My Beloved Community is an ongoing art project created by Washington and Lee students, Ellen Kanzinger and Arlette Hernandez as a response to the displays of white supremacy that took place in Charlottesville, VA during August of 2017.

The term of the “Beloved Community” was first coined by Josiah Royce, an ethicist and theologian writing in the early 20th century. For him, the Beloved Community was an ideal, but one whose strivings led mankind to salvation. Only through “loyalty [and the] thoroughgoing, practical, and loving devotion of a self to a united community,” only through love and mutual respect could such an ideal be achieved (The Problem of Christianity, 1908).

While Royce introduced the term, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. popularized it and expanded the inclusivity at the core of its definition. Delivering a speech at the Conference on Christian Faith and Human Relation held in Nashville in 1957, King fashioned a definition whose legacy continues to this day:

“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 love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

King’s Beloved Community is one of love, respect, and acceptance. It is a community where everyone could feel a sense of belonging, and as bell hooks argued in Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995), the Beloved Community is a space where those who have lived their lives in the margins can find themselves at the center, the fullness of their identities and histories celebrated.

Inspired by this rich history of human rights, My Beloved Community seeks to establish a vision of inclusive community. Through portraiture, the project gives visibility to people who have been pushed into the social margins as well as people at the center, creating a space that both can inhabit, a space where we can all sit at the table and have our humanity acknowledged and our voices heard.

While the project is largely visual, it is also narrative. Attached to each portrait is a personal statement in which every individual shares their vulnerabilities, hopes, knowledge, and struggles. Through their creative statements, our community members push back against the rhetoric of misrepresentation, reclaiming the stories and assumptions that coat their bodies.

All too often, there are aspects about our identities that are either forgotten, erased, or just simply misunderstood—qualities about ourselves which are rendered invisible or hyper-visible with insufficient context. My Beloved Community, in seeking to give people a platform in which to own their stories and presence, also allows individuals to bring their whole self and all the intricacies and complexities that come with it.

It is our hope that through this visual activism, empathy between people can blossom and meaningful conversations about social justice, community, and difference can be initiated.