Wiley College is a four-year, privately-supported, historically black university located on the west side of Marshall, Texas. Wiley College holds distinction as one of the oldest historically black colleges west of the Mississippi River.​​​​ This address was given by Katherine at the Opening Banquet for the 2014 Wiley College Ethical Student Leadership Conference (ESLC). Visit this Wiley College web album to see images from that fantastic event!

The face of the clock looks down upon us from the mantel.

The face of the sun shines brightly above us in the blue winter sky.

The face of the moon keeps us company at night.

Faces.  Faces everywhere.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”


We meet face to face.

We face facts.

We put our game face on.

We update Facebook.

And as I look out across this room, I see your faces.  Hundreds of them.  Faces lit up by the lights, by good food, by being with friends and meeting new friends, by the immeasurable possibilities open to us as we pursue our own journeys of becoming more and more a servant-leader.

And the word face even made it into a fortune cookie I got recently at a restaurant.  I had eaten lunch at a favorite spot of mine on the square in Marietta, GA, where I live.  Often, I don’t bother to open the fortune cookies at this particular restaurant because many times they are totally uninspiring.  Along the lines of a happy worker is a good worker.  Nothing to do with pots of gold awaiting me on my porch the next day!

But this time, I overcame my usual reluctance to look into fortune cookies from this restaurant and opened it.  And the fortune read:  Commitment is the force that changes the face of things.

The force that changes the face of things.

As servant-leaders, we know that it is important for us to be active listeners, to deal with conflict in a healthy way, to speak our truth in love, to reflect and to trust our intuition.  It is characteristic of a servant-leader to be adept in these disciplines and more.  We put these practices into place as we serve the other, the common good and our best inner selves.  We serve our best inner selves because Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But another part of servant-leadership, core to the very being of servant-leadership itself, is the challenge for us as servant-leaders to serve as agents of change, to change the face of things when the face of those things needs to be changed.

And when we look deep into that core of servant-leadership, that part that challenges the way things are, that demands and works for change, that will not collude with systems and institutions riddled with the ineffectual, the sinful, the evil – when we stand in the core of servant-leadership and look for agents of change, whose faces do we see?

Whose faces indeed?

“Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.’”

We see the angry face of Jesus as he rebuked the money changers and dove sellers.   As he rooted out those who were defiling God’s house as a house of prayer.

So, yes, at the core of servant-leadership, we see Jesus’ face.

What other faces do we see?

He had a dream.  He had a dream that black children and white children would hold hands.  That black men and women could sit next to white men and women at lunch counters.  That black women and men would be treated equally at their jobs and at the voting ballot.

His voice rolled out of his mouth like thunder.  It rose like the mountains and fell like the valleys and rose again like the mountains.  And his dream ignited the sea change in our country that saved our country.  That made it whole in a new way.  And rooted out the stark absence of laws that made segregation not only acceptable to many but also conveniently legal.

And so, at the core of servant-leadership, standing with the agents of change, we see Martin Luther King, Jr.’s shining face, his face illuminated with the Spirit, as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and changed the face of things.

What other faces do we see?

She reached down into the gutters of her adopted city Calcutta in India and took the hands of those who lived on the edge, the fringe:  She wanted, she said, to reach the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers….”  She cradled lost children in her arms.

And she showed us what it is like to pay attention to and give help to – again, as she said  —  “all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”

And now the healing that started in Calcutta with her sisters in the Society of Missionaries, has spread throughout the world and the world knows a health it would never have known if it weren’t for Mother Teresa.

And so, at the core of servant-leadership, we see among the agents of change, the face of Mother Teresa, small, wizened, a female David, as she took on the goliath of poverty, neglect, complacency, fear, indifference, in Calcutta and in the world and changed the face of things everywhere.

What other faces do we see?

The bars on the window broke up the expanse of the blue South African sky.  He looked out the window and at the sky and waited.

Waited for the day that would surely come when he could raise his arm high against the white apartheid and pick it apart, one institution after another.

And waited for the day that would surely come when he would show his people what mercy looks like, what forgiveness looks like, what reconciliation looks like.

And he waited for the day that would surely come when he and those who worked with him would change the face of South Africa forever.

And so when we look into the core of servant-leadership, we see among the agents of change another one standing in that group.  We see the face of Nelson Mandela.

The faces of Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela.  Servant-leaders all.  Agents of change all.  All engaged in the work of changing the face of things that needed to be changed.  All standing together in the core of servant-leadership.

What about you?  As you move about in your life – at school, at the community beyond school, at home, in the world beyond – what do you see that needs changing?  What institutions, traditions, commonly accepted behaviors, systems, cultures need to be challenged?

And how would you go about it?  How do you go about changing the face of things that need to be changed?

Jesus.  Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mother Teresa.  Nelson Mandela.  Inspiring, yes.  Known to us all, yes.  But is the idea of being like Jesus, like Mother Teresa overwhelming?  So daunting that we’re paralyzed into inaction?

What about faces closer to us, faces we meet in our lives, faces we know?  Might it not be easier to relate to the faces of those we’ve come across ourselves, whom we know to be servant-leaders, to be agents of change?

I imagine that you all can think of such faces tonight – the faces of your parents, caretakers, grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles.  Faces of your friends.  Faces of your teachers, your coaches.

For me, I can always bring up in my inner vision the faces of my parents.  Lou and Jean.  Servant-leaders and agents of change.  Changing the face of things that needed to be changed every day of their lives, still working at it when they died.

