Building the Beloved Community in Omaha


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke of the end goal of his activism as the “beloved community,” a love and understanding among all people that “will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age.”

It was in that spirit that more than three hundred people from all walks of life came together last Monday in Omaha to break bread with one another and to serve their community in the name of Dr. King.

“There is no better way of combating fear and hatred and misunderstanding than to actually meet your neighbors,” said Lacey Studnicka, executive director of Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, which supports refugees in the state. “I wanted to meet my neighbors and be in fellowship and celebration with them.”

Community members enjoyed food catered by a local Afghan restaurant, heard from a diverse interfaith panel, and tied together blankets that will be donated to refugee families through Lutheran Family Services. Attendees also viewed #WhatIFoughtFor, VFAI’s portrait project that highlights the stories of veterans and the refugees in their lives. A number of kid-friendly activities rounded out the evening, including face painting and writing welcome letters to refugees.

The event was made possible through a grant from Islamic Relief USA and coordinated by the VFAI Iowa-Nebraska team in collaboration with more than half a dozen partners from the faith and education communities—Beth El Synagogue, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-Omaha Stake, University of Nebraska-Omaha, Tri-Faith Initiative, the Goldstein Center for Human Rights, American Muslim Institute, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, and Karadah Project International.

“One Jewish member of our planning committee remarked that it was crazy that they had never done much with the church that sat next door,” said Army veteran Rick Burns, co-leader of VFAI Nebraska-Iowa. “We are never stronger than when we are united in a common effort to make the world a better place.”

Another VFAI member, Air Force veteran Megan Carr, agreed. “This sort of community gathering is valuable in order to show that even though it feels as though we can be divided here in Omaha, we can stand together as a united front in a show of solidarity from all backgrounds, religions, and ethnicity. It’s a great reminder that we are all neighbors and should be treated as such.” all.png

"In Omaha we are fortunate to be a city where refugees and SIV's have always been and continue to be welcome. I am blessed to be part of this community and want to share that honor with as many as I can."  -- Sharon Rubio-West, U.S. Marine Veteran and VFAI Nebraska-Iowa co-leader