The following is audio and the transcript is of a speech given by Andrea Price on January 15th, 2017 at Turner Chapel AME Church in Palmetto, FL.
Tomorrow we will celebrate one of the nation’s great holidays, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. His writings, sermons and his personal story still inspire us today.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Sermon, that was entitled, “Drum Major Instinct”, is one my favorite sermons. In this sermon, he talked about Russia. Does that sound familiar? He talked about war and nuclear weapons. Sound familiar? He talked about the economics. Sound familiar? He talked about hierarchy in the church. Sound familiar? He talked about racism and prejudice. Sound familiar? The Drum Major Instinct sermon covered many topics and issues we still deal with today.
But the key theme of the message is the drum major instinct, an instinct he warns us about in the sermon. So, what is the drum major instinct? King says we are all born with the drum major instinct. This instinct makes of us long for attention and be self-centered, and as we know, babies do what they have to do to get attention. Since babies can’t communicate verbally, they might cry, scream, head-butt or even throw stuff for attention. Unfortunately, some of us carry these characteristics into adulthood. Crying, screaming, head-butting and throwing stuff all for attention. If you don’t know anyone like this, tune in to any reality t.v. show and you will see how common this is. Real Housewives of Anywhere. Any kind of Bachelor or bachelorette. Or any season of Couples Therapy. You will see what I am talking about.
King says this instinct that we are born with has to be harnessed, even tamed. If not, this self-centeredness and these attention seeking behaviors can be destructive. The unchecked drum major instinct tells us that we have to keep up with the Joneses, even if we’re financially broke, so we can look good. The unchecked drum major instinct tells us that we have to brag and boast about ourselves and never offer a kind word to anyone else. The unchecked drum major instinct causes us to put ego over empathy. King’s Drum Major Instinct sermon, is an indictment on self-aggrandizing individuals whose ego and thirst for recognition make them figureheads, not servant leaders, babies not adults.
At the end of the sermon, Dr. King, in his crystal-clear tenor cadence proclaimed, “If you want to say I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
It is clear in the close of Dr. King’s sermon that once that drum major instinct is harnessed and tamed, then ego steps aside and our lives become about the other people and causes greater than ourselves. Selfishness steps aside and genuine service kicks in.
After reading Dr. King’s Drum Major Instinct Sermon, I began to think about drum majors in the literal sense. These band leaders are distinguished for their ability to move a group from the stands to the field. They are able move the woodwinds, brass and percussion in unison to form harmonious melodies within a song. These drum majors give rhythm to inaction and tempo to idleness. Drum majors direct with finesse and skill because they understand that one bad move might destroy the music. The job of the drum major is not to be taken lightly. Drum majors have to study, practice, have relationships with others in the band, know how to move in order to engage others, and when drum majors step onto the field, people are watching. We can learn a lot from drum majors.
The first lesson that I experienced about the role of a drum major happened to me during 7th grade. Up until this time, the only extracurricular activities I participated in were softball and basketball. I was excited about 7th grade because this was my chance to join something new, the band.
I held down first chair clarinet and found freedom in a class that allowed noise and space for imperfection. Toward the end of the school year, the band teacher announced that he would be holding drum major auditions. I was so excited that I decided to try out. I went to every practice and even created a drum major routine. However, during this time, my softball team was beginning practices for our busy summer softball season. After committing all of that time practicing for the role of drum major, I decided to not tryout and to return to my first love, softball.
7th grade was my only year in band, but softball earned me a college scholarship. Meanwhile, the student that earned the band’s drum major distinction did an awesome job and eventually spent four years in her college’s band.
In 7th grade, I had the drum major instinct that Dr. King described. I wanted to be the figurehead drum major. The drum major with the unchecked instinct. The drum major that might have been crying, screaming, head-butting or even throwing stuff for attention. Not the drum major for the cause of music. I would not have been able to lead the band, because dirt, bats and softballs had my heart.
Being a drum major is as much about love as it is about leadership. Being a drum major is about finding a cause so worthy of your time that you stay up at night thinking it. Being a drum major is about working for that cause that tugs on that part of you that helps you remember that your humanity is connected service. Being a drum major consist of sacrificing in an attempt to work on behalf others.
Thankfully, Dr. King showed us what it means to be a drum major, his actions and understanding of service comes from our greatest example, Jesus, the most supreme Drum Major. He even tells us in Matthew and Mark that He did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Selflessness! Drum Major greatness in God’s kingdom is never to be found in position or power or in the praise and opinions of others, but in service to others. Jesus, the ultimate drum major, gave…sight to the blind man. Jesus, the ultimate drum major, healed…the women with the issue of blood. Jesus, the ultimate drum major, washed…the feet of his disciples. Jesus, the ultimate drum major, raised…Lazarus from the dead. Jesus, the ultimate drum major, fed…the multitude. Jesus, the ultimate drum major, show us…what it means to serve. Gave, healed, washed, raised, fed, show are all action words and being a drum major for others requires action. I hope we are all ready to act, to be drum majors for Jesus.
What will it take? Prayer and asking God to help us not just have the drum major instinct, but asking Him to show us how to be selfless drum majors. Love. We can’t serve others without the kind of love that leads us to act on behalf of others. Empathy. Finding the humanity in others and understanding that we can find a common bond somewhere in every person on this earth. Patience. Being a drum major requires patience. Service can sometimes be hard, but understand that the race is not given to the swift, so we have to endure. Rejuvenation. We have to recharge every now and then because drum majors get tired. Even drum majors take off the third quarter of a football game to rest. Hope. We have to believe that by being a drum major the world will become a better place. As Rev. Jessie Jackson said, we have to “keep hope alive.”
As I close, Dr. King’s birthday is not just a holiday, but it is a reminder that the strength of our humanity lies in our ability be drum majors and to work for causes greater than ourselves. This day is a reminder that selflessness is at the core of service. We can’t separate being a drum major from being a Christian, because, what we do, whether we’re serving as drum major for a band the size of my small junior high band or serving one as mighty as FAMU’s Marching 100, it is our duty. Do you have the drum major instinct or are you a drum major? It is up to each of us to decide. As I take my seat, I want to close with these words, “If I can help somebody, them my living will not be in vain.” Amen.