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The Anatomy of the Modern Day Drum Major

By Rev. Joseph Lowery Contributing Columnist | 6/7/2013, 10:06 a.m.

This brief description of the state of equality and justice in America tells us that an astronomically higher level of service is needed - one that must replace any mindset of being recognized and awarded for every move. These statistics denote that people from the grassroots to Congress to the White House; people from the churches to the streets to the prisons; people from the educational institutions to the businesses to the civil rights organizations; people in every corner of our society much rise up and take leadership by placing their hands to the plows where they are. Without looking around to see who is looking, without seeking name recognition and reward - at every age and in every season - we must not shrink from the courage to say and to do that which is right.

This year is not only the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; but it is the 50th anniversary of those four little girls killed on September 15, 1963 in the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In Dr. King’s sermon at their funeral, he spoke of how they had not died in vain for even in their innocence their deaths sent multiple messages. 

Among those messages that they preached from the grave was the fact that they died nobly and they did not die in vain because “unmerited suffering is redemptive.” Yes, the deaths of those children, and even too many of our children today who have died by senseless violence and even at the hands of terrorists, have taught us that we must indeed temper courage with caution. 

But, in modern day America, we too often find ourselves - not cautious, but afraid. Instead of challenging the systems that oppress; instead of crying out in non-violent protest where it is warranted; instead of acting upon the courage of our convictions, we far too often live in fear of what we might lose or what we personally might not attain. But, the drum major instinct is one that is impeded by fear because it requires both vision and mobility. 

In order to attain an acceptable status of equality and justice in America, the drum majors of our communities must keep moving. That means, those of us who have been given much are required to give much. We must mentor the young, we must teach truth, we must take action where it is warranted, and by all means one of those actions must be to venture to the polls at every opportunity and vote. 

As we move this great nation forward, let us take a moment to recognize the drum major instinct within each of us. Let us take personal leadership of ourselves and yield to our individual responsibilities to make a difference. Then and only then, will we perfect the noble art of leadership. Only then will we - through our service - become “the chiefest among us.”

The Rev. Joseph Lowery was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in 2009, he continues to serve through numerous forums