Raising the Boats of Others
“Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” With these words, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us that if we use our time, our talent and our faith to serve our communities, we can all achieve greatness.
In my lifetime, no one has epitomized the ideals of service through faith and education more than my grandmother, Eunice Carson Medford Blocker or, as we called her, “Mommy Eunice.” Despite her humble beginnings, Jim Crow and the South’s virulent racism, sexism and other impediments to her success, Mommy Eunice’s thirst for knowledge and her calling to serve resulted in her graduation from Livingstone College in 1930 at the tender age of sixteen, among other accomplishments. My grandmother’s determination, intellectual curiosity and civic-mindedness has been passed down to her family. Almost 87 years later, I will graduate from the LL.M. Taxation program at Loyola, and I will continue my work as an estate planning lawyer, helping families support their children, the elderly, and individuals with special needs. Mommy Eunice was great because she lived a life of service to others by lending a helping hand to her congregation, her students, her family and her community. I know I stand on the shoulders of giants when I carry on the family tradition of community outreach and support.
Unfortunately, the helping hand that was so needed in my grandmother’s time is still needed today. A rising tide is supposed to lift all boats; however, despite the ostensibly rising tide of wealth generated by the stimulus package implemented in reaction to the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, there are many in America – indeed, all over the world -- whose boats have not risen with that tide. Without hope for a better future, poverty can make people fearful, despairing and angry, stripping away dignity and perspective and sowing the seeds of hatred. I know this because times were lean when my sister and I were growing up in Queens, New York. Of course, mother and grandmother lived through even worse economic times, including World War II and the Great Depression. Our family survived because our community helped us, and we in turn, paid it forward to others. We worked hard, prayed without ceasing, ate a lot of government cheese, and no matter how difficult, we continued our education.
If my grandmother were alive today I know what she would tell me to do. She would encourage us to answer Dr. King’s call. It’s time we start raising the boats of others. We must begin by listening. There are voices across America that many of us have never heard. We need to hear them – really hear them – put our heads together to find the solutions, then roll up our sleeves and work together to get the job done. If we use our considerable powers to serve others, ensuring that the rising tides of economic and social progress lifts all boats, then we will embody Dr. King’s definition of greatness.
Editor’s Note: Carí Jackson Lewis penned an amazing essay entitled “We are American” that was posted on April 10, 2017. We hope to continue to post more from Carí in the future.