Have you seen the documentary film, “Tell Them We Are Rising” that explores how historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have shaped American history, culture, and national identity? It was created by filmmaker Stanley Nelson and covers almost 170 years of history. You can watch it online on the PBS website until March 22.
Spoiler Alert: My main character Karma pledged the Beta Tau Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority at Morgan State University like yours truly. Her mother is also a Sigma (like my mom, great-grandmother, and great-aunt). Her cousins are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (like my great aunt) and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Her best friend is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity (like my grandfather, great-uncle, and cousin). Her uncle is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Her aunt is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
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.
Today I am celebrating my sorority Sigma Gamma Rho’s Founder’s Day (established in 1922 – www.sgrho1922.org) and the Charter for Compassion (http://charterforcompassion.org or http://twitter.com/thecharter). When I joined Sigma in 1983, I learned firsthand that in order to practice its motto of “Greater Service, Greater Progress,” I needed to have compassion in my heart. That’s why I am so excited about the Charter for Compassion. It is a reminder to give myself compassion so that I can share it with others through service.
My Art Every Day Month adventures this week have centered on collages and poems about compassion. Check out the video below which features my two collages. You can also hear me read two compassion poems. Enjoy!
On Sunday morning, I served as a volunteer yoga teacher for my free monthly yoga class (http://yoga.meetup/584) in Malcolm X-Meridian Hill Park (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meridian_Hill_Park), a local slice of paradise in my U Street neighborhood in DC. After the class, I walked up 16th Street to All Souls Unitarian Church (www.all-souls.org) and picked some leaves from various trees. One leaf was shaped in a heart. It was yellow and green. It reminded me of my intention to maintain an open heart. This morning, I created a collage by pasting the heart-shaped leaf on a green piece of construction paper. I also wrote a statement about gratitude on the collage: I am grateful for waking up and seeing Mother Nature in a new day. While reading page 168 of Wreck This Journal, I decided to paste my collage as a secret message in my journal. I used the last two digits of the year I became a debutante for Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. as my secret page. That was a lot of fun to remember. I had big fun with the debutante training process and coming out celebration. What great memories!
I also enjoyed playing on the following pages:
Page 142 asked me to create a sign of what I wanted to say. I wrote a wisdom message that I have been using all week: be grateful for everything and everyone.
Page 122 asked me to trace my hand. I traced my left hand with a black ballpoint pen and thought about how I use my left brain (logical, analytical, objective, and rational) to manage the publication process of my new book, That Which Awakens Me: A Creative Woman’s Poetic Memoir of Self-Discovery (Summer 2009 – iUniverse, Inc.). My left brain has been spearheading the final stages of my book publication process (something I have tried to escape because all I wanna do this summer is play!).
Page 112 invited me to infuse the page with a smell of my choice. This was so much fun. I used my lavender oil and rubbed it on the page. Now my book smells fresh like lavender! Lovely!!!!!
Page 138 told me to write with my left hand. This was silly. I ended up writing “love is all we have.” I can barely read the message!!!!
Page 115 and 116 encouraged me to close my eyes and connect the dots from memory. My lines were all over the place. A few connected the dots. The exercise made me laugh a lot. It was all about CREATIVE PLAY!!!!!
Page 150 felt good to do because it told me lose the page, throw it out, and accept the loss. I needed to do this exercise. Last week I started releasing a lot of clutter in my home and life. After I dumped everything, I felt so much spaciousness in my home and heart. I also felt a sense of loss. I got a little stuck in a sad place until I realized that I needed to accept the loss.