This article was written by Mike Bloomberg.
“Anyone can be great, because anyone can serve.” Dr. Martin Luther King said that just two months before he was assassinated. His birthday is a chance for all Americans to be great, by honoring his life and legacy through acts of service. For me, it’s also a chance to remember the most important lesson I ever learned.
I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Medford, Massachusetts. One of my earliest memories is sitting at the kitchen table watching my father – a bookkeeper at a local dairy who never made more than $6,000 in a year – write out a check to the NAACP. When I asked him why he was donating, he told me that discrimination against anyone threatens all of us.
The last few years have provided many terrible reminders of the persistence of discrimination, from suppression of voter rights to the vilification of immigrants to hate crimes directed at people because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. Rather than speak up, some of our leaders have turned a blind eye – or worse, fanned the flames of prejudice and hatred.
My father taught me that we’re all in this together, and if you have an opportunity to help, you have an obligation to act – to fight discrimination or help right wrongs wherever they might exist. I’ve tried to honor that lesson throughout my life. It’s why I decided to run for mayor of New York City and turn around a broken school system that was failing generations of black and Latino students. It’s why my foundation has focused on public health and environmental issues that affect the most vulnerable people. And it’s why I’m running for president.
I’m fortunate to be in a position to financially support causes that I care about, and I’ve committed to giving away virtually all of my wealth in my lifetime. But everyone can make a difference, no matter their means – and in my experience, there is nothing more rewarding than being able to make a difference and seeing it with your own eyes.
Giving back can also be rewarding for companies. People want to work for organizations that are helping to build a better world. Dr. King said that “Life’s most persistent question is: what are you doing for others?” It’s a question that job candidates ask potential employers – and the company with the best answer is in the best position to attract and retain talent.
For instance: When we interview candidates for jobs at Bloomberg, they increasingly want to know what we are doing to fight the climate crisis, and our company’s track record is among the best in the world. Bloomberg is on track to get 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2024. Our European headquarters in London received the highest sustainability rating of any office building in the entire world. And through Bloomberg Philanthropies, we have helped communities across America retire more than half the nation’s coal plants.
Service is deeply ingrained in our company’s culture, and each year, Bloomberg employees donate tens of thousands of volunteer hours in dozens of countries. Working together to improve lives strengthens our team – and it makes employees excited to be a part of it.
Volunteerism is also powerful resource for elected leaders. No one better understands a community and its needs than its own residents. People want to give back, but they don’t always know about opportunities to contribute their time and talents, and government hasn’t always done a good job tapping into the resources volunteers bring to the table.
In 2009, President Obama called on our country to usher in a new era of service, and our Administration made sure that New York City was first in line to answer the call. We launched a program called NYC Service, which helps New Yorkers find opportunities to volunteer and helps organizations locate people who want to help. The idea was a big success, so we helped to create a national effort called Cities of Service. Through the coalition, more than 200 cities are tapping into the power of volunteers to address pressing issues, from tackling climate change to fighting intolerance and discrimination.
We still have a long way to go to “make real the promises of democracy”, as Dr. King called on us to do at the 1963 March on Washington. Everyone can help us succeed in that work, because everyone can serve – and be great.