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Service & Impact
spring 2020

Your Invitation To Change The World

You May Never Have a Street Named After You, But You Can Be a History Maker
Written by: Louis Carr

I love Black History Month for providing an opportunity to celebrate and honor some of those who have been instrumental in helping shape the country we live in today. It is only appropriate that we pause to recognize those whose sacrifices and service have brought us to where we are.
But there’s one sense in which the annual remembrance makes me a little uncomfortable. Because it would be easy to think as we spotlight some notable names, that historymaking is something reserved for the few—those specially gifted, those exceptionally talented and those particularly capable.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We all have a part to play in shaping the future—in becoming those who, many years from now, others will look back on as some of their historymakers.

Now, that doesn’t mean necessarily that you will be included in a list of BHM honorees or featured in an issue of WayMaker Journal. You may never have a street named after you, or have a student write a paper about you. But you can absolutely make an impact on the world of tomorrow.
The only question is whether you are ready and willing to do so. Because it will come with a price. It will cost your time and your talents, maybe some of your treasure. After all, you don’t reap a reward without first making an investment.
One of the things that excites me is how young people today seem so much more attuned to the need to do something, certainly than I was at their age. Yes, we had concerns back then, about war and women’s rights and so forth, but not to the same measure I see in many of the students I interact with now. Climate change, clean water, world hunger, racial justice—the list goes on.

Just show up
Part of that greater awareness and sense of responsibility is a result of technology. We are all simply so much more in touch with what is happening in the wider world than we ever were before. But I also believe there is something in their DNA, in the fiber of their beings, that is less accepting of the status quo. It’s inspiring and challenging.
That same technology also provides the tools and platforms for them to be part of making a difference in a unique way, too. I have been amazed at some of the campaigns and initiatives I have seen orchestrated from a single smartphone.
Don’t make the mistake of confusing significance and size. You don’t have to do something “big” to make a big impact, and you can make a big song and dance about something and not make any real, lasting impact at all. You don’t need a million “likes” on social media, if one real-life person likes what you do for or say to them, and it makes a difference to them.
Civil rights pioneer Marian Wright Edelman said of her actions: “I wasn’t thinking about history. I was thinking about how we were going to end segregation at lunch counters in Atlanta, Georgia. We would have never thought about making history, we just thought: Here is our chance to get out our sense of rejection at this kind of racial discrimination.” She didn’t set out to make a name for herself; she just saw a need and stepped up—and the rest literally became history!
Colleen Alvey is another example. A retired teacher in Harrisburg, Illinois, south of where I live in Chicago, she collects leftover food every week which she then helps serve at a church’s free lunch program. Though she was spotlighted by the local television news as one of the community’s “unsung heroes,” she said, “I don’t think that I’m a hero. I do what I can do and hope that it pleases somebody and helps somebody out.”
Hearing her story, I was reminded of what Mother Teresa once said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Alvey hasn’t committed to change the world, just a small corner of it. And think what sort of impact we could make together if we all had the same sort of attitude.
Apart from any collective results, we simply don’t know what sort of domino effect our best efforts today, small as they may be, will have on tomorrow. Consider Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: he is rightly recognized as an icon for his civil rights legacy, but how many unnamed people played a part in shaping his character and person, in making the man he became?
As I have reflected on some of the history makers I have known or known of, I have often wondered, was this drive to make a difference something they were born with or something they developed? I suspect, for most, it was probably a bit of both.
Yet some people just seem to have a well of goodness deep inside. Just the other day, I saw a television report about a young boy with cancer, aged maybe nine or ten, who went into the hospital for treatment. He decided he wanted to give gift bags to all the other kids on his floor, so he enlisted his parents to help him.
“ A little social pressure can be a positive thing, nudging us toward the good.”

Start with thanks
In my own case, looking out for the welfare of others was not so much a natural well as something that was drilled into me by my mother. I didn’t always appreciate having to share—especially when it came to things like cake—but over time it became part of who I am. Today, it’s pretty much second nature. I don’t say that to sound boastful, but to encourage you that it is possible for us to grow our capacity for concern and care.
One way I have found to do this is by expressing gratitude. There’s a law at work here—you can’t be thankful without wanting to be helpful. When you realize just how much you have benefited from the kindness of others, you can’t help but want to do the same, to pay it forward.
In fact, that’s the heartbeat of the WayMaker movement and the core of the WayMaker Journal message—passing on the baton that has been handed to us, so others can run their best race. WayMaker is part of my effort to pay back the debt I owe so many others—not in a dutiful sense, but actually quite joyfully. It’s so rewarding to see others be encouraged to reach higher, in the same way I was.
Here’s a practical exercise that may help: Write a letter to three people you want to thank for what they gave to you in your life. Chances are that, for many of us, they will include a parent or maybe a grandparent. The others could be a teacher or a coach. Maybe a neighbor or supervisor on your first job. Perhaps even someone you met only once, in some kind of chance encounter, but they said or did something that stuck with you.
Now think about how you could be that person for someone else as you go about your day—maybe as that teacher or coach, or that supervisor, or that person they chat with while in line at the coffee shop. There’s no telling the difference you could make on the future, even today.
“There’s no telling the difference you could make on the future, even today.”
This brings us back to social media, which I believe can be a great power for good. When we see examples of what other people are doing to make a difference, we can be inspired to want to do the same. It’s part of the way a little social pressure can be a positive thing, nudging us toward the good. If you’ve ever sat in church while the offering plate makes its way down the row, you know you’re going to put something in there when it arrives, right?
The opposite is certainly true. We’ve all seen examples on the news of people acting badly, and when no one steps in to challenge that behavior others copy what they have seen and it all gets ugly fast.

At the end of the day, we are all history makers in the sense that what we do—or don’t do— today will have an impact on the future, one way or another. We can be part of the reason things change for the better or, if we don’t do our part, we can be part of the reason they stay the same—or even get worse.
Let’s choose to make a positive impact.

Louis Carr is the founder of WayMaker and publisher of WayMaker Journal.