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We Are All “Drum Majors”

October 27, 2011

Pluralism is my new favorite word.

Yes, that’s right – I do have a list of favorite words.

In fact, here are my top five:

  •  pluralism
  •  integrity
  •  engagement
  •  diligence
  •  reconcile

By definition, pluralism is a condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, and cultural groups are present.  Or, it can be a condition in which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society.  Or, said again in a different way, it is the consideration of various legitimate ideas.

Anyway you define it, it’s the thought that different peoples and ideas can coexist in the same time and space—ideally with peace and prosperity.

Lately, this idea seems to be all around us at


Our Guatemalan friends and their hosts

Swain.  Our celebration of Peace One Day in September, eight Guatemalan students entering our community in mid-October, and concentration camp liberator  Leon Bass speaking to our seventh and eighth graders are just a few examples that come to mind.

This energy surrounding the importance of diversity and multiculturalism was strongly felt on our stage at our recent Founder’s Day celebration.  Eighth grader Sara Edgar gave the keynote address, and she opened her speech by asking all of us to close our eyes and imagine that everybody in the world is our neighbor:

Sara encourages being a good neighbor

“Some of you may have imagined the ‘modern idea’ of a neighbor where slight nods or small waves are exchanged every once in a while. The neighbors I imagined, the kind that I want to talk about today, are the ones that stop and talk when they see each other.  They have a mutual sense of caring. Neighbors like this take a step back from their own busy lives and gain perspective on the importance of connection to other people.”

Sara’s speech, delivered with great poise and confidence, encouraged us all to imagine a future when people from all walks of life treat each other as true neighbors.  It’s a powerful idea, and it reminds us that even in the dark days of conflict and war, “hope springs eternal.”

As much as Sara’s words impacted our community, so did the words of Leon Bass.  Mr. Bass, who was constantly told he wasn’t good enough as an African-American growing

Mr. Bass shares his story

up in a racially charged America, urged our students to be “drum majors for justice.”  From Martin Luther King Jr.’s Drum Major Instinct speech of 1968, this reference asks Americans to be first in love, generosity, and moral excellence:

“We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. … And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. It is a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity.”

As we creep toward Thanksgiving, take stock of how you are treating your neighbors.  Make a list of your favorite words, and check your drum major instinct.  More importantly, have a dialogue with your children regarding what it means to be a champion of pluralism.

At Swain, we strongly believe in asking students to think critically about ideas, to empathize with others, and to fill their reservoirs with tolerance and hope.  We believe these principles will build problem-solving skills that will sustain and unite future generations.

As Leon Bass said: “You are good, and so is the other guy.  Love is the answer.”

Celebrate pluralism at Swain, and be proud to be a part of school that values the riches it can bring.


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