (Source). Russell Billiu Long was an American Democratic politician and United States Senator from Louisiana from 1948 until 1987, and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1966 to 1981. His influence over tax laws lasted to the end of his career, when he helped write a major simplification of income tax laws in 1986 (Source).

Hint: Economic contribution to an American Future

Abraham Joshua HeschelMartin Luther King Jr.Cesar ChavezAbraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century (Source). Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement (Source). Cesar Chavez (born César Estrada Chávez, locally) was an American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers union, UFW) in 1962 (Source).

Hint: Together in the March for a New America

Jimmie Lee JacksonViola LiuzzoJimmie Lee Jackson was a civil rights activist in Marion, Alabama, and a deacon in the Baptist church. He was affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. After participating in a peaceful protest in Alabama in February 1965, he was shot by a state trooper and died a few days later (Source). Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo was a Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist from Michigan. A housewife and mother of five with a history of local activism, she was one of three people killed in Selma during voting rights demonstrations (Source).

Hint: Martyrs for the cause

T.J. JemisonRussell B. LongTheodore Judson Jemison was the president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. from 1982 to 1994. He was pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church for more than 50 years, and was a civil rights icon known as the architect of the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott (Source). Russell Billiu Long was an American Democratic politician and United States Senator from Louisiana from 1948 until 1987, and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1966 to 1981. His influence over tax laws lasted to the end of his career, when he helped write a major simplification of income tax laws in 1986 (Source).

Hint: Louisiana sons and the American Economic dream

Lyndon Baines JohnsonAdam Clayton PowellLyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th President of the United States from 1963 to 1969, assuming the office after serving as the 37th Vice President of the United States from 1961 to 1963 (Source). Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was a Baptist pastor and an American politician, who represented Harlem, New York City, in the United States House of Representatives. During his congressional service, Powell served on a number of committees and continued to agitate for African-American human rights, calling for an end to lynching in the South and Jim Crow laws (Source).

Hint: Great Society legislation

Rufus JonesHoward ThurmanRufus Matthew Jones was an American religious leader, writer, magazine editor, philosopher, and college professor. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Haverford Emergency Unit and was one of the most influential Quakers of the 20th century (Source). Howard Washington Thurman was an influential African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. Thurman’s theology of radical nonviolence influenced and shaped a generation of civil rights activists (Source).

Hint: Mystics impacting public spaces

Louis KelsoRussell B. LongSam WaltonLouis Kelso was a political economist, corporate and financial lawyer, author, lecturer, and merchant banker who is chiefly remembered today as the inventor and pioneer of the employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) (Source). Russell Billiu Long was an American Democratic politician and United States Senator from Louisiana from 1948 until 1987, and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1966 to 1981. His influence over tax laws lasted to the end of his career, when he helped write a major simplification of income tax laws in 1986 (Source). Samuel Moore “Sam” Walton was an American businessman and entrepreneur best known for founding the retailers Walmart and Sam’s Club (Source).

Hint: Original vision for beloved economics

Martin Luther King Sr.George Corley WallaceMartin Luther King Sr. was an American Baptist pastor, missionary, and an early figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. He was the father of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (Source). George C. Wallace was an American politician and the 45th Governor of Alabama, having served two nonconsecutive terms and two consecutive terms as a Democrat. He was a U.S. Presidential candidate for four consecutive elections. He held Southern populist and segregationist attitudes during the mid-20th century period of the Civil Rights Movement. He eventually renounced segregationism but remained a populist (Source).

Hint: Partnership for a new America

Oseola McCartySusan BuffettRosa ParksOseola McCarty was a local washerwoman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who became The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) most famous benefactor. In July 1995, McCarty announced that upon her death a portion of her life’s savings would be left to the university to provide scholarships for deserving students in need of financial assistance (Source). Susan Thompson Buffett was the first wife of investor Warren Buffett, was active in civil rights, abortion rights, and population control causes. She was a director of Berkshire Hathaway, and owned 2.2 percent (worth US$3 billion in 2004) of the company at the time of her death (Source). Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African American civil rights activist, whom the United States Congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement” (Source).

Hint: Collective spiritual impact

Golda MeirHarriet TubmanGolda Meir was an Israeli teacher, kibbutznik, stateswoman, and politician and the fourth Prime Minister of Israel. Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel on March 17, 1969, after serving as Minister of Labour and Foreign Minister (Source). Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and, during the American Civil War, a Union spy. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad (Source).

Hint: Early pioneers in their peoples’ freedom

Samuel Dewitt ProctorSargent ShriverSamuel Dewitt Proctor was an African American minister, educator, and humanitarian. He was active in the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) and is best known as a mentor and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Source). Robert Sargent “Sarge” Shriver, Jr., was an American politician and activist. As the husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he was part of the Kennedy family, serving in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (Source).

Hint: Architects of the Peace Corps

A. Phillip RandolphFranklin Delano RooseveltA. Phillip Randolph was a leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the American labor movement, and socialist political parties. He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly African American labor union. In the early Civil Rights Movement, Randolph led the March on Washington Movement (Source). Franklin Delano Roosevelt, commonly known as FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the President of the United States from 1933 to 1945 (Source).

