Building a Beloved Community: An Interview with Parenting for Liberation Founder Trina Greene Brown
The Beloved Community is a concept made prominent by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who viewed it as the mutually beneficial society that the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement could achieve. Youth activist, mother and author, Trina Greene Brown, has years of experience training organizations on practical ways to implement the Beloved Community into their work. Brown applies the framework as a parent and as founder of Parenting for Liberation, a virtual community that connects, inspires and uplifts Black caretakers as they navigate and negotiate raising Black children. I interviewed her about the Beloved Community and how it can be used for building community during this time of social distance.
How would you describe the Beloved Community?
Trina Greene Brown: The concept is often attributed to Dr. King, but he’s not the person who coined the term. I recall him first speaking it into some of his speeches during the protesting. The [Montgomery] bus boycott was a big win that helped integrate public spaces. When everybody was celebratory, he said this win is not the end, us integrating, us having access to shared public space is not the end goal. The end goal is a Beloved Community, where we can reconcile or have some transformative justice. That wasn’t the language back then, but when he talks about reconciliation, I’m assuming he’s saying, to transform these relationships, to reconcile, someone has to be accountable; to reconcile, someone has to be take responsibility. His belief was that the end goal could be this community that’s rooted in values of trust and equity and justice, and that all of our needs are met. The Beloved Community is the vision of what’s possible when all of the systems of oppression are eliminated and we can actually work together.
How have you applied Beloved Community in your work?
TGB: There’s a way that folks who do social justice work are so focused on fighting the oppression and making sure that the people that they’re doing the work on behalf of get their needs met, that they forget that they are also people who have relationships and who have families. Movement folks are so selfless sometimes, they will work themselves until they burn out, they will be on the front lines, even if they might get impacted. Martin Luther King was willing to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of his people. And in that way, they give up so much of themselves that they kind of forget their own humanity.
The intentionality of bringing Beloved Community into organizations and organizational culture is to see the humanity of the people that you’re doing the work with. The Beloved Community we practice is how our relationships should be the embodiment of the world that we want. Beyond the work that we do, [it’s] getting to know each other and talking to each other, shar[ing] with each other and knowing our values, having shared values and showing up whole. Seeing the rich connections of folks who do work together, beyond the work. It doesn’t slow down the work, it actually helps to accelerate it.
... a lot of parents don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable with our children .... We feel like we have to be tough and strong and always have the right answer. That actually limits our children from being able to connect with us.Trina Greene Brown
How can Beloved Community be applied to parenting?
TGB: [The organization] Parenting for Liberation came from a commitment to myself and to my child to practice my values in my relationship with him and how I parented. When I was pregnant, I was in the gender-based violence field working with young people around youth violence. I was introduced to MLK’s work around Beloved Community because that program situated it as one of the core elements because it brings together leaders across the movement [to consider how] this movement could be stronger, if we were in right relationship together. How are you practicing the values that you’re fighting for in the world in your organization or in our relationships?
When I became a parent, it was the same question. How do we practice what we preach in our most intimate relationships? Outside of advocating, how do I show up whole, how do I be in authentic relationship with my child? What do you need to practice Beloved Community? What kind of relationship do I want to have in parenting my child?
Based on her work and experience, Brown developed five practices from the Beloved Community framework: wholeness, values, truth telling, accountability and praxis. She describes each of them below.
Wholeness is this idea of, how do we show up whole, how do we be vulnerable. I know a lot of parents don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable with our children. We won’t tell them that we’re sad or that we’re scared. We feel like we have to be tough and strong and always have the right answer. That actually limits our children from being able to connect with us. Practicing wholeness with our children would be like, “I’m scared, too, of COVID,” instead of saying, “it’s fine, it’s gonna be good, we’re great.” How do we actually be honest and whole in a way that makes them see our whole selves, that we’re not these robotic, strong statues who don’t have any feelings. Our children need to see that vulnerability, too.
Then, values. What do we care most about in our family? What are the values that we’re going to practice in our household and how do we cultivate those values in relationship with our children? How do we let them be a part of that conversation with us [and ask them] “What do you care about? What is important to you?” That’s a conversation that we can have with our children.
Truth telling. We always want our children to tell the truth. Similarly, how do we be truthful with our children? I remember growing up [hearing] “This is none of your business, this is grown folks business.” But truth telling is important. We have to practice what we preach. What we practice is what they model. I’ve had to reveal some things with my child in order to help him feel comfortable to tell me the truth about things that might feel uncomfortable.
