By David Mallery, Executive Director of Volunteer Mississippi and Marshall Ramsey
Independence Day. America. Heroes. It is by no coincidence that we flock to the silver screen every summer to immerse ourselves in stories larger than life—tales of women and men with superpowers— yet still uniquely “American.”
Personally, I am no hero, though I walk among many. If I have been bestowed with any power at all, I hope it is to tell the story of our American heroes. For a relative few whose works catch the attention of the media, their stories are heard. But the unsung heroes who become every day miracles in the lives of persons in need are no less deserving of recognition. We all walk among these giants. Their stories inspire us.
Not long ago I had the opportunity to work side-by-side on two occasions with a “real” superhero, actor Brandon Routh, who starred in Superman Returns. In neither instance was he caped. In Washington D.C., he walked the Halls of Congress in the costume that many thousands of public servant heroes wear as they lead our country. In coat and tie and polished shoes, we marched together. We met with Senators and Representatives. We did not talk about silver screen heroes, but street corner heroes who tutor children, save people from burning buildings, feed the hungry, assist the elderly; these heroes who see a need and fulfill it. Their superpowers are significant. They reach into a deep reserve of compassion in their hearts, and combine that force with the strength of their minds and bodies. They put that synergistic combustion to work: they serve.
Several weeks later, I had the opportunity to visit Iowa for Independence Day thanks to our good friend and leader, Adam Lounsbury. (If you ever get to visit, you will quickly learn why the Iowa Volunteer Commission is one of the best in our nation.) Adam and I got the opportunity to work again by Superman’s side as he “saved the world.” In this instance, he wore jeans and work boots instead of a shirt emblazoned with the signature stylistic “S.” Mr. Routh was coordinating a service project for disadvantaged youth, rehabilitating a building that serves as a youth center. No capes, no paparazzi; just good people, doing good things. They were ALL superheroes that day. I was humbled to stand among them.
It is rare for me to spend time with a hero of Hollywood fame. Those of us who are part of the ASC family have the great honor of serving these people. When we are fortunate to work with those who volunteer and serve others every day, we witness real heroism in a form that is equally significant. Some of these champions wear the uniforms of our military, while others wear those of a hundred professions: firefighters, police, teachers, AmeriCorps members, Peace Corps volunteers, doctors and nurses. However, many more of them are incognito. They serve while unintentionally hiding in plain sight in our communities. It is a unique twist of the American psyche that those who exercise such compassion most often simultaneously exhibit the trait of humbleness. They do not channel their energies into “tooting their own horns.” Instead, once one act of kindness is completed, they turn to the next person in need. Let’s call it part of our heritage of independence. On this Day of Independence, let us celebrate them along with our other great American treasures.
Mother Teresa, one of my personal heroes, is someone I never met. When she stated, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love,” she bestowed her superpower on us all. Many Americans have joined her in this special paradigm of Greatness.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged us all to serve. American Presidents issue their own call for everyday Americans to serve in whatever capacity they can—for our country. On July 4, we honor those who serve. And with every single day of the year to follow, stories featuring heroes in our own communities will continue to unfold. These are stories that we must elevate, both to honor and to inspire. The combination of millions of these “small things” represents the greatness of American Heroism. Start writing your part of the great American story of service: visit statecommissions.org to join and/or share stories of your heroes.
David Mallery serves as the Executive Director for Volunteer Mississippi. He has also served as Co-Chair for Voices for National Service and on the Executive Committee for the Association of America’s Service Commissions.
Marshall Ramsey is a Pulitzer-nominated artist, author, and radio personality who serves as a strong proponent for charity and volunteering.