The following guest post is from Brandon Andrews, Senior Account Executive at MWW PR and Impact Director at IMPACT. Below, Brandon outlines how we can take Martin Luther King Jr’s message of service and social change beyond a day of service to create lasting, systemic social change through social entrepreneurship.
“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” This famous quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the standard of millions of volunteers who use the King Holiday as a day on instead of a day off; committing time and energy to improving their communities.
Each January, the MLK Holiday kicks off the year for community service in America. After spending a day, and for some, a weekend serving our communities, where do we go from here?
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) in 2014, 62.8 million American adults volunteered 7.9 billion hours with an estimated value of nearly $184 billion. Taking the CNCS MLK Day Challenge to serve year round is a natural next step. Organizations like Taproot Foundation match volunteers to non-profit organizations based on volunteer skills and organizational needs. In Washington, D.C. – SERVE DC – the mayor’s office on volunteerism, organizes large days of service throughout the year.
Sustainable volunteer efforts such as these assist organizations with achieving their social impact mission year-round, but is this enough?
In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech at the annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) aptly named “Where do we go from here?”
In this speech, Dr. King gives us a blueprint for taking our impact to the next level.
He begins by regaling the SCLC’s efforts to organize communities of faith to address issues of poverty and injustice over the previous decade. He uses the then-recent example of successful desegregation efforts in Grenada, Mississippi to represent the systematic dismantling of racial segregation in America.
Next, Dr. King highlights success from what would be his last campaign; the campaign for economic justice. He mentions work in Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois through SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket.
In 1962, Dr. King formed Operation Breadbasket to address the fundamental economic needs of poor communities. Through operation breadbasket, thousands of jobs bringing millions of dollars in new income to poor communities were secured. Following this success, Operation Breadbasket expanded into housing development and other areas that directly impact economic opportunity.
Dr. King lauded this success, built on the principle “If you respect my dollar, you must respect my person,” but Dr. King knew this was not enough. He lamented….
“With all the struggle and all the achievements, we must face the fact, however, that the Negro still lives in the basement of the Great Society…. Now, in order to answer the question, “Where do we go from here?” which is our theme, we must first honestly recognize where we are now”
From education to income to justice, Dr. King gave a sobering account of the state of inequality in America. A stark contrast from the soaring oratory that began his speech.
Despite the needed efforts of millions of volunteers today. Income inequality – as unhealthy for our economy as it is for the poor – continues to grow. From education to income to justice, many of the same communities that Dr. King spoke of in 1967 remain “in the basement of the Great Society.”
So, where do we go from here?
Dr. King’s resolve became correcting the philosophical understanding of love and power and placing it into the frame of the market system.
Dr. King explained the relationship, saying:
“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. (Yes) Power at its best [applause], power at its best is love (Yes) implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
For some, the concepts of social justice (love) and economic justice (power) have been contrast as opposites, and sometimes opposing paths to positive change. This has led some to reject the perceived evanescence of social action and others to reject the perceived amorality of economic gain.
He pulls on his study of philosophy and uses the dialectic – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – to challenge an economic system that creates poor citizens and locks them in cycles that starve them of resources, income, and education.
The solution does not lie in the thesis of social justice or the antithesis of economic justice, but in a higher synthesis. Today, we know that higher synthesis as social entrepreneurship; the development of market based ideas to solve pressing social problems.
Volunteering has and continues to be an effective way to create significant movement for social change through mission driven organizations. The billions of volunteer hours worked by Americans each year are necessary. However, to create lasting social change that impacts systems we must take Dr. King’s direction; the next step is social entrepreneurship.
In Washington, D.C. DC Social Innovation Project (DCSIP) identifies, invests in, and provides targeted resources for new socially innovative programs—with new ideas—that tackle pressing social issues.
Organizations like DCSIP and the innovative strategies they support are proof positive that many of Dr. King’s assertions about the economy in 1967, were and still are true. DCSIP grantees such as ScholarCHIPS, Wise Young Builders, and DC Urban Greens are addressing systemic challenges in education, income, and healthcare.
During his lifetime, Dr. King organized a ride-sharing service through the Montgomery Improvement Association that organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and a housing cooperative through Operation Breadbasket. In 1967 his words finally caught up with his already practiced theory of change.
As we take inventory of our national day of service dedicated to honoring the legacy of Dr. King and ask “what’s next?”we should follow his example.
Brandon Andrews is a communicator, digital strategist, and legislative specialist. Stay connected with Brandon on Twitter at @Brandontalk.
Want to guest post with us? Send an email to Jalisa Whitley at firstname.lastname@example.org