Friday, May 22, 2015

Thoughts on winning a 2015 Mack Davis Award.

Each year, Cambridge School Volunteers recognizes two tutors who exemplify the spirit of the late Mack Davis, a former CSV board president and public servant.  Last week, I was honored to be one of this year's recipients.

At the ceremony, awardees are wisely prevented from speaking, but that didn’t stop me from preparing remarks just in case. Here’s what I wrote ...

There are many interesting questions that need answers: How should we integrate what happens after the school day with what happens during the school day to benefit kids? What’s the most efficient and effective way of tapping into the abundant resources in this city?

But none of these questions has any meaning if we can’t descend the 30,000 feet from policy abstraction to a child’s imagination. Only then will we begin to make a difference in a life. There is, after all, no place like sitting face-to-face with a student when all of a sudden it dawns on you you can’t remember how to multiply two fractions (numerators first, then denominators, then simplify).

Like Cambridge School Volunteers, I am a child of the ‘60s. We were born in the same year, 1966, and we abide by the same principles. We believe that collective action makes a difference. We believe in the obligation of the individual to do that which is good, and to undo that which by our making is bad. We have a confidence in the future, and we sense our need to play a part in shaping it.

I take it as my motto that the job of a tutor is to keep an open mind open. That doesn’t mean that an open mind can’t be firmed up. A fact is still a fact after all, but at the end of it, there should be as many good questions as there were good answers.

Why do I say that? Because I recently went to Florida. If there ever were a place that embodied the sheer ambition, the guts and the courage of the 1960s, the Kennedy Space Center is that place. The astronauts knew that as they embarked on their amazing journey and they understood full well that the unimaginable of today becomes the ho hum of tomorrow. The dreams of the child stretch further than those of the parent. It gives new meaning to math and to science.

Here is another version of the being a child of the ‘60s.

Every February the NAACP in Cambridge honors Martin Luther King Jr. at their annual breakfast, which is part revivalist ceremony, part civic gathering. The multi-hour event lifts you up.  There’s no other way to say it. No matter how low you were when you walked into the room, the annual breakfast lifts you up.

A phrase of Dr. King — he had a way with words, you know — gets quoted every year: Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.

Think about that. Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. Whether lowly and humble or high and mighty, the greatness is in the service and not elsewhere. 

You know, I think that award-giving is about the recipient to a small degree, but much more it is about the award.  If ever there were a reason to celebrate this award, it is what King said. Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.