Evoking the Drum Major: Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr’s Legacy


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, a seminal moment in the history of civil rights in America.  Yet, for high impact donors and all those seeking positive change, it’s his less well-known final sermon – the Drum Major Instinct – that keeps coming to mind.

In that sermon, King challenges his audience to seek greatness, but to be wary of its perversion – to understand what we’re being drum majors for. In summarizing a story he said,

“Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be.  … “Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity.”

I first read the transcript of that sermon last year in Mexico at Opportunity Collaboration, a self-described “poverty alleviation unconference”. Although King’s words were spoken from the pulpit of an African-American church, they resonated among my fellow delegates from around the world. So today, in honor of Dr. King’s enduring legacy, here’s to all people who have chosen to serve as drum majors for social impact.