In the days following April 4, 1968, and the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I came to understand the true significance of the man, the movement he represented and what it truly means to be a servant leader.
I was only 11 years old then and, as I grew older, I wanted to know more about the man who could elicit such fervent emotion and love from so many. I sought his writings and as I learned more about him and his philosophy of nonviolence, his deeply held belief in equality for all and his commitment to service, I found a beacon of light to follow.
I’m still learning. And the more I learn about Dr. King, the more I try to live in that light, especially when it comes to what he called “life’s most persistent and urgent question”: What are you doing for others?
It’s a question that takes on even more significance at the start of a new year when we look at the days and months ahead and wonder where we might apply our efforts. To work or school. To getting ahead and the needs of family.
I hope this year you’ll set time and energy aside for those in need. I hope you’ll find such efforts to be persistent and urgent.
As we look toward MLK Day and a day of service, I’m reminded it will be our first without Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who passed away last month.
On the first Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday in 1986, Archbishop Tutu was awarded the King Peace Prize at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. In presenting the award, Coretta Scott King said, “Like Martin, Bishop Tutu possesses faith that dissipates despair.”
Bishop Tutu admired Dr. King, adopting his philosophy of nonviolence in the fight against South Africa’s system of apartheid and for racial equality the world over.
Bishop Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
It might have been in direct answer to Dr. King’s question. What are you doing for others? A little bit of good.
So much wisdom from these great servant leaders devoted to peace and equality. So many footsteps in which to follow.
My colleagues and I work every day to uphold the commitment to equality for all set forth by St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, who dedicated our mission “to the parable of the Good Samaritan, to love and care for our neighbor, regardless of color or creed.”
At the time those words were written, there was no St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It was still five years from opening in Memphis, in the segregated South. There was little more, really, than faith and a dream to dissipate despair among families whose children suffered with cancer.
Loving and caring, in the hands and hearts of St. Jude supporters, have helped overwhelm and unite the world.
St. Jude became reality thanks to all of you, our supporters, who had faith and compassion and a resolute dedication to doing, as Bishop Tutu suggested, a little bit of good.
This Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day — and throughout the year — I hope you’ll reflect on Dr. King and all he stood for. I hope you will act with purpose and in service to your community and the world at large. And I ask that you take up this mission, just as Danny did, to love and care for your neighbor.