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Be a Drum Major for Justice, Speaker Urges at Unity Prayer Luncheon

Dr. Tricia B. Bent-GoodleyTricia B. Bent-Goodley, PhD, asked the audience at Creighton University’s annual Unity Prayer Luncheon to consider a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” King said in a famous sermon shortly before his death. “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.”

King, Bent-Goodley said, is reminding us that we all have the “drum major instinct,” the desire to lead and spark change. But often, a yearning for recognition and acceptance from others clouds the idealism that motivated us in the first place.

Bent-Goodley, a professor of social work and director of the doctoral program at the Howard University School of Social Work, delivered the keynote address at the luncheon, held Tuesday in the Ahmanson Ballroom in the Mike and Josie Harper Center. The event drew a crowd that included Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and City Councilman Ben Gray.

“The Unity Prayer Luncheon is a cornerstone event for the annual celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. King,” said Creighton Provost Thomas Murray, PhD, in his introductory remarks. “Let us all be determined to take this opportunity to prioritize justice, inclusion and service, starting right here in our own community.”

The afternoon also included the presentation of the Drum Major Award by Creighton’s Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. This year, the committee chose Donna Polk, PhD, CEO of the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition (NUIHC).

In her role at Howard, Bent-Goodley also serves as director of the school’s Interpersonal Violence Prevention Program and chair and director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Her research interests include violence against women and girls, HIV prevention and healthy relationship education.

In her address, Bent-Goodley said King was warning, in his drum major speech, of how the desire to be important can evolve into deeply held racial prejudice.

“In our quiet moments when we feel looked over, we think about someone not acknowledging something we did. When someone may be recognized and we think ‘Well, actually I did that’ or ‘My record of achievement is better,’” Bent-Goodley said. “These ideas grow and become sweeping judgments of people. They become blanket thoughts about communities or about people because of their race, their gender, their age, their ethnicity, their neighborhood …

“In this very moment, Dr. King is trying to help us be the best versions of ourselves, but he’s also trying to warn us that if we don’t there is much to lose.” To combat this, Bent-Goodley challenged each member of the audience to consider “your earliest thought about what you wanted to do as a change agent.”

“Going back to our earliest ideas of who we are gives us the fundamental clues to what we need to value and prioritize,” she said. “I want to remind you that there are seeds planted in you from the Creator of the universe that give each of us a unique purpose to change social conditions, fight injustice and make the world better.”

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