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As the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington is present, I want to discuss what I believe, is one of the most inspiring sermons by Dr. Martin Luther King. When listening to “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon, the last sermon that Dr. King presented before he was assassinated, I get motivated, emotional, inspired, and overwhelmed all in the same instance. I have listened to this sermon quite often, whenever I am feeling like the life of service I’ve chosen is a small feat compared to really changing the world , or remembering that it may not yield the financial status I wish in order to be comfortable. This sermon takes me back to the essence of why I do what I do, and why I chose to impact the world around me in this capacity. When I think about the desires of my life, I think about my innate need to witness social change on a regular basis. I am addicted, its like a drug. I love seeing a life change because of the amount of potential I see in the individuals around me, and through catering to those gifts, they are able to achieve their individual possibilities. For me, its like Christmas.
This post is for people like me, people like you. This post is for the servant. This post is for encouragement. This post is for the individuals that are out there in their 20-somethings, 50-somethings, 100-somethings consistently trying to make a difference. This is for you.
The basis of his sermon comes from the notion of operating as a servant leader and this scripture in the Bible:
11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
I want to share with you how I feel about your life as a servant. No, you didn’t ask my opinion, but I am going to tell you exactly how I feel.
1. Thank you: Thank you for caring. Thank you for taking that pay cut in order to to work for a nonprofit that drives your being instead of your pockets,(not saying you won’t ever be comfortable, but let’s face it, you most likely won’t be making as much as your business counterpart). Your humbled endeavors will be rivaled for years to come, maybe not nationally, maybe not locally, but the dedication to your craft of service will be remembered forever by the lives you have consciously and subconsciously touched. You are exalted in their minds, in unimaginable ways, and you hold that title of “life-changer” and “hero” because you gave them the very essence of you. There will never be anyone like you, ever. You have something to give, and I thank you so much for sharing that thing with your world.
2: Your Dirty Hands = Cleaner Futures : Because you chose the life of a servant, because you chose to dedicate your life to others, your hands will get dirty. Its a fact. Sometimes you tackle issues that others want to sweep under the rug, issues that seem impossible to deal with, and societal constructs that others rather talk about and criticize than come up with solutions on. You are one brainstorming and putting in place the foundation for change to happen. Yes, you. The individual that has chosen to go against the grain of conformity and find the missing links of social justice, human rights, poverty, the distribution of wealth, disparities within education, all of it, all of the gritty stuff. Your mind is consumed with these things, more often than not. It takes up a lot of your brain-space, but you don’t care. This is the reason you are who you are. You are in the trenches. You are the greatest among us. You are the epitome of a servant leader
3. Back Up and Relax I need you to take a deep breath. Ok now take one more. YOU WILL BE FINE. I truly believe in a divine power, and I believe that that power, God, has placed you exactly where you need to be at this appointed time. According to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, I am an INFJ , and with being an INFJ , I am constantly wondering about how I can be a better person, a better servant, a better professional, a better leader, but I fail to realize, if I don’t take care of myself, there will be no need to think about those things. Worry too much about the future makes you forget the beauty of today. Just live. Do what you can. Be dynamic. Be great, and just live. You are on an amazing path. Just keep moving forward and changing those lives. You got this.
So I said how I feel, and I think you are awesome, but I want to know how you feel. Are you a servant in the nonprofit or for-profit sector? What are some things you have to keep reminding yourself? What gifts do you have and what makes your servitude special? I want to hear it!
It was good that we were all here together when it happened. The light jokes about stealing food out of the office refrigerator and hoarding the bagels and cream cheese from the earlier orientation made the situation more manageable. Making light of not getting paid on time by hashing out witty puns between us was our way of dealing with a a pretty messed up situation, according to all of us. I think at one point I even said I wasn’t going to eat for the rest of the day because I had like 7 bucks to my name. Underlying all the discourse back and forth was a obvious sentiment that we really didn’t have to go to the extremes we were mentioning. In the back of our minds, we were very well aware that we had someone out there to fall back on, and the feeling of uncertainty would be shortly lived. I know in the back of all our minds, we are also very aware that there is someone out there who experiences that reality, that feeling of uncertainty, on a daily basis, and they don’t have any sense of what a safety net is.
I live on the poverty level, by choice. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, a federal national service program fighting poverty , and as a part of my year of service at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits in Atlanta GA, I took an oath at PSO training to live on the poverty level in order to connect more closely to the individuals we serve, and to have a deeper understanding of the lifestyle that’s lived by the people we have committed a year to assist.
