“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness …… we all have the drum major instinct.”
Martin Luther King, 02.04.1968.
He helps to organize Christmas baskets for those unable to make ends meet during the holidays.
Then there’s the ever-popular Toys for Tots program.
He looks out for the elderly, ensuring their well-being on cold days and, until age caught up with him in recent times, clearing the morning snowfall from their paths.
There’s the church food baskets, taken each month to a central point in Chicago, for those needing a little help in providing life’s basics.
That’s not to mention the emergency supplies program, a godsend for those whose homes have been damaged by fires, those suffering power failures and those experiencing familial problems.
His name is Theodore Peters and he spends his days – not to mention his nights – serving those around him.
That he dedicates so much time and energy to his voluntary work is commendable.
That Theodore Peters is 88-years-old makes his tale the most remarkable one.
“I might be getting too old for all this daily volunteering,” admits the retired Chicago transit worker and ex-marine. “But maybe not.”
It seems there is little chance that Theodore might soon start to take things a little easier.
You see, he has discovered something quite special: helping others makes him feel good.
“Have you ever done something for someone who really needs it?” he asks those urging him to scale down his efforts. “You know how you feel after that? That’s the way God blesses you, giving you that good feeling. That’s the way you get your reward.”
Theodore understands connection – oozes it, in fact – for his has become a life rooted in compassion, understanding and togetherness, the same qualities that drive our efforts here in Saunderstown.
Perhaps it’s because he craves that good feeling.
Perhaps it’s because he’s a nice man.
Perhaps it’s because he has experienced intolerance in his own life and he didn’t much care for it.
Born in 1923 in Mississippi, Theodore spent his childhood living amongst those still haunted by slavery – “… (they told) us what happened when four or five brothers and sisters were stolen away, and knowing they might never see them again,” he recalls – before his family left to seek a better life in Chicago.
Still, though, the prejudice, even after signing up to aid the war effort, becoming one of the first black Marines to serve the United States in the process, his reward to be discriminated against at every turn.
Upon arriving home from the war, having answered his country’s call, the final insult.
“I got off the ship and heard someone say that the Red Cross was serving coffee and doughnuts,” he says. “We all ran down there and guess what? The Red Cross said ‘no, this is just for the white guys’. They (the other marines) tried to discourage us and make us more or less fail.”
It is a shameful anecdote and one that makes Theodore’s determination to serve others in his neighborhood all the more commendable. It delights us to report that Theodore’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.
You see, Theodore was instrumental in the long-running battle to receive official recognition of the heroism of black US Marines during the Second World War, a campaign that culminated in the award of the Congressional Gold Medal last November.
Then, a little earlier this week, officials at The White House presented him with a Martin Luther King Drum Major for Service Award – named in honor of the civil rights leader and the spirit of community service that he described in his famous sermon in 1968 – in recognition of his extraordinary voluntary work.
There is one further award to be bestowed, for here in our studio, we’re honored to call Theodore Peters an official Inspirer of OMs.
You see, OMs are all about people and their stories and it is tales like Theodore’s that motivate and move us here, for the things that he stands for are also the things that spur us on:
Things like compassion and understanding.
Things like togetherness.
Things like serving those in need and the good feeling that follows.
This is for Theodore Peters.