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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Smith

Call for Servant Leadership from Dr. Martin Luther King

Updated: Jan 15

Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day is an official day of service that celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy. 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.

As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, it is good to recall his speech to the Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968. King's "Drum Major Instinct" sermon encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service and love. Dr. King concluded the sermon by imagining his own funeral, downplaying his famous achievements including the Nobel Peace prize, and emphasizing his heart to do right.

“I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say on that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”

…serving humanity.

All of us who are providing engineering services for NASA aspire to serve humanity through the contributions we make to NASA missions like Artemis, James Webb Telescope, the X-59 supersonic plane, planetary probes to explore the solar system, planetary defense, and infrastructure modernizations that enable these and many other missions. In a broader context, we serve others and our communities in many ways such as STEM initiatives to inspire future generations or help teachers.

Robert K. Greenleaf, founder of the modern servant leadership movement and the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership has said “The servant leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. The conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead … The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.”

As a new year begins, we each have opportunities to make a difference with individuals or groups. Find someone to encourage through words or actions. Volunteer to help. Follow Dr. King’s example of servant leadership.


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