Creating a ‘Beloved Community’ at Santa Clara
By Tracy Seipel
New campus group offering Black students “spiritual nourishment” kicks off with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
For Ciera Robinson ’22, Monday’s federal holiday that honors the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is also a personal milestone. In addition to inviting the University community to join a noon prayer service celebrating King’s life and achievements, Robinson is announcing the formation of the Beloved Community at Santa Clara.
Coined by American philosopher Josiah Royce, but best known as King’s oft-quoted notion of creating an equitable life for everyone, the new group for Black students will seek to identify, uphold, and celebrate the diverse traditions of culture and spirituality of the Black community—no matter what religion its members follow.
“It was really important to me to have faith be a part of it because I’m a religious person,” says Robinson of the organization she helped to found with the help of SCU’s Kyle Shinseki, S.J. “It’s a space where we can have a quiet time to all pray in our own faith... maybe reflect on things that happened to us, that happen around us; things we want to see happen to us in the coming weeks. Just kind of decompress.”
Solace in Prayer, Friendship
Like many Black people who witnessed the murder of George Floyd last May, followed by Black Lives Matter marches—Robinson participated in one Bay Area BLM rally herself—she has found solace in prayer and friendship, especially with other Black students at Santa Clara.
But a significant turning point in her life had occurred months earlier, when she helped Fr. Shinseki and Igwebuike, SCU’s Black student union group, organize an intercultural “Sunday Best” celebration during Black History Month, just before the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced in the United States.
Shinseki, who serves as Campus Minister for Faith Formation and Intercultural Ministry, had suggested that Igwe schedule a Protestant worship service in the African-American tradition, and hold it in the Mission Church that February.
Rev. Dr. Tanisha Sparks, director of finance and administration at the Jesuit School of Theology, was the guest preacher at the service, as she will be at Monday’s event.
Robinson will never forget the impact of Sparks' words.
“The way Tanisha spoke in such a powerful voice and the message she was able to convey, it was impossible not to listen to what she said.” Robinson, who shortly after began a daily ritual of praying every morning and every night, recalls: “I felt like I could do anything.”
The event was an immediate success, says Shinseki, but it also left him and other attendees wondering what more could be done for Black students at the University who might be seeking their own spiritual haven.
“While it was great to have one event, it left us with this desire to provide ongoing support for the spiritual needs, the spiritual nourishment, the spiritual wellness, of the Black community at Santa Clara University,” says the Jesuit priest.
Afterall, Shinseki’s goal at Campus Ministry is to promote the inclusion of diverse cultural backgrounds on the SCU campus, through the ministry’s workshops, retreats, and programs. So having an intersection of faith and culture that provides a sanctuary environment would help Black students, he says. Shinseki and Robinson then brainstormed the idea behind the Beloved Community, with Sparks serving as advisor.
Crossover Memberships Welcome
While it is officially launching this week with a handful of members—Robinson had planned to introduce the group just before the pandemic hit—she hopes more students will sign up and participate in meetings that are now on Zoom, but will be held in the Campus Ministry Office after students return to school.
And because most of SCU’s Black students know one another, she looks forward to crossover memberships between the Beloved Community and other Black student groups at Santa Clara.
“I feel like I might have a lot of peers who don’t know that this could make the difference in their lives right now,” Robinson says of the Beloved Community. “So my goal is just to put it in front of them and see if that’s what they need. And if it’s not what they need, they can still come and we will support them.”
SCU sophomore Jeremiah Rufus ’23, who will be reading King’s “I Have A Dream” speech at Monday’s MLK event, belongs to both Igwe and Robinson’s new group, and appreciates their different missions.
He says he was drawn to the idea of the Beloved Community as a place where SCU Black students could “hang out, and have deep conversations” about Black culture and Black life, but also a range of topics, from religion to poetry to politics.
He’s also impressed with Robinson’s drive. “She goes after what she wants,” says Rufus, “and I like that quality in her.”
Monday’s worship service honoring MLK Jr. will be on Zoom and live streamed on YouTube. Please register for Zoom at bit.ly/beloved21
Read President Kevin O'Brien's Jan. 15 letter about commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Jan 16, 2021
Ciera Robinson '22