On the occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, I am honored to share an article of mine that ran in the Tulsa World.
On Monday, as we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., people across the nation will come together to serve in ways as diverse as the tapestry of America’s people.
Right here in Tulsa, thousands will attend our annual MLK Day parade, which this year will include a student-organized food drive to benefit families struggling with hunger. I hope you will support the teens of REV Tulsa by joining them at ONEOK Field after the parade to contribute, collect and sort cans of food.
In doing so, you will help feed our neighbors and impart to the young people of Tulsa the importance of making an ongoing commitment to volunteering and civic engagement.
The teens are operating under the auspices of the Youth Philanthropy Initiative, a program our foundation launched in 2004 to teach youth the value of civic and philanthropic participation. It is built on the recognition that our privilege and responsibility as human beings to help others and our community must begin at a young age.
I was raised in a household where giving back was a core value. Some of my fondest childhood memories were of holding my father’s hand as we visited elderly people who had nobody else to care for them. In turn, when my late husband, Charlie, and I were young parents just starting out, we worked to teach our kids that each of us is worth what we are willing to give to others. When we had our family Shabbat dinner to honor the day of rest in the Jewish faith, we would always have on the table a tzedakah (charity) box for the weekly donations.
Today, as a philanthropist, mother and grandmother, the lessons I learned from my father and the values I shared with my husband remain of paramount importance. At a time of partisanship and conflict, service is a powerful human connector. It is a tie that binds us together, volunteers to volunteers, those served to those serving.
Though the task may seem daunting, there are tangible steps we can take to make service an integral part of what it means to be a Tulsan.
As individuals, we can commit ourselves to making service more prominent in our lives and to encouraging our friends and families to serve. Even in our busy schedules, we can find time to prepare meals at a soup kitchen, make care packages or visit the elderly.
As organizations, we can provide time for our employees to serve and even partner with youth initiatives to do it. This will grow the number of opportunities enabling people to address real world needs and provide mentoring for our youth.
As a community, we can support partnerships and collaborations that offer young people the impetus and chance to serve. We can also invest in the leadership and infrastructure needed to increase the scale, quality and impact of those programs.
I believe we have an opportunity to inspire the young people of our community to mobilize around their passions and make a difference in our world.
As we prepare to celebrate on Monday, Dr. King’s words are memorialized in our hearts. “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. … You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
But our service cannot last just one hour or even one day. We have to foster a lifelong commitment to enhancing our own lives as we better the lives of others. In the year ahead and beyond, I hope we will begin to forge a community in which service is prevalent, prominent and powerful. As experience has taught me, life truly begins when we begin to serve.