The marble floors of the Jule Collins Smith Museum echoed with the sounds of interfaith discussion as attendees of Auburn University's event commemorating the 50 year anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination traded stories and experiences.
The entire event, sponsored by Auburn University’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity, was a two-day affair honoring King’s work and his concept of a “beloved community.” Joan Harrell, visiting journalism professor at Auburn, crafted the event’s proposal and led its execution.
Harrell reached out to Sarah Collins Rudolph and invited her to speak for the event’s first day. Commonly known as the “fifth little girl,” Rudolph is a survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. Rudolph, who was 12 years old at the time, lost an eye in the explosion, and her sister, 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, was killed.
“The purpose of her life is telling her story,” Harrell said. “Because she wants to share that from her perspective, there’s a need for love and not hatred.”
The second day, a number of speakers were invited to offer their perspectives. Noted speakers included faith leaders Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus in the history department, and Otis Moss III, senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
The discussion focused on intergenerational, interdisciplinary and interfaith interactions, specifically geared toward building the beloved community.
“It’s been an opportunity to refuel, to understand where we’re going and to understand the past and how the past is impacting the future,” said first-year graduate student Jordan Chatman.
Chatman, who helped Harrell organize the event, said the event inspired thinking about building a multifaceted community.
“We think about what Dr. King represented and how we can continue that fight,” Chatman said. “How can we continue that struggle? How can we reach the dreams that he had during his time here? And if we haven’t, what has stopped us from reaching those dreams?”
Anna Housecamp, lead pastor of the Auburn Wesley Cooperative Parish, said a number of people attended including local faith leaders, students and people in the community interested in the discussion.
The speakers were followed by an organized dialogue during which attendees had the opportunity to reflect on what they heard and how it impacted their views on love, hope and justice.
“That’s core to how we transition from a schismatic community that’s kind of 'us-and-them' to a community that’s listening, that’s heartfelt, that’s open, that’s engaged,” Housecamp said. “To be able to move us all forward from the ‘us-and-them’ mentality to the ‘we’ of the beloved community.”
The event has inspired a beloved-community-centered website, which will be housed in the Office of Inclusion and Diversity’s website. Students will interview people, upload their stories and offer a tangible glimpse into a beloved community.
“Whether you are interested in it or not, we still have to live together,” Chattman said. “To be in this community together.”