In November 2007, after the last gavel of the international Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) conference fell, I joined a busload of colleagues on a tour of Atlanta’s civil rights landmarks.
I knew it would be a brush with history that I had experienced from afar as a child. What I underestimated was the personal impact that that experience would have on me that afternoon.
I was a child of the ‘60s, not quite 10 years old in the spring and summer of 1968. I was a working-class white girl from Cheyenne, Wyoming, far from the true struggles that so many had endured over the decades preceding and the violent conflict that had grown and taken the lives of two giants – Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
As we walked the streets of the neighborhood, a different kind of power washed over me: the power of collective action. Through sheer will, hard work, and a vision of what was possible, community organizers had helped to return the area from a broken-down shell to a vibrant space where families and friends could live and work together. That neighborhood is a visual reminder of the potential that can be fulfilled when people gather for a common purpose.
I took away two messages that day: the historic significance of the events signified there, and the triumph of the spirit for a common good. I will never experience personally the kind of sacrifices represented on those streets, but walking them affirmed for me what I know to be true and what has driven my adult service and activism in the past 25+ years: great things are possible when we all work together.
On this Martin Luther King Day/National Day of Service, I celebrate those who choose to serve as nonprofit leaders – specifically, as members of nonprofit boards. You provide the vision of a better future, through your organizational missions, and the leadership to bring life to that vision. So much focus leading up to today has been on working in the trenches and on the front lines in service to others. It goes without saying that I honor that critical work. But I also want to celebrate the unique contributions that our board leaders make to creating the better future that we all desire.