I think I am a pretty reflective person, always trying to look a little deeper into situations that happen around me and thinking of the implications of its aftermath . After getting paid 4 days late, and having a mini freak out, I actually came to the realization that in the big scheme of things, that although there was a technical screw up with the payroll, AmeriCorps actually fulfilled its mission even further and inadvertently immersed its VISTA members into understanding how life is for the millions of people who live in poverty in the U.S. on a daily basis. Inconsistency in pay, and basic needs are nothing new for the individuals who live in poverty.For those individuals, life is full of inconsistencies. Inconsistencies with shelter, food, warmth… basic needs that are pertinent for survival, personal, and physical growth. Just some stats…
More than one in every four Georgia children – 28.8% of our children – now live in food insecure households. This is up from 28.3% last year. The USDA defines food insecurity as the lack of access to adequate food resulting from the lack of money and other resources. (Feeding America, Map the Meal Gap: Child Food Insecurity 2011. Data released June 2013.)
From 2000 to 2010, the number of poor individuals in the Atlanta metro suburbs more than doubled, growing by 122%. (Source: U.S. Census, cited: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/the-avenue/posts/2011/09/22-metro-poverty-berube-kneebone)
10.9% – more than one in every ten senior citizens in Georgia – are living in poverty. (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey Profile. Data released Sept. 2012.)
I am a part of these demographics, but only for a year. I have the choice to walk away from this life and possibly never return(depending upon circumstances, you never know) . Everyone does not have that choice or those opportunities. In these past 4 days of not receiving pay on time, I have gotten just a small glimpse into the constant “pins and needles” emotions that are experienced from not having a weekend that is financially stable, let alone a day, or an hour, that is monetarily inconsistent, but I have gotten only that, a glimpse. I cannot imagine what people who live through this have to go through nor will I falsely promote that I know what they experience. I still have a safety net. The only thing I can give is my understanding and hopefully through the personal growth I experienced during this situation, I am able to continuously work for the change of systems, stigmas, and infrastructures that perpetuate poverty and all things associated with it. I can only do what I can in my power to bring awareness,understanding and resources.
Things Learned and Confirmed
- Poverty does not equal lazy.
- Contrary to popular belief, it is not always by choice.
- Constant inconsistent structures and lack of education on poverty only perpetuate the sentiments behind it.
- Individuals who live in poverty are not poor people. There is a difference.
I can help, but I vow chose my words wisely, and not act like I know what it feels like, because I don’t. I get to go home and eat. Others can’t. So thanks AmeriCorps, you scared me for a bit, but because of your mix-up, I grew a little more, and your goal was still continuously fulfilled.
And a word to all the AmeriCorps VISTA members out there and service members around the world, Nelson Mandela sums this all up pretty well,
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
Peace. Love. Understanding.
I’m this 20-something year old dreamer who lives by the words I write and the dreams I create. I have envisioned this perfect “career” life for myself and decided to write it down. This is my faith biography, these are my aspirations, my dreams, the actual blueprint to the rest of my life. When I look back at it and read it, i literally laugh out loud because I have absolutely NO IDEA how I am going to make all of this happen, but after all, i’m only 24, I still have time….right?? And by the way, I’ve done about 25% of this….
Breauna Hagan has dedicated her life to social change through volunteerism. She serves as an independent volunteer management and training consultant/facilitator and currently provides training and assistance to a number of small and large nonprofit organizations in the areas of strategic volunteer management, volunteer teambuilding, volunteer program evaluation, and orientation facilitation. She also serves as a facilitator for national service programs such as AmeriCorps and PeaceCorps, training volunteers for the field of service. Breauna started her official career serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, and then moving on to serve as VISTA Leader. In this position is where she gained her passion and love for national service and volunteering. Since then, she has continuously moved up in her career and title serving a number of nonprofits in the area of program and volunteer management. For her official “9 to 5” she currently serves as the Director of Volunteer Programs and Initiatives for a nonprofit dedicated to service, human rights, humanitarian relief, and refugees worldwide, and travels globally to assist international volunteer programs on a yearly basis. She has also conducted a number of workshops in the community centered on service and leadership. In the past, she has volunteered with a number of organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, R.E.A.D.Y. 2000, Voces Unidas, and YNPN Atlanta, and sits on the board of various Atlanta based nonprofits. During the next phase of her career, she will be cutting the ribbon to the International Center for Training and Leadership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering the next generation of leaders locally, nationally, and globally. Family is also very important to her and she has assisted her mother in opening up a highly recognized nonprofit youth group home, Mama D’s House and assisted her father in writing an award winning New York Times bestseller on the modern African-American farmer. Breauna received her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Georgia Southern University (’11), and a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management from Georgia State University (’15 Summa Cum Laude). She has a loving husband and two beautiful children. In her spare time she likes thrift shopping, watching movies, and spending time with her family.