Learning circle strives to help neighbors visualize a “beloved community"

Rasheed Ajamu
A photo of a former learning circle with GREAT. (Photo courtesy of GREAT)

In Martin Luther. King Jr.’s  1957 “Birth of a New Nation” speech in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King described a “beloved community.” He theorized a “beloved community” as established through love, justice, and inclusivity by eliminating poverty, exploitation, colonialism, and imperialism — for all people. Next week, Germantown neighbors will have a chance to reimagine housing through that lens.

This past Wednesday, Germantown Residents for Economic Alternatives Together (GREAT) hosted the first session of this year’s first learning circle. While there have been previous learning circles on topics such as living economics (standard of living), alternative economies, and collective leadership, this cohort will learn about housing in a capitalistic society.

GREAT steering committee member, Marie-Monique Marthol, says that the learning circle is a non-hierarchal way for Germantown residents to learn together. 

“We have reading materials, a syllabus, and videos,” Marthol says, outlining the various tools used to help facilitate learning. “We discuss them, and we learn from each other, and we filter the material through our lived experience.”

While examining how capitalism affects housing, they will use Germantown-specific examples to help neighbors make better connections. In recent years, Gentrification has been changing Germantown rapidly and other parts of Philadelphia. Marthol says that providing neighbors’ imaginations with information and facts can help them think about what housing could look like compared to now.

“What could housing look like in Germantown,” Marthol questions, using “beloved community” as a basis. “If we absolutely treasured our neighbors and wanted them to remain here without regard for their income and their ability to afford the type of housing that’s currently being developed? And how do we get from what is now to what could be?”

Specific topics that neighbors will discuss during the learning circle include

  • Beloved Community
  • Extractive economy and living economy
  • Urban renewal history
  • Gentrification and displacement
  • Terms with bias
  • Zoning in Philly
  • The established “community engagement” process in Philadelphia
  • Tangled titles
  • Predatory homebuying
  • Community land trust

When asked about how it feels to be doing this work in the community, Marthol says it feels hopeful. 

She continues, saying, “And right on time because, for me, there is a sense of urgency. There’s urgency when we see these buildings going up on any little bit of land that can be found. Or historic buildings being demolished to make space for five-storey buildings that are expensive. We don’t see any low-income housing going up, you know? And that’s clearly not a priority, but our neighbors are being displaced. But right on time because we have to learn together in order to strategize and to have an effect of mobilizing people power.”

Germantown residents are encouraged to sign up, as they will begin regular sessions Wednesday, February 8. They will continue every Wednesday, via Zoom, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. through March 29, with two Sunday in-person sessions.

Visit their website to learn more about the learning circle and to sign up to join. Sample materials are listed on their website for folks who want to check out some of the things they will learn from.

***Please note that Germantown Info Hub’s community organizer is a member of GREAT but had zero participation in developing, writing, or editing this article.***


This article was originally published on Germantown Info Hub on February 3, 2023.