We need to help each other.
While the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died a decade before I was born, I’ve considered him to be one of my strongest mentors and influences in my life since I began reading his speeches as a teenager. One of his quotes that has had the greatest impact on the direction of my life is,
“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
I witnessed and experienced various forms of social injustice growing up in the deep south, just a 45-minute drive from Memphis, where Dr. King was tragically assassinated as he fought for the rights of sanitation workers to unionize.
Although I was raised in deep economic poverty, my mother instilled in me, through her actions, the importance of sharing anything that I was fortunate enough to have. All the kids in our neighborhood would hang out at our house, and even though there were many times when all we had in the house to eat was a bag of dried beans, my mother would cook a pot of soup and divide it into equal portions among everyone who happened to be there that day.
She believed that she had a responsibility not just to her own children, but to every child in our community. Many of these kids, like us, did not know, from day to day, if they would have enough food, but my mother believed it to be completely unethical to hoard food for a later date while there were kids who were hungry right now. She held tight to her faith in people, in our community, who she believed would, likewise, not allow us to go hungry.
She embodied the rule that defines social responsibility: ensure that our individual actions benefit the whole of society.
The whole community of poverty that I was surrounded by understood this; from borrowing each other’s tools to carpooling to the grocery store to save on gas, there was an innate understanding that we could not survive without one another.
Through technology and other modern conveniences, we often forget how connected we truly are and how we cannot possibly live without each other. MLK pointed out that before we even leave the house for work in the morning we are already indebted to more countries and more people than we can even count. From the people who grow our coffee beans to those who make our soap or package our cereal, we could not possibly create all of these things for ourselves, and therefore, we each need for each other to succeed in our lives, our education, and our talents. We serve each other; thus, we rise up together or we fall together.
Inspired by my mother’s actions and by MLK’s speeches, the goal for my life quickly developed into service to others and helping to create a community of shared value and social responsibility.
I have been fortunate to have had opportunities to share my time, skills, and experience working within non-profit organizations, and, with Adelante Mujeres, I have found a deep alignment with these values that I hold so dear.
One of the premises that we base our work upon, as an organization, is,
“We believe everyone has a responsibility to cultivate a peaceful community and a healthy planet. The responsibility for seeing a quality of people, place, and planet belongs to everyone. Our world depends on the care and intention of all people.”
For me, social responsibility is being active in helping to create the community, the state, or the world that reflects my values. I do this through being mindful of how my actions (or a lack of action) are either harming or helping people and the planet, contributing my experience and skills to the causes that I care about through work or volunteer efforts, advocating for more just policies, and donating to organizations that are helping to lift up people in our community.
Of course, everyone contributes differently, but it is all of us doing what we can that will create a community that reflects our shared values.
What are your thoughts on our individual social responsibility? Share your practices of social responsibility with us so we can start learning from one another!
Rose Walker is a guest blogger and Grants Officer for Adelante Mujeres. She has 10 years of experience working with non-profit organizations as a program manager, mostly focusing on providing nutrition and educational services to low-income families. She has a B.A. in English Literature and a Master of Divinity Degree.