Everybody can serve: We’re driving to Durham today to attend a school-wide spelling bee.
We know a third-grader who’s still in the hunt. She has a superb disposition, and she’s third-grade champ to boot.
On Wednesday, we decided to look at President Johnson’s now-famous speech in support of The Voting Rights Act. For its full text, click here.
Johnson wasn’t a good public speaker. That said, we were struck by an autobiographical chunk of the speech which came right near its end:
JOHNSON (3/15/65): People cannot contribute to the nation if they are never taught to read or write, if their bodies are stunted from hunger, if their sickness goes untended, if their life is spent in hopeless poverty just drawing a welfare check.“I mean to use it!”
So we want to open the gates to opportunity. But we are also going to give all our people, black and white, the help that they need to walk through those gates.
My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn't speak much Spanish.
My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes.
I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead.
Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.
I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me, in my fondest dreams, that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.
But now I do have that chance, and I'll let you in on a secret:
I mean to use it.
To watch Johnson's speech, just click here. The segment about Cotulla starts at 37:15.
What was Johnson “really like?” We have no idea. But that’s about as good a chunk of a speech as we’ve seen or heard.
Three years later, Dr. King spoke to a somewhat similar situation.
Dr. King worked among many people who hadn’t been given the opportunities which were standard elsewhere in his society. But he knew a deeper secret about the “average” people who powered the morally brilliant movement he helped lead.
No one ever served more than Dr. King did. To our ear, this is one of the most insightful things he ever said:
KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.Dr. King was big on dispensing with hate. Did Lyndon Johnson serve?
You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.