Accountability. Even as adults being accountable to our children. When they say “You hurt my feelings when you did that,” or even if they don’t say it, we know when we’ve done something wrong or harmful. How do we be accountable to them and not just keep saying sorry and doing it over? Being accountable means we shift our behaviors to not do it again.
And then praxis is you continue to practice [these].
The Beloved Community is the vision of what’s possible when all of the systems of oppression are eliminated and we can actually work together.Trina Greene Brown
How can parents find their own Beloved Community?
TGB: When I started Parenting for Liberation, it was about me reaching out to the people that I knew who I felt like, “Oh, I love the way that they have a relationship with their kid.” So, I would just call them or message them; “Hey, can you talk to me about this thing,” I like your kids, I like your relationship, I like the bond that y’all have, how can I get some of that? [Parents] have to be okay reaching out and saying, “I’m interested in learning more from you or being partnered with you.” Parents are always open to share, I have never called somebody or reached out and they shut me down, no one has ever said no. Parents love bragging about what they do, love bragging about their kids. I think you can call [another] parent and people would be happy to share.
In terms of COVID and the quarantine, we have to be safe. As you think about who you want to partner with or build community with, if it’s going to be in-person, do the proper measures to maintain safety, whether that means you all get COVID testing and you all quarantine before you all meet up. There are ways to connect in a social distancing way, masks up, hands washed, six feet apart. I know folks who said, “I’m a single mom with a child and I found another single parent with a child and we are now in a pod because our kids needed to play with another human.” Then they decided that they were going to do a vacation together so that their kids can have a little summer break. Their kids got to play and they had another adult to finally talk to in person. They had agreements: We’re going to quarantine together, we’re not going to interact with other people, we’re going to both get COVID testing. They did all these things intentionally.
What would you recommend for parents who may themselves feel isolated at this time?
TGB: The practice — wholeness — requires you to look at yourself. What are you willing to share and connect to other people, how are you connecting to other people? That is the first step because it’s removing these masks or these filters. “Trina-activist-parent” — that’s my identity and that’s how I show up, but I have other layers that I can show up in spaces with.
The beauty of technology is that people can connect across screens. But it is about taking that first step, which is the scariest step, around opening up. Wholeness is about revealing something of yourself. Even revealing, “I feel so alone right now.” Who do you reveal that to? That’s scary to reveal, but I think that’s what it takes. It takes the willingness to be vulnerable and say, “I’m hurting right now and I really need some support.” That’s what it takes to build because people won’t know that you’re alone. A first step of the Beloved Community-building is showing up with an open heart and revealing that. I ‘m in lots of communities. Which ones are beloved? The ones where I can actually be my whole self and say, “I’m scared.” Those are the ones that feel most authentic. You don’t have to be polished and perfect every time you show up. [But you] gotta be willing to take that first risk.
You don’t have to be polished and perfect every time you show up. [But you] gotta be willing to take that first risk.Trina Greene Brown
What are some ways parents can care for themselves at this time?
TGB: Turn off the news. Play with their children. And let their inner child play. Get creative. Arts are often a way to open up ourselves to reflect. Journal. Music. Do things they like to do. Whether it be taking a long bath or sitting in the morning and meditating, just having some time to connect with themselves. I highly recommend getting in nature because nature, Mother Earth, has incredible ways of recharging us if we connect with her.
Whether it be putting our feet in the dirt or the sand or the grass. In some places, that might be snow. But just getting outside every day and getting some fresh air. A good laugh; some memes or the worst dad jokes ever, I watch those videos and they make me laugh. Find something to make you laugh throughout all the stress. Laughing is definitely a way to release energies that are not helpful. Therapy or talking to somebody, if you need help. It’s an isolating time, it might be hard to build community, but there’s always someone you can talk to, whether that be a hotline, therapy, coach, counselor, finding one person at least to vent to, to download with so that you’re not carrying it all alone.
*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
About Trina Greene Brown
Bridging her 15 years of professional experience as a youth organizer in ending violence with her personal role as a parent of two Black children, Trina Greene Brown is a proud Black-feminist Mama-activist. In 2016, she founded Parenting for Liberation as a virtual platform for Black parents, which consists of a blog, podcast and in-person trainings and conferences. Trina has contributed to On Parenting for the Washington Post, and in 2019, her writing was featured in two anthologies, including the “Chicana M(other)work Anthology,” which is centered on intersections of motherhood and activism. Her book “Parenting for Liberation: A Guide for Raising Black Children” was released June 2020 by Feminist Press.