The best way people can honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is to seek a personal purpose that makes their lives useful in service to others, according to George Rice III, an award-winning educator and basketball coach who has spent his life creating initiatives that advocate on behalf of people who cannot speak up for themselves.
“The art of fulfillment is why we are here,” Rice said during a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) presentation on Tuesday. His remarks were part of UMGC’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event before a virtual audience that stretched around the world.
He challenged his listeners to reach out to help those around them.
“At 5 feet 7 inches, 160 pounds soaking wet, [King] understood that he was called to something. But everyone should understand that we are all called to something. We should know that every day we wake up,” said Rice, who has developed a career that teaches Black and Latino men to be learners and to use that learning to be leaders.
“We understand that somebody has called us,” Rice said. “Your presence means the world to someone. Martin Luther King’s work and his presence means the world to the world.”
Noting UMGC’s global impact with more than 180 facilities in more than 20 countries, UMGC President Gregory Fowler said he heeds King’s statement that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“We are in a unique position to see that with the work that we are doing around the globe,” he said, adding that the university looks at ways to lift up not only U.S. servicemembers and their families, but also local communities.
Rice spoke of his upbringing in a Black neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio. He said most families in his neighborhood had men who believed it was their duty to look out for the community.
“I saw men protect, provide, produce, preserve and pilot the neighborhood,” he said. “There was a legion of men that stood literally at the forefront, keeping an eye out for all of the young people.”
His connections to church and his studies of King’s words taught him about integrity. “I learned about passion. I learned about teamwork. I learned about community,” Rice recounted.
He found his calling after seeing troubled young people who were neglected. His answer was to be a listener. Listening, he said, leads to learning and learning leads to loving, and that leads to leaving yourself.
“As a basketball coach for more than 20 years, there's a play called a give and go,” he said. “But in my own humble words, I will say that service is give and grow.”
Rice said King exemplified self-awareness, but what stood out even more was the civil rights leader’s selflessness. He characterized a life of service as “being preoccupied with who we need to be every day.”
“I realize in order for us to really serve, no matter what field of endeavor that we're in, we have to know ourselves,” Rice said. “But then we also have to be willing to lose ourselves as we serve others.”
Everyone can have success in life, he said, but the bigger question is how you define success.
“If you are going to go ahead and chase money,” he said, “you will forever be tired.”