Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Common Good

Monday was MLK's birthday.

As part of my job, I serve on a volunteer committee that plans an annual celebration of his legacy. So I spent a few hours at the Methodist church in Ridgewood, NJ, on Monday, being reminded of the relevance of that legacy to what's happening in the world today.

The keynote speaker was New Jersey Public Defender Yvonne Smith Segars, who focused her remarks on the theme our committee had assigned to this year's event: "Working for the Common Good." I confess to not really warming up to this theme. I know it was what Dr. King's work was all about--and am familiar with his famous words to the effect that if something's not good for one, it's not good for anyone. But I had a hard time connecting to it in a personal way.

Ms. Segars changed all that in the space of 5 minutes. She asked everyone in the audience to think of one thing they could do this year that would better the community. And she took no prisoners--threatening to call on us to ensure that we took her seriously. She then asked people to share.

Four or five people raised their hands and publicly committed to their goals. Then, one by one, Ms. Segars asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to help them. Within 60 seconds, each person had two or three supporters. "Now you have a committee!" she said. To cap off the exercise, she volunteered her support as well.

It was an exercise so elegant in its simplicity that it took my breath away. I left the church, came home, and took a giant step toward making my goal a reality: I signed up as a volunteer for the 2011 Women Build project with the Paterson Habitat for Humanity. It's something I've talked about doing for years. But in the glare of Ms. Segars' spotlight, my past excuses seem pretty flimsy.

So--this is my public declaration. I hope it will serve to hold me accountable. And if anyone wants to join me--send an email to Pat Sisti at

1 comment:

  1. I have been volunteering at a place close to my heart in its mission. The energy it creates is amazing!