In the 7th grade, we were asked to write an essay on who was our hero. I remember standing around at the back of the classroom when my friend, an African American girl, asked me who I wrote about. I told her Dr. King was my hero. She looked at me and said, “I wrote about him, too.” That moment has stuck with me for over ten years. To me, that moment for exemplifies the call to serve. That two young women, one white and the other black, could look at the same man and see a hero.
Dr. King gave humanity a call to serve. How will you answer?
King has played an important role from my first interactions with African Americans as a young white girl from a rural white community in Pennsylvania to my courses in college to my years of service with AmeriCorps. Through sharing my experience with service, I hope to inspire you to serve your community.
If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.
And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) 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.
Excerpt from King’s speech, The Drum Major Instinct delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on February 4, 1968.
Over the past two and a half, I have served my country through a government sponsored full-time volunteer program called AmeriCorps and have completed over 3,000 hours of service. I knew from a young age that I wanted to serve and briefly considered military service, which I decided against since I consider myself to be a nonviolent person.
Not everyone can or even wants to commit three years to service. I’m not here to say that’s the right path for everyone. But I do believe we can incorporate service into our everyday lives whether it’s holding the door for someone, picking up litter or donating to a charity. Anyone can serve.
6 Ways to Get Started on Volunteering in Your Community
- Organize a community cleanup with a local non-profit focusing on the environment.
- Foster animals from an animal shelter.
- Donate what you can to a cause you care deeply about even if it’s just $5 or $10.
- Visit the nursing home and hang out with the people who live there. What stories do they have to tell?
- Tutor and mentor young children through an organization.
- Speak out against hurtful, racist and homophobic language when you hear it. Change the way people speak negatively about others.