Today we pause and reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have spent my career as a civil rights advocate in the South, and therefore, I have long been a student of Dr. King. I have taken inspiration from his words and direction from his actions.
Among the most important lessons I've learned from Dr. King is the example of servant leadership. A servant leader is one who offers an inclusive vision; listens carefully to others; persuades through reason; and heals divisions while building community.
It is easy to spot servant leaders. In a room where others are jockeying for attention, they are the ones listening to someone others might consider unimportant. When faced with a problem, they look for solutions that benefit everyone. When something goes wrong, they take the blame. When things go well, they share the credit. They tell everyone the same story, even when it is inconvenient or difficult. They know that they don't have all the answers, so they seek advice from others. They work hard and inspire others to do the same.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is an example of a servant leader. His life shows the extraordinary power of servant leadership to radically transform a nation.
Our communities and our country need servant leadership more than ever. Deepening economic woes threaten the American dream for far too many working people. Racial divisions are embarrassingly persistent in too many aspects of our economic and social lives. Political despair is battering the uniquely American optimism that has made us a great nation.
There are precious few servant leaders in our current political environment. Many elected officials are more interested in personal power, individual legacy, and financial gain than in the sacrifice and commitment that servant leadership requires.
I am a candidate for mayor in the city of New Orleans. The city's current mayor is term limited. So we are certain to have a new person running City Hall soon. But New Orleans needs more than a new person in office; it needs a whole new style of leadership, a new direction and a fresh start.
New Orleans is held hostage by skyrocketing violent crime. We are limited by an economy that relies too much on tourism, but has not invested enough in local business. We are ravaged by residential blight in our neighborhoods. Four years after Katrina, we have not recovered our pre-storm population or fully recovered as a city.
Rather than finding solutions to the city's soaring crime rate, stalled economy and crumbling infrastructure, many of our business and elected leaders chose to spend time settling personal vendettas, enriching personal connections, and dividing our city for their own selfish purposes.
These are the same people now hoping to assume the mantle of leadership in City Hall. They might be new faces, but they operate with the same philosophy of top-down leadership. Throughout this campaign it has been easy to see that they continue to pursue individual plans rather than community goals.
In this election we need more than a new mayor; we need a new way of doing business. We need a servant leader. I intend to pursue a model of servant leadership, if the people of New Orleans choose me to represent them as mayor.
I am no Martin Luther King, Jr. He was an extraordinary and unmatched leader. However, even though Dr. King is no longer with us, he left us a legacy of courage and a philosophy of leadership that we can all work hard to emulate.
For most of my professional career, I have been the executive director of two fair housing centers. President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed for passage of the National Fair Housing Act immediately after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. This act was President Johnson's way of honoring the life of King. At the heart of this piece of legislation is one central claim: we are a stronger nation when we live together in shared communities.
As a leader in the national fair housing movement I have spent my career dedicated to this belief. I take very seriously the charge to honor King's legacy by fighting for fairness and equality. It is important that all people, regardless of race, income, sexual orientation, or disability, are welcome to call New Orleans home. I will continue toward this vision as mayor.
Dr. King asked that he not be remembered for the prizes and accolades he won in life, but rather than he be remembered as a Drum Major for Justice. He asked all Americans to join him in recognizing that to be great we need to do only one thing: serve.
In less than three weeks the voters in New Orleans will go to the polls in our mayoral primary. They will take the first step in choosing a new leader and a new direction for our city. I will be spending these next few weeks encouraging my fellow New Orleanians to consider a new model for leadership: servant leadership.
Dr. King once said, "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." That struggle for change bears fruit when we seek to serve others first, to find common ground, to use power ethically, and to insist on fairness and equality.
I hope you will join me in this struggle to change the future of New Orleans and I hope you'll take moment to learn a little bit more about who I am and what my vision for the city is.
You can learn more about my campaign by clicking here and I would encourage you to read the great pieces written about my candidacy by Times Picayune and my interview with Katrina Vanden Huevel of the Nation Magazine - both just published today.
Of course I also need and welcome your donations to help me spread the word about my vision for a safer, better, and more fair city. You can donate online by clicking here.
Follow James Perry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamesperry2010