About this time last year, a group of volunteers worked on the home of a lady who was suffering from cancer. They were participants with the Austin Labor of Love. Several days after the project was completed, the woman died. With all that she was going through, I am certain that her life was made a little better knowing that members of the Austin community cared enough to help in her hour of need.

Service to your neighbors and the community in which you live is not a popular notion these days. The era of “ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country” has long ago faded away. But there are a few individuals, “servant leaders,” who press on each day in an effort to improve the lives of their friends and neighbors.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said everyone can lead because everyone can serve. This notion went against the traditional concept of leadership, which was attained as the result of a political election or appointment by the rich and the mighty. Yet it is a concept that holds hope for those who want more for their people. It says, in effect, the grandmother who watches over the children of the neighborhood, you are a leader. The block club participant, local school council member, community organization committee persons, you are all leaders because of your willingness to serve.

In 1970 Robert K. Greenleaf wrote an essay titled, “The Servant As Leader.” Greenleaf argued that individual efforts, inspired by vision and a servant ethic, can make a substantial difference in the quality of a society. The servant leader is able to put him or herself in other’s shoes and help them to achieve their dreams. They help those under them to grow big in order to strengthen the organization, and they do not hold people down, but lift them up. Finally, servant leaders keep their eyes on high goals.

In the African-American community the persons who are both thoughtful and action-oriented are generally rejected in favor of those with little substance and a lot of rhetoric. That is why individuals who are ministers in churches and jackleg politicians do so well in the black community. Officials who are supposed to work with their constituents to create new ideas and action plans dismiss this in favor of barking orders and forcing other African Americans to humble themselves.

Servant leadership runs counter to this slave-oriented political and social structure. It requires individuals in leadership positions to listen to their constituents and then take action supported by their people. Fortunately Austin does have a few elected officials, church ministers, community leaders, concerned adults and committed young persons who represent the qualities of servant leadership. They are busy each day working to build a better, stronger community.

Yes it is great to work on community or legislative issues. However, the ultimate act of service is to actually help an individual with his or her immediate problem.

That is why each year some of Austin’s servant leaders join with individuals from Oak Park, Ottawa and other communities to repair homes for senior citizens in the Austin community. All of these leaders come together for one day and engage in service that transforms the lives of the people they touch.

Is it time for you to actually reach out and touch someone’s life in a positive manner? If the answer is yes, join the Labor of Love Project on Aug. 20 and make a difference in the Austin community and the life of the person whose home you will work on. Call Eyes On Austin at 773/479-1569 and take the next step to becoming a servant leader.