Service is the rent we pay for living.

As far back as I can remember, I've been engaged in some kind of service, activism, or volunteer activity, and that without a doubt is thanks to my mother, Gayle Fleming. My mother is an activist from way back—she must have gotten her interest in politics and world events from her mother, who was a voracious reader and writer, and she clearly decided to pass both an interest in politics and a commitment to service down to me.

What I remember most from my childhood is not so much specific issues, concepts, or causes—those came later. Instead, I remember what it felt like to be exposed to service and to be taught about volunteering. There was the thrill of getting to go somewhere with my mother, who would talk to me beforehand about the journey we were going to take for the day, whether it was a rally, a meeting with a nonprofit, or a door- to- door canvass for a candidate she was supporting. Though, like every child, I only really knew what it was like to be in my own family, I did have a sense that I was being exposed to politics and service in a way that was special and slightly different from other kids I knew. Now that I am an adult, this makes perfect sense to me because I have a mother who will get on a bike and ride from Washington, DC, to North Carolina to raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness and funding, who will plan a yoga-thon to raise money for Darfur, who will enter a book-writing competition and ask her friends to sponsor her for each word written and then give the proceeds to an orphanage in Kenya, and who will plan a fund-raiser for a local food bank to help pay off their mortgage so that they can focus on putting more food on the shelves. Now, when I take my own children to a Darfur rally, or to New Orleans to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina either through advocacy events in the lower Ninth Ward or rebuilding houses in St. Bernard Parish, or to visit the friends they've made in South Africa's shantytowns, I think of my own mother doing the same for me in our quiet Oakland neighborhood, and I feel that I, too, am carrying on the traditions of our family.

 Excerpted from If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too by Malaak Compton-Rock, foreword by Marian Wright Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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