Service to a cause greater than self is a guiding value at City Year Tulsa. As we celebrate Black History Month, we honor Martin Luther King Jr. and his dedication to ensuring equality for his beloved community. We reached out to Devin Fletcher, the Chief Learning Officer at Tulsa Public Schools to write about how Dr. King shaped his passion for service. Devin Fletcher is on the forefront of the education equity movement, and his words reverberate the spirit of Dr. King.
Why I Lead
By Devin Fletcher, Chief Learning Officer at Tulsa Public Schools
In one of my favorite speeches by Dr. Martin Luther king Jr., he asks “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?” This helped me to shape why and how I lead. In his speech, King zeroed in on three eternal principles: understand your dignity, work hard to achieve excellence, and serve others like you’re on a mission from God.
Understand your dignity
King often spoke about the importance of knowing yourself, believing in yourself and defining your worth in a space detached from “resume virtues.” This is a lesson that as a young leader I am still learning; however, one that helps me model how I show up as a human and as a leader. I am learning that I cannot fully become the person and/or leader that I aspire until I know myself. I cannot lead others with a heart or mind full of doubt because those that I lead will doubt me.
I am learning to live my life in a way that reflects “eulogy virtues.” The ones talked about at a funeral—the ones that highlight whether I was kind, loving, brave, honest, faithful, servant-oriented and capable of deep and authentic love. I aim to lead in the way I want to be remembered when I depart from this earth. I am fulfilled by a mission that is driven through serving others and specifically our youth and those that are deemed to be invisible, unworthy, poor, disenfranchised, and hopeless.
Work hard to achieve excellence
King was a leader that refused to settle. There is often an easier road that can be traveled. However, King refused to settle for less than his vision demanded. He was stubborn—in a good sense. He persisted and called for his followers to preserve:
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
The work that we do on behalf of our students each and every day is hard, and there are definitely easier routes to be taken, compromises that can be and that are often made, and bars that can be lowered even more. However, taking these paths will not lead us towards our vision for educational equity and access for all. King inspires me day in and day out to not settle and to not be satisfied. I am a living example of how access to high-quality and rigorous educational opportunities can shift a student’s life trajectory.
King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”. I truly believe that I was called to serve others and I am consistently humbled, inspired and motivated to lead my life in a way that illuminates this value and belief. King’s work inspires me to be a light and to be a leader that serves, a leader that models through action and a leader that has a “heart full of grace” and compassion for others. The very notion of service shapes the why for my work, for how I lead and for where I lead.
On February 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his last sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church and I believe sums up at the core why I lead. This sermon titled “The Drum Major Instinct,” was inspired by Mark 10:43 (NIV): “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Dr. King, inspired from this passage, said:
"If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful.
But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.”
“And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can 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. And you can be that servant."