‘What are you doing for others’
These remarks were delivered by New London Mayor Michael Passero at Shiloh New London Church on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 16, 2023.
Good morning. I am honored to have been invited to speak before this esteemed gathering in this historic church on this important day.
This holiday is more than a day off from work to memorialize a great American, like President’s Day, or to celebrate a seminal moment in our nation’s history, like Independence Day. This is the only federal holiday that Congress has also declared a National Day of Service. This holiday has been deemed a day on, not a day off, to fulfill Dr. King’s call to service.
Dr. King famously said, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul full of love.”
Dr. King’s example answered what he called “life’s most urgent question: what are you doing for others?” His life of service was dedicated to creating a more just and equitable society. On the broader level, he fought for systemic change within our institutions, but he also championed local, community-level action. Indeed, he was in Memphis when he was murdered, fighting for striking sanitation workers. Dr. King educated the elite and the powerful of our country on civil rights, but he also stood with the lowest of the low in the social pecking order.
Dr. King’s legacy lives on through the culture of public service that he inspires. This culture of service is evident here in New London. For all of you, the spirit of this Day of Service continues throughout the year. Between the volunteers who serve on our government boards and commissions and the people who staff a network of non-governmental agencies, we are blessed with people dedicated to Dr. King’s mission of direct action to improve the lives of the people in our community. The ideals of public service are at work here and our city has benefited immensely from that powerful tradition.
This tradition of service helped us through the pandemic as social disparities based on race and poverty were exasperated. The response by our government, at every level, federal, state and local, in partnership with the nonprofit sector, is something to be proud of. As the pandemic exaggerated endemic social disparities, our community rose to meet the challenge.
Of course, we can’t take a victory lap. We haven’t eliminated systemic racism in our institutions. We haven’t eliminated food insecurity or disparities in health outcomes based on ethnicity and economic status. Still, our response in the face of the pandemic has proven the mettle of our people and their instinctive commitment to Dr. King’s example of perseverance in the fight for social equity through public service and direct action.
Whether we are in government or the private sector, the goal of giving every person a fair shot at well-being inspires us to service every day and directs our search for solutions to the glaring injustices in access to healthy food, health care, affordable housing, employment, and a living wage. Our dedication to community service will bring about the systemic change in our institutions needed to address these social failings.
I am confident, as was Dr. King, that mankind can build the Beloved Community and that the people of this city will lead the way.