“And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. 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, 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.
Martin Luther King Jr. from his Drum Major Instinct Speech delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA on February 4, 1968 [this excerpt comes at 29:23 in video below]
On February 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., preached “The Drum Major Instinct” from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ironically, two months before his assassination on April 4, 1968, he told his congregation what he would like said at his funeral: “I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody” (King, “The Drum Major,” 185). Excerpts were played at King’s nationally televised funeral service, held at Ebenezer on 9 April 1968.
King’s sermon was an adaptation of the 1952 homily “Drum-Major Instincts” by J. Wallace Hamilton, a well-known, liberal, white Methodist preacher. Both men tell the biblical story of James and John, who ask Jesus for the most prominent seats in heaven. At the core of their desire was a “drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade” (King, “The Drum Major,” 170–171). King warns his congregation that this desire for importance can lead to “snobbish exclusivism” and “tragic race prejudice”: “Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior … and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first” (King, “The Drum Major,” 176; 178). Conversely, King preached that when Jesus responded to the request by James and John, he did not rebuke them for their ambition, but taught that greatness comes from humble servitude. As King put it, Jesus “reordered priorities,” and told his disciples to “Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love” (King, “The Drum Major,” 181; 182).
King used Jesus’ own life as an example of how the priority of love could provide greatness. In his biographical sketch of Jesus, King preached that Jesus owned nothing, and when public opinion turned against him he was called a “rabblerouser” and a “troublemaker” for “[practicing] civil disobedience” (King, “The Drum Major,” 183). King notes that, although by worldly standards Jesus was a failure, no one else has “affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life” (King, “The Drum Major,” 184).
King concluded the February 1968 sermon by imagining his own funeral. Urging the congregation not to dwell on his life’s achievements, including his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, King asked to be remembered as one who “tried to give his life serving others” (King, “The Drum Major,” 185). He implored his congregation to remember his attempts to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort prisoners. “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King intoned. “Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” (King, “The Drum Major,” 185–186).
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a defining moment each year when Americans across the country step up to make our communities more equitable and take action to create the Beloved Community of Dr. King’s dream. While Dr. King believed the Beloved Community was possible, he acknowledged and fought for systemic change. His example is our call to action.
Observed each year on the third Monday in January, MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. AmeriCorps has been charged with leading this effort for the past quarter century.
Making time to volunteer for MLK Day of Service is a great way to engage with your community while honoring the legacy of Dr. King. Whether you plan on cleaning up a public space, mentoring a young person, or assisting those who are food insecure, what you do makes a world of difference. Source: Americorp
3. Explore / Discover…
To honor Dr. King last year, I published a podcast / newsletter entitled
10 Must-See Treasures of MLK Nat'l Historical Park.
While hundreds of landmarks around the world are named in honor of Dr. King, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park is unique in that it preserves the actual places where Dr. King was born, lived, worked, and is buried. More than 700,000 local, national, and international visitors come to the park each year captivated by the man, his ideals and his courage.
The park consists of dozens of historic buildings — most of them built between 1890 and 1920 — spread over 38 acres. Many of these were part of Dr. King’s early and adult years. Source: NPS
In honor of the Black History Month 2021, I created a tour that encourages people to learn about twenty-one exemplary individuals who made a lasting impression on ATL. This interactive tour was modeled after a similar one I created last year called, Women of Distinction: 20 Women Who Made a Lasting Impression on Atlanta. Both are self-guided tours that you can take online or in person. The full experience consists of four elements:
A simple Matching Quiz that will establish a baseline for you. Please take this before and after you have experienced the tour. Share with your friends and family to see how well they know these leaders!
A two-part podcast & newsletter that provides biographical information about each leader as well as tips on how and where to connect with them. In some cases, the connecting point is a street named in their honor that you can walk, bike or drive on. In others, it’s a building or statue that you can visit.
An interactive map that identifies the locations of the various streets and monuments that were named to recognize their contributions to the City.
A Tour Log that you can use to keep track of the places you visit.