Today I listened to NPR journalist Michel Martin’s conversation with James Braxton Peterson, assistant professor of English and Africana Studies at Bucknell University, about the meaning of service and its connection to Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.’s legacy of service. It was aired on Martin’s NPR show, Tell Me More on January 18. Click here to listen to the conversation (11 minutes): www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122626581.
I was really moved by Professor Peterson’s definition of service:
“Service has got to be not just the action but also a mind state and that’s something that’s got to be sustained over the course of the year, throughout your life. It’s a very, very important act, particularly people of color and people who come from certain circumstances understand that service is what helps folk who are underprivileged to rise above and transcend their own circumstances.”
I totally agree with the idea that service is a mind state. My mind state of service started when I was growing up in my parents’ home. They both believed in service to their family, friends, local neighborhood in P.G. County, Maryland, and St. Joseph Catholic Church.
My mother exposed me to the meaning of service through her active membership and participation in Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Sigma’s motto is “Greater Service, Greater Progress.” It became my personal motto when I joined Sigma in 1983. It also helped me develop my personal plan on how I contribute to my community and the world.
During Martin’s radio show, Professor Peterson also shared the following remarks:
- “Remember, the idea around service is that it’s grassroots so that if everyone does a little bit, then actually that’s where the movement comes in. So, every small contribution does count. And listen, if you don’t have time contributing a few dollars to particularly service-oriented organization, it’s very, very important.”
- “Part of community service is being an outstanding, contributing citizen within your community. That’s the first step, that you actually are someone who handles their own economic business, their family business and is responsible as a citizen in the United States.”
- “So if everyone helps the elderly person to cross the street or if everyone goes into a school and tries to mentor one child even if it’s for one day, that’s going to be very, very powerful. That’s going to be extremely powerful. So, every little bit counts. We’re thinking aggregate here. And we’re thinking and hoping that everyone will rise to the challenge and the responsibility of service in our society.”
WOW! Professor Peterson’s really hit home with me. They made me go back and read my path of service discussed in my new book, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery (available on Amazon.com – http://tiny.cc/7uFsg). I have included an excerpt below.
Excerpt from Chapter Seven: Service. Vocation. Answering Your Life’s Calling. (one of my favorite six-word memoirs – www.smithmag.net)
Copyright 2009 by Madelyn C. Leeke
The Birth of Service
A thousand thoughts ran through my mind as I tried to trace the birth of service in my life.
Three thoughts cemented themselves into my psyche.
Thought #1 – My parents taught me the more you have, the
more you are called to give through service they provided to
their neighborhood, church community, and membership
Thought #2 – The Catholic Church reinforced this teaching by
promoting charity to others.
Thought #3 – Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority required its
members to perform community service as an extension of its
motto: Greater Service, Greater Progress.
One question followed.
How did these thoughts shape my ideas and commitments to
My journal opened itself and soul searching unfolded onto its
Each page was decorated with one sentence.
I read them out loud and realized they were affi rmations I can
use to create a service creed for guidance and reminders.
I serve because I want to honor my ancestors by leaving Mother
Earth better than I found her.
I serve based on a family legacy that cherishes giving back through
I serve from the center of my spirit which is rooted in sacred
teachings that promote charity, compassion, and contemplative
I serve individuals, communities, and organizations that connect
to my deepest passions: creativity, healing, yoga, meditation, Reiki,
green living, people of color, and women.
I serve because my work contributes to greater service, greater
I serve because giving creates a vacuum for receiving, completes a
cycle of abundance, and says to the universe I claim my oneness
with everyone and everything.
What is your definition of service?
How do you serve in your life?
Enjoy your day and week!
Peace, Creativity, Compassion, and Service,