Community is Something We Practice: Reflections on Teach the Speech

By Ollie Henry, (C’24)

Last month, I had the opportunity to contribute to Teach the Speech, an annual day-long event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. There, I gave a speech about King’s sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct” (video/text), and perfectionism in social justice spaces. My voice rose and fell as I poured my heart into the words, detailing my experience as a student and organizer on campus. When I reached the closing lines and asked the audience “who are you drumming for,” the room erupted. People began standing, and I was stunned. The loving and supportive response I was met with rendered me speechless. 

Afterward, I was flitting in and out of conversations with different faculty, staff, and students as they shared bits of their experiences. Some offered verbal affirmation and support but there was one action that stayed with me. A faculty member who I had only met in passing sent me an email. In it, they opened their door to me for conversation if I wanted a space to process. No response was expected, only an open door. As the week went by I found myself in need of that open door, and took it. It was there that I was reminded and reaffirmed in the values of Dr. King specifically, community. 

The quest for community has been an ongoing one for me. In coming to Georgetown, I desperately craved a sense of belonging. After spending my childhood moving across state lines and through friendships, I coveted a stable support system. I wanted to find the people I would journey through life with and while also meeting people from all walks of life. Although I spent my first year at Georgetown sitting in front of a Zoom screen, I was quickly moved by the shared desire for community I found on campus a year later. Amidst the dozens of exclusive club applications and filled Google Calendars, people, including myself, still did not feel a sense of being in community. From peer support spaces to fellowships in Campus Ministry, a common throughline I discovered was this collective yearning for belonging. People wanted to feel a part of something, connected to one another and the University itself. 

What I have learned over the course of my three years here is that this shared desire is something we can all cultivate. Community is something we practice. 

Community asks us to move beyond transactional relationships and what we can do to build our resumes or social clout, toward choosing to care for people holistically. In this way, ‘community’ is a verb.  As an action, it asks us to embody cura personalis, care for the whole person. It’s something we do, not solely imagine. Community is created in the open doors of support, in warm hugs and virtual check ins. It is created by supporting one another through the ups and downs, from held hands and open hearts at vigils to petition signatures and sit ins. 

Following my reflections in January on Dr. King’s sermon, I have found my relationship with community deepening. I leave doors open for  those I care about, and intentionally model how others can move beyond the transactional nature of Georgetown’s social scene. Once I began actively cultivating the feeling I wanted to be enveloped by and let go of the expectation that community would find me, I found the sense of belonging I was craving. By working to embody cura personalis, I realized that belonging and community starts from within. It starts within us.