2021 Essay Contest

Due to the COVID19 pandemic and the closure of schools, the 2020 Beloved Community Essay contest was been postponed until 2021.

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 national conversation that has ensued reminds us of 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 moral fortitude in public leadership.

Dr. Virgil Wood

The idea for the 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. 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. Source.

Dr. King Jr. often thundered “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice,” quoting American Bards of generations gone. Dr. Woods life-long search for the elusive promised land of the American Dream led to the realization 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. Sometimes these ancestors were not contemporaries, but they can be linked by the spirit they exemplified.

Through this Essay Contest, we invite students at high schools across Virginia, Texas, and California to choose one set of ancestors, and prepare an in-depth exploration of those two (or three) persons focusing on how the legacy of their life’s journey came together to advance the Beloved Community. The essay must be submitted by 6pm, April 4, 2020.

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

Selection and Prizes

All essays that meet the contest requirements will be presented to the appropriate Essay Review Panel in Virginia, Texas, or California.

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

  • The essay responds to a set of individuals who are outlined on the Beloved Community Ancestors page;
  • The essay clearly describes how the life’s work of each individual can be linked to advance an aspect of the Beloved Community;
  • The quality of writing and art submission; and
  • The creativity, care, and thoughtfulness with which the author expresses his or her views.


Each review panel will select four winners in each state (12 winners in total), who will each receive $100.

Each winner be invited to participate in an online Beloved Community Initiative Essay Contest Award Ceremony  in the Fall of 2020. The winning students will have an opportunity to share their essays and the insights they obtained from developing their submission.

The essay contest winners will be required to attend all workshops prior to the award ceremony.