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Beloved community: King's vision for humankind

January 13, 2009

If you attend the speech after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in Fort Collins this year, you will meet a remarkable woman who embodies King's values in the way she lives her life. A seminary student at the Iliff School of Theology, Denise Hall was asked to speak this year after she participated in last year's march.

A call for courage

If Dr. Denise Hall were the captain of a starship, she would be ordering her helmsman to steer toward uncharted space. And she wouldn’t let a few stray asteroids or radioactive moons get in her way.

Today, she sits surrounded by reference books, bibles, and spiritual tomes in the library at the Fort Collins Foothills Unitarian church where she is the intern minister.

She’s eating a hot lunch from a microwavable container that she’s warmed in the community kitchen near the sanctuary. Her dark, voluminous hair settles about her straight shoulders and her warm eyes focus on your face.

When asked about the speech she will give at Colorado State University on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she quickly sums it up in plain language.

“We’ve talked long enough about King’s vision,” she says. “What I intend to say is that we can’t take a pass anymore. We give it lip service. But I ask you, ‘What is our personal responsibility in all of this? How do we do this? What does it look like?’” 

Beloved community

Hall will speak on Monday, Jan. 19, at 11:45 a.m. after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march ends at the Lory Student Center on campus. “I was a participant in the march last year and enjoyed the singing and sense of community created,” Hall says.

The title of her speech, Beloved Community, is borrowed from the phrase King used to describe an inclusive vision of humankind, striving together for peace and justice. King, a Baptist preacher and philosopher, spoke of the “good news of tolerance.” He spoke to people of all faiths and just as persuasively to people of no faith.

“He took this theological piece – the idea of beloved community – out of the Church of Reformation and translated it to lay people,” Hall says. “It’s time for us to incorporate this idea of beloved community into community building, peace work, justice work, and reconciliation – to bring it closer to realization.” 

Living King’s values

“I would like to lift up Dr. King’s message of beloved community,” Hall says. “I want to be an instrument, to live this message and inspire others to live it.

I realize that everyone has their various levels of comfort, but we each need to make a change in our life, regardless of our economic status, sexual orientation, social conditioning, or gender. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift. There’s change going on and people are ready.”

Hall talks about tangible things that we can do to inspire a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.

“We can find our own, individual way to ensure that everyone has his or her basic, human needs met for food, shelter, and safety. We can empower each other and the earth through ‘greening up’ our daily lives and incorporating green methodologies into building.

“We can ennoble each other as we live on Mother Earth, stop using language that marginalizes people; we need genuine, authentic reconciliation with marginalized peoples. We can honor diversity within diversity, differences within differences. We can be open to sharing who we are as individuals and celebrating that.

“We need to start articulating what all this looks like, sounds like, and feels like.” 

Serving humanity

King is remembered for saying, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Hall’s life embodies King’s values in its own, unique way. A seminary student at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, she is pursuing a master's of divinity with an emphasis on justice, peace, and reconciliation. At Iliff, she has studied under Professor Emeritus Vincent Harding, a former confidante and speechwriter for Dr. King. 

Hall received her doctorate of veterinary medicine in 1992 from Tuskegee University and has a community practice in Greeley which incorporates holistic veterinary medicine. She contributes to sustainable living and earth-friendly agriculture through her work with Mother Earth Reverence Farms, whose calling is “Heal our Land.”

Hall also serves as a board member for the Greeley Area Habitat for Humanity and intends to participate in a Women's Build where women-led construction crews of women build affordable homes.  She is a local member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.  

No longer taking a pass

Hall is advocating that we engage in King’s vision of freedom, democracy, public good, inclusiveness, and empowerment in whatever way we can, large or small.

She says that what she hopes for is that her talk at Colorado State later this month will impact people’s hearts so that they “no longer take a pass,” remembering this piece of Dr. King’s advice: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” 


Contact: Lance Wright
E-mail: Lance.Wright@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-6921