One of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King says anyone can be great, because any of us can serve.
He reminds us that you don’t have to be incredibly bright or skilled, “you don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. . . you only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Growing up, I knew incredibly generous Black women who embodied that meaning of greatness. One of them was my grandmother, who in her 60’s, adopted the 5-year old daughter of a friend.
Hit by a car, the young girl was paralyzed from the waist down. My grandmother’s friend said that she couldn’t do it – she couldn’t take care of her own daughter. So my grandmother did it. For the next 25 years, my grandmother raised her, provided for her, and helped her to grow into an independent woman who would choose a partner and raise two children of her own.
I was reminded of the greatness of the unsung heroines and heroes who commit their lives to service when I listened to the Oakland-born Malaak Compton Rock (at the recent Madam CJ Walker Luncheon) describe her story and personal journey from the time she was a young girl watching her mother engage with social causes. Her mother, Gayle Fleming, included the young Malaak in her activities, whether that be attending a rally, meeting with a nonprofit, or door-to-door canvassing for a political candidate.
Commitment to serving others became integral to Malaak’s life, personal mission and employment, and she went on to work for the US Fund for UNICEF, then started her own organizations: Styleworks, providing image consulting to women moving from welfare to work and then Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service, which takes NY teens (many of whom have never left NY before) to South Africa to meet and learn from their young counterparts.
Of Journey for Change, Malaak says, “Ultimately we want them to return to the US encompassing a greater sense of understanding for their blessings, to dream big, and to challenge themselves to become the best young people they can be.”
Malaak’s new book, If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service, and 100+ Ways You Can Too, is a rallying call for action, engagement and service. The book blends personal stories from ordinary people who’ve gotten involved with causes that touch their hearts with how-to tips on choosing organizations to support – whether through donations, volunteering, or promotions.
She also talks about how to start your own organization, how to reach out to and engage celebrities, and ultimately how each of us can tap our passions in order to improve our communities and ultimately, the world.
This message of whole-hearted engagement is one that those of us who communicate and fundraise on behalf of good causes simply can’t afford to miss. We can’t afford to think only in terms of raising donations for our organizations, because while money is important, it’s not enough.
We need to make sure that we’re inspiring and moving people to get involved by tapping into their passions, encouraging them to make connections between what they care about personally and what they see going on in the world outside of themselves.
To realize a better world, we have to encourage all of us to realize our greatness, our unlimited capacity to serve with love and grace.