Hint: Partners in the Early Federal Employment efforts

Ray CharlesJohnny CashRay Charles Robinson, known professionally as Ray Charles, was an American singer-songwriter, musician, and composer. Charles was blind from the age of seven. He pioneered the genre of soul music during the 1950s by combining blues, rhythm and blues, and gospel styles into the music he recorded for Atlantic Records (Source). John R. Cash was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, actor, and author. He is widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century and is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 90 million records worldwide (Source).

Hint: Musical geniuses who affected the nation’s soul


Essay Review Panel

All essays that meet the competition requirements will be presented to the Essay Review Panel. The names of those serving on the Review Panel will be announced in the near future.

Selection Criteria

Reviewers will employ the following criteria as they read submissions:

  • The essay responds to a set of individuals who are outlined on the Beloved Community Ancestors page.
  • The essay clearly describes how the life’s work of each individual can be linked to advance an aspect of the Beloved Community.
  • The quality of writing.
  • The creativity, care, and thoughtfulness with which the author expresses his or her views.


The review panel will select four winners who will each receive $750.

The four winners will also be invited to attend a Beloved Community Seminar at Virginia Tech in the Fall of 2018 – an event that will highlight the 50 year mark reflected by the essay submission deadline date and time, of the assassination of Dr. King, Jr. The winning students will have an opportunity to share their essays and insights and interact with students, faculty, and leading figures who are collectively working to realize the possibilities of the Beloved Community.


The Beloved Community Initiative Essay Contest is no longer accepting submissions. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Nicole DuPuis at Thank you! 

BCI: About Dr. Virgil Wood
Dr. Wood and his book 'In Love We Trust'Dr. Wood, Church leader, educator, and civil rights activist has committed much of his life’s work to the struggle for economic and spiritual development among the nation’s disadvantaged.

Ordained as a Baptist Minister in his late teens, Wood has served Churches for over 50 years, in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia. During his Pastorate in Lynchburg, Virginia, he became actively involved with the Civil Rights movement, setting up the Martin Luther King work there as the Lynchburg Improvement Association, a local unit of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. From 1963 to 1970, Dr. Wood led the Blue Hill Christian Center, of Boston’s Roxbury community, as its Pastoral Director, and head of the Mass. Unit, SCLC. He served with Martin Luther King, Jr., as a member of his National Executive Board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the last ten years of Dr. King’s life and work, and Coordinated the State of Virginia in the Historic March on Washington April 28, 1963.

Dr. Wood graduated from Virginia Union University in 1952 with a BA in history. In 1956, he graduated from Andover Newton Theological School with a Master of Divinity degree, and in 1973 he received his Doctorate in Education from Harvard University. As an educator, he served as Dean and Director, the African American Institute, and Associate Professor of Northeastern University at Boston, and had been a Professor at Virginia Seminary and College, in Lynchburg, and a visiting Lecturer, Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University.

Dr. Wood has many notable accomplishments. As an administrator for Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, founded by Dr. Leon H. Sullivan, a job training organization serving disadvantaged and under skilled Americans of all races, he assisted in founding and establishing 13 OIC centers in eight southern states, and in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Wood also served as a panelist and member of three White House Conferences under the Johnson, Nixon, and Carter Administrations.

Among Dr. Wood’s publications are Introduction to Black Church Economic Studies (Sparks Press: Raleigh, N. C., 1974), originator and contributing editor, The Jubilee Bible (American Bible Society: New York, 1999 and 2012), and author, In Love We Trust: Lessons I Learned from Martin Luther King (Beckham House: Silver Spring, Maryland, 2005).

Dr. Wood has combined his dual career in Church Leadership and Education with a life-long commitment to community development focused on economic and spiritual transformation. A former member of the Economic Development Task Force of the National Conference of Black Mayors, he also has served his national denomination as the first Chairman of its Economic Development Commission, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and as a consultant to the National Business League during the presidency of Dr. Berkley Burrell. Dr. Wood is currently working to shape functional and substantial Faith Inspired Initiatives.

Dr. Wood is Pastor Emeritus of the Pond Street Baptist, which he served from 1983 to 2005, and previously from 1955 to 1958. He concluded his Pastoral Ministry there December 31, 2005, having served Pond Street for 25 years, previously served by the late Dr. Samuel Dewitt Proctor. Dr. Wood is joyfully married to the former Lillian Walker, and they are the parents of Deborah and David, and grandparents of Christopher and Jordan, whose mother is Lorene, David’s able and lovely wife.

Junior and Senior high school students.
Essays must be submitted by 6pm, April 4, 2018.
They provide a way to connect the essay contest to the state’s curriculum and motivate and guide student work. The judging will also take innovation and creativity into account.
No, the list of BCI pairs and triplets have been carefully curated and represent significant moments in history as well as significant progress towards the Beloved Community vision.
Essay submissions should be a maximum of 2,000 words in length (excluding references) and the text should be in Arial font 12 and surrounded by a 1-inch border. The text should be double spaced. No names or information that might identify the author of the essay should be included in the essay text. Only one essay can be submitted by each student. All essays should be submitted electronically in Microsoft Word format.