“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
Martin Luther King day is a very special day for me.
It’s a day of great reflection where I allow myself time to think of and be thankful for the many sacrifices of the past, and look at my life personally and professionally to evaluate and determine how I am currently fitting as well as how I could better fit into working to continue a legacy of progress.
When I think of my identification as an African-American, I consider myself to be a product of hundreds of years of struggle.
I am greatly moved, sometimes to the point of tears when I think of the tremendous amount of sacrifices that were made by many people of color and their allies to ensure that their children would be able to live their lives treated as human beings; having the same opportunities, rights, and protections under the constitution as any other citizen in this country.
Their stories must continue to be told….lest we forget..
Willing to Serve….
In addition to having a sincere vision and purpose, as well as having a great deal of courage, and a commitment to something greater than themselves, I think a very important element that went into following through on those sacrifices was a willingness to serve.
I love Dr. King’s words on service. The way that he laid them out so passionately in “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon on February 4th, 1968 are still relevant today and continue to inspire me.
(can’t see the video? Click Here.)
“..everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”
There’s Plenty of Room
I love this definition of greatness through service because it leaves room at the table for all of us.
No matter what your position is, no matter what your interests are, you can be great, because you can serve. No matter what challenges you might have faced, or may currently be facing, you can be great, because you can serve. As a matter of fact, I’m a firm believer that our life experiences and challenges can sometimes enhance our abilities to help others.
For instance, I believe that my experiences with racism, including how I perceive things as a result of it, as well as how I think I am perceived based on my status as a person of color have not only been the catalysts to my learning about my own oppression, but has also given me a sensitivity to be able to see inequality in groups other than my own.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity”.
“peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal..”
One of the ways that I try to make good on the legacy that was left for me by Dr. King and so many other freedom fighters of the past lies in using myself in service by working to build more equitable and inclusive communities and to increase intercultural understanding with students and community members through conflict resolution through non-violent communication, and social action.
Through this work I have had many opportunities to teach others about my own experiences, and to learn about the experiences of others across social identities including race & ethnicity, religion & spirituality, sexual orientation, sex, gender and gender identity, ability status, age, and class.
These opportunities have given me broader perspectives on social inequalities, as well as the complexities of oppression in its many forms. In addition to seeing how oppression plays out in the broader society, I can also look for the oppressor within myself, and look for ways to shed those attitudes and behaviors.
I can truly say that in my work my focus has expanded from wanting to work specifically toward improving race relations, to wanting to improve intergroup relations between people
The desire to improve race relations remains an important driving force for me to continue my work, however my approach has become more inclusive as a result of gaining an emerging understanding of experiences with oppression from people who have social identities that are different from my own, and having opportunities to look for connections in those experiences.
As Dr. King said: We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”
“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
My heart remains full with gratitude to the ancestors who paved the way, but I also believe that we have an obligation to work for the next generation because there are battles that still exist.
Remember, there’s room at the table for all of us. No matter what your position is, no matter what your interests are, you can be great, because you can serve. No matter what challenges you might have faced, or may currently be facing, you can be great, because you can serve.
The greatest among us shall be our servants. “You only need a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love…and you can be that servant.”
How will you be great and serve? How do you fan the flames?
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW