Let Us Be the Light

Jeanne C. Tedrow, President & CEO, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits

2021 truly began with a jolt. The attempted coup by insurrectionists on our nation's capital stunned many of us. Those elected to serve were in the crossfire and some were meant to be the target of this violence. In the aftermath of the 2020 fair and free election naming President Elect Joseph Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris to be duly sworn in on January 20, our country is divided and the peaceful transition of power has been compromised.

Events that most of us could not have envisioned happening here in the United States of America have in fact occurred. The attempted governmental seizure further exposed the racial divide and the evil of white supremacy. In the midst of all the tensions surrounding the upcoming inauguration, thousands in our communities continue to become ill and die from COVID-19, the impact of the virus has disproportionately hurt communities of color, and we face great uncertainty about the availability and distribution of the vaccine.

Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked this question during the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s. It was critical then, and still relevant today. The answer: we must choose community. We must try to live into Dr. King’s teachings, his message of hope, and unselfish, sacrificial love. When we choose community over chaos, we can strengthen our democracy. Seeking what he described as the beloved community is the only way that we can truly honor the legacy of this great American.

We must remember how far we have come, just as we must recognize the distance ahead to realize the ideals of our democracy. In the midst of what feels like chaos, nonprofit leaders have an opportunity to help rebuild and reunite our communities. It is a tall order. But mission-driven nonprofits have always been a force for good in our communities.

Nonprofits are trusted messengers and provide support for many in need. We serve our communities regardless of political persuasion. We advocate for our communities in nonpartisan ways, focus our discussions on issues, not ideology, and seek common ground, working toward solutions. To build and restore, we must choose hope over despair, truth over lies, equity over racism.

In spite of these challenges, or because of them, let’s find ways to engage our communities and join together as citizens to do this difficult work. As we build back and seek resilience in the aftermath of these difficult days, the nonprofit sector continues to represent the very best in us. Let us not be dissuaded by the hate we have just witnessed. This is an opportunity to feel more deeply, to think more clearly, and to love more completely our neighbors. This is the time to remember that when we know better, we can do better. And it is always the right time to do the next right thing.

In memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I lift up the wisdom of one who walked with him, the late Congressman John Robert Lewis, from Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America:

“You are light. You are the light. Never let anyone - any person or any force - dampen, dim, or diminish your light. Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”

Let us be the light.


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