A history of love
Joyce Johnson of the Beloved Community Center is confronting her community’s troubled past…and building opportunity in the process
When you live in a place like Greensboro, NC, where a prolonged and painful history of racism, economic disparity and violence continues to negatively impact your community, the inclination to ignore that past and simply walk away from those tensions is probably a natural response. That is, unless you’re Joyce Johnson.
“There was some friction between the young people who were in gangs and those who had the privilege to go to college,” recalled Joyce, a longtime activist who helps lead the Beloved Community Center (BCC) in Greensboro. “A young man who is part of a gang just said ‘Well, I’ll just leave.’ And I just said to him you don’t have that privilege…once I receive you as my child, as somebody I’m working with, that’s forever.”
Greensboro’s racial and economic inequalities have contributed to a situation where three-quarters of African-American youth are in poverty. Gangs and the disruptive impact they have on young people’s economic and personal future is just one outgrowth of such an environment.
“So much of the reason why young people form gangs is because of a sense of feeling rejected, of not having a family,” said Joyce.
This lost sense of inclusion and opportunity is exactly what Joyce, whose organization is guided by Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of creating a “beloved community” through racial reconciliation, is working to address. BCC has created programs for residents in low-income neighborhoods across racial divides to share collective histories, build relationships and address the challenges of structural racism. The work not only includes trainings, policy formulations and dialogue but also efforts to leverage economic opportunities created by federal stimulus policies.
Joyce “believe(s) in a world where everyone is really allowed to and encouraged to be everything he or she can be.” In other words, she believes in a truly beloved Greensboro.