“We need a new social contract. That’s why we’re here today. Not to build a house, but to build a future. To build a life. To build a community. Beloved community is not an end. It’s a means. It’s a method. It’s a transformative process by which you begin one way and emerge a different way.”
Those words, spoken by Malkia Devich-Cyril – activist, writer, and public speaker – provided a spiritual anchor to the work of about 70 volunteers on a sunny Saturday at Esperanza Place earlier this month, gathered for our annual Beloved Community Build.
The day began with an invitation by Habitat staffer Amy Berg, to reflect on the event’s significance: building the vision held by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of a society rooted in justice and love, a community that eschews poverty and prejudice. Volunteers were reminded that April is a time to remember the anniversary of Dr. King’s tragic assassination as well as the passage of the Fair Housing Act a few days later – both in April of 1968.
Then, we heard from Michael, a future homeowner at Esperanza Place. Michael shared a little of his own history in the context of the day, from being “on a yellow bus to an all-White high school in Belmont” in the 1970s when San Francisco adopted a busing program, to working as “the first Black bartender at the St. Francis Hotel.” His story, he shared, was rife with “a lot of discrimination,” and he’d learned “that life is one of those things that can knock you down.” He also learned, though, “that you never give up.” It’s an example he gathered from his daughter, Michelle, who helped build her Habitat home in Martinez in 2016 – and he took it as motivation to build his own. Michael can already see the future, he shared: “I have grandkids that are going to be coming out here and playing right in front of my house,” and joked that “I’m looking forward to that… but I’m not.”
Michael’s story was all the inspiration the day’s volunteers needed to start building in earnest, working on everything from house wrap to siding to roofing. It was a literal embodiment of Devich-Cyril’s remarks in the afternoon: “King knew in 1968 that the Beloved Community isn’t something that we can sit around and wish for. It’s not something that we can sit around and talk about. It’s actually something that requires two hands. It’s actually something that requires your energy and your effort and your commitment.”
Energy, effort, and commitment were in high supply, in a true vision of community. The day was made possible in large part by Presenting Sponsor, Wells Fargo, who sees the Beloved Community Build as a vital piece of a “longstanding and important” partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Wells Fargo has supported Habitat for years as part of their “mission to ensure that everyone has a quality and affordable place to call home,” said Anina Tweed, Wells Fargo’s Senior Community Impact Specialist. The Beloved Community Build, she said, “was an exciting opportunity to help strengthen and foster a more inclusive community that highlights the importance of wellness, dignity, and economic opportunity through housing affordability.”
Fellow sponsor, Molex, also contributed enthusiastically to the day, both with financial support and by working alongside volunteers from across the community, from groups like our Women’s Crew, Dykes With Drills, Cal Habitat, First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, and Gateway City Church of San Jose.
The Beloved Community Build was a day for action, for commitment, for doing the work of building a more equitable community. It was a call to remember Dr. King’s vision, but also to carry the work forward. As Devich-Cyril pointed out, “We think about the 60s and everything that happened then, but you are in a civil rights movement today, right now. What are you doing? Where are you standing?”
So, while we celebrate Dr. King’s vision of a Beloved Community, we also receive it as a challenge to recognize that the work continues – and so, we build.