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Drum Majors

During Black History Month, we pause to salute and reflect on the contributions African Americans have made to the rich fabric that makes up the United States.There are many untold stories that reveal the best of Americans who stepped up when duty called, broke color barriers, or quietly made their communities better one person at a time.

James “Major” Adams was raised on Chicago's Westside and served in the Army during World War II. When he completed his military service, Adams returned to Chicago and worked for various agencies including Jane Addams' Hull House, one of the city's oldest social and human services programs.

As residents returned to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, a group of young black Catholics from the Archdiocese of New Orleans formed the IMANI Team (IMANI meaning “faith” or “belief” in Swahilli), a youth group from black Catholic parishes and schools that united to serve the African-American community of the archdiocese, to encourage and to help rebuild a sense of spiritual community and renewal across the Crescent City. The efforts by this group of young leaders are being recognized with a 2012 Martin Luther King Drum Major for Service award.

This week we’ll be featuring a few of the stories of the MLK Drum Major for Service award honorees. MLK Drum Majors for Service are the helping hands who perform extraordinary everyday acts of service with reliability and commitment, but who seldom receive recognition. The awards were a chance for faith and community leaders to acknowledge and honor their service.

In a sermon delivered nearly 55 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described what he called the "Drum Major Instinct” to the congregation in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. The words he spoke that day were the inspiration for a national service award that recognizes leaders who give their time serving others but seldom seek the spotlight.

Hurricane season is an anxious time for Americans living along the coastal regions of the United States. But when Tropical Storm Lee spread its destruction inland last September, volunteer leaders like Bruce Barney and Sharon Early made a difference in their community's recovery efforts. Their commitment led to their selection as 2012 Martin Luther King Drum Major for Service award recipients.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday is a National Day of Service, and a time to re-commit ourselves to serving each other and our communities. This year, CNCS will shine a spotlight on the connection between service and economic opportunity, and promote the MLK Day of Service as the first of many opportunities throughout the year for Americans to come together and tackle critical challenges for the greater good.

On the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service this January, President Obama will recognize unsung heroes around the country who have answered the call to service. Inspired by Dr. King's historic speech on the Drum Major Instinct, the MLK Drum Majors for Service program --facilitated by the White House and the Corporation for National and Community Service -- welcomes the nomination of people in organizations and businesses who are serving their communities, often without recognition.

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