2021 Essay Contest

Dr. King Jr. often thundered “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” quoting Theodore Parker. It can be argued 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.

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.

Dr. Virgil Wood

This essay contest was conceived by Dr. Virgil Wood, a veteran civil rights activist and former colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to explore individuals who sought to help realize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s concept of the Beloved Community in American society. Dr. Wood’s list of grouped individuals (or ancestors) are either connected through their work or by the spirit they exemplified. Taken together, the ancestors reveal the promise of the Beloved Community.

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 death of George Floyd and many others have revealed 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 a vision of the Beloved Community in the 21st century.

Through this Essay Contest, we invite undergraduate and graduate students to choose one set of ancestors, and prepare a creative essay that responds to one of the following prompts:

  • Possible self – Write an essay that considers how you might carry on the work of the set of ancestors you selected.
    • Looking back: ~1,200 words should focus on identifying and exploring the work and impact of the selected ancestors.
    • Looking forward: ~800 words should focus on what this information means for the future.
  • In-conversation with ancestors – Write an essay that captures a conversation between you and the set of ancestors you selected that relates to the notion of the Beloved Community.
  • In-conversation with your future self – Write an essay in which a future version of yourself provides you with advice based on the work of the set of ancestors.

All essays must be submitted by 6pm, April 4, 2021.

Essay Requirements

All essays must 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. All essays should be submitted electronically in Microsoft Word format.

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.

Essay Review

All essays that meet the contest requirements will be presented to an Essay Review Panel.

The reviewers on these panels will employ the following criteria as they read submissions:

  • How well the essay relates to a set of ancestors who are outlined on the Beloved Community Ancestors page;
  • How well the essay relates to the notion of the Beloved Community;
  • The quality of writing; and
  • The creativity, care, and thoughtfulness with which the author expresses his or her views.


The essay review panel will select four winners who will each receive $100.

Each winner will be invited to participate in an online Beloved Community Initiative Essay Contest Award Ceremony in May/June of 2021. The winning students will have an opportunity to share their essays and the insights they obtained from developing their submissions.

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