February 3, 2023 | NEWS | By Will Sylvain | Photo: The Catalyst Archives
“My living shall not be in vain if I can help somebody as I pass along.” Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington began his speech with these words on Monday, January 30th, kicking off another semester of Colorado College’s First Mondays event series.
Dr. Washington is the founder and president of the Washington Consulting Group, a diversity consulting firm which helps organizations perform at their highest potential by envisioning a more liberated, successful, and inclusive environment. He is also the president and co-founder of the Social Justice Training Institute, and an invited instructor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Lancaster Theological Seminary.
Students, faculty, and staff gathered in Kathryn Mohrman Theatre on Monday to hear from Dr. Washington about how we might apply his teachings to our campus community. Alongside a few hollers and plenty of head nodding, Dr. Washington’s sonorous voice filled the auditorium with love and a feeling that beloved community is just around the corner.
Dr. Washington’s speech was delivered in conjunction with themes from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose message provides the pillars for much of Dr. Washington’s work. Taking after CC’s theme for January’s MLK celebration, which was “It starts with me; cultivating a beloved community mindset to transform unjust systems,” Dr. Washington spoke about the ways in which we can create this beloved community mindset. In its essence, a beloved community is a space where each and every individual feels that they belong.
Creating such an environment, according to Dr. Washington, requires actively choosing compassion towards our peers. He emphasized the importance of “shared learning, shared understanding, shared values, engagement, questioning, and exploration.” By coming together and engaging in conversation, he said, we can begin to cultivate the mindset of equality that Dr. King dreamed about.
The key to forming a more inclusive, anti-racist campus community, Dr. Washington advised, lies within each of us. It takes a conscious choice to love each other to reverse and restructure the dynamics of our communities. As Natalia Segovia Soto ‘25 pointed out: “To have a community, you have to be engaged in it. It’s not just going to form around you.” Tools, books, even lectures from diversity consultants, said Washington, will not themselves build a strong community. It is a piece within ourselves that must be activated.
Dr. Washington believes his fight rests atop the shoulders of heroes of the past, like Dr. King. Fighting injustice, according to Dr. Washington, is a generational struggle, “every generation has its opportunity,” he said, “to do its part to create the beloved community.”
Even though today’s issues may look much different than the issues of the Civil Rights Movement, Washington believes his work would not be possible without the struggle and sacrifice of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. Each generation’s battle moves the needle, so that the path towards true justice is a little bit easier for the generations that follow. The best we can do, Washington said, is to create a more beloved community for those who come after us.
So how do we do this? How do we take the progress that has been handed down to us and go even further? Dr. Washington says the answer may be in healing. To cultivate the community mindset we strive for, we must let ourselves heal, both individually and communally. As individuals, Dr. Washington notes, we are not expected to carry trauma without the space to heal from it, so we should not expect to do so as a community. In our journey towards building the beloved community, it is important that we come from a healthy place, not a damaged one, and that begins with allowing ourselves time to heal. As Dr. Washington says, “be O.K. with not being O.K.”
Chris Heckenkamp ’24 resonated with this message. Dr. Washington’s message was “alive in the fabric of his being”, said Heckencamp, and it can be alive in the fabric of all of us if we choose to see it.
Dr. Washington’s speech ended with an uproar of applause and an important note on the importance of resilience in this journey; he said, “A wishbone will never suffice where a backbone is required.”