I grew up in Gainesville, Georgia, about an hour northeast of Atlanta.  Mother and Daddy and I moved there when I was six weeks old so that Daddy could join the newspaper.  At the time, it was a fledging weekly, and the paper’s new owner wanted to turn it into a powerful daily that would change the face of things in North Georgia.  And he wanted Daddy to help him do that.

For 33 years, Mother and Daddy gave their lifeblood to the paper.  As it rooted out corruption in town, as it rooted out anything that stood in the way of the people’s right to know, as it rooted out segregation.

And Mother rooted out illiteracy and worked with those who didn’t know how to read to help them accomplish that skill.  That skill without which nothing would come their way.

And after Daddy retired from the paper, they kept at it.  They travelled through Georgia and spoke to state school officials about what was then called the Newspaper in Education program.  This program, which they were trying to get accepted as part of  statewide education for children, involved using newspapers in teaching.

The papers, they argued, could be used for teaching math, history, current events – of course – sociology, art, music, anthropology – whatever was happening in the community and the world would be material for the teacher to use.

And as my parents got older, they looked around Gainesville and saw that the town needed a residence for people as they aged – a place where people could live independently, go for rehab when necessary and if it came to it, could be supported in assisted living.

And so they took that project on, along with two of their close friends.  They worked on it for 10 years, found property where the residence could be built, formed a nonprofit to shape its early development, followed architectural designs and finally navigated the takeover by a company that runs such institutions.

The residence is called Lanier Village Estates, named for Lake Lanier on which Gainesville sits, and Mother and Daddy moved into their apartment there in March, 2001.

Daddy died at home in their apartment at the Village in May, 2002, and Mother continued to live there – with people she had known for 56 years and longer — until she died in August of 2007.

My childhood friend Betsy’s mother was living at the Village until her death earlier this month, just short of her 92nd birthday.   A while back, Betsy had sent me a picture of her mother and father – her father visited her mother every day – it showed them from the back, Betsy’s mother in a wheelchair, and Betsy’s father right next to her on a scooter, looking out a window at the Village at a garden below.

Betsy posted that picture on her Facebook page after her mother died and gave it the caption “True Love.”

And so Mother and Daddy, along with their friends and colleagues, changed the face of Gainesville, Hall County, North Georgia, and beyond.

And they did it with true love.  Because of their true love for each other, their determination to serve others, to serve the common good and to provide a place where they could live when they were ready to move out of their house, they, with their friends, gave birth to a home.  A home where they, Betsy’s mother Elizabeth and many others have been able to live during this stage of their lives.  A place where Betsy’s father Henry could come to see his wife, and they could spend time in peace and quietude, sheltered in the love they had nurtured for 70 years.  They and many like them have found a haven, a place of beauty and activity, a place filled with friends old and new and a place where they can continue to develop as vibrant human beings in mind, body, spirit, soul.

And when we get discouraged, overwhelmed, daunted by the challenge of changing the face of things that need to be changed, we can remember the force of that true love.  That true love that springs from God, that true love that courses through the hearts of each one of us.

And we can remember Mother Teresa’s simple, straightforward answer to questions like:  Where do we start?  What can I as one person do?  How can I change anything?

We can remember her words filled with comfort:

“Do not imagine that love to be true must be extraordinary … See how a lamp burns, by the continual consumption of little drops of oil.  If there are no more of these drops in the lamp, there will be no light.

“What are these drops of oil in our lamps?  They are the little things of everyday life:  fidelity, little words of kindness, just a little thought for others, those little acts of silence, of look and thought, of word and deed.”

And so it is – that with great acts like those of Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, we, too, can change the face of things that need to be changed.

And so it is – by searching out the servant-leaders in our lives, the agents of change we see around us, by helping them, by doing what they do, we, too, can change the face of things that need to be changed.

And so it is – that with these “little drops of oil” in our lamps – with “the little things of everyday life:  fidelity, little words of kindness, just a little thought for others, those little acts of silence, of look and thought, of word and deed,” we, too, can change the face of things that need to be changed.

And when we do, we will stand at the core of servant-leadership, we will take our place with all the agents of change throughout the ages, and we will see the faces of servant-leadership.

We will see the face of Jesus, yes.

We will see the face of Martin Luther King, Jr., yes.

We will see the face of Mother Teresa, yes.

We will see the face of Nelson Mandela, yes.

We will see the faces of my parents and of your parents and of your caretakers, grandparents,  siblings and cousins, your teachers and coaches, yes.

And we will see more faces:  We will stand in the very core of servant-leadership, and we will see the faces that fill this room tonight.

We will see your faces.

Your faces, shining bright and expectant.

As you teach and learn;

As you give all you have on the basketball court;

As you debate the great issues of the times;

As you root out hunger in this community and beyond; and

As you sing alleluia at the White House.

Yes, we will see your faces, too.  For you, along with all the others, are indeed the very face of servant-leadership.

Opening Banquet

2014 Wiley College Ethical Student Leadership Conference (ESLC)

January 23, 2014

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2 thoughts on “The Face of Servant-Leadership

  • August 4, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    I love this!! Very motivating to cultivating change as a social worker.

    • August 4, 2015 at 6:27 pm

      Thanks so much, Andrea! Tell us more about the kinds of changes you aim to cultivate as a social worker. We love to hear your stories.

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