I believe that by attending Howard, I was truly blessed in terms of my education. I had the great good luck to be taught by some of the most brilliant professors in the nation and to share my time with bright and ambitious classmates. To walk across such a historic campus every day filled me not only with pride but also with a sense of responsibility. Like a lot of graduates of HBCUs, I felt my ancestors' legacy, and I wanted to make them and the people who graduated before me proud—especially those first graduates, who walked to college, literally walked to Howard University, because they did not have the money for transportation, from cities all over the Deep South, seizing against incredible odds their first opportunity at higher education.

Another plus: Howard University offered me the chance to live in the nation's capital. I remember during my first semester going down to the National Mall to visit the Capitol and sitting in on congressional hearings, listening to the people who make our laws arguing and debating. I'll be honest: I usually got lost in all of the back-and-forth and the long speeches made by some lawmakers. But as the child of an activist, I understood that the laws they were talking about would have a huge impact on people's lives and even on my own life. I was thrilled to see that such life- changing debates were held in public and to be able to witness political debates by leaders who had been elected by ordinary people like my family and myself. Something about living in DC made politics more urgent—and somehow more real.

So although my major was in arts production management, I minored in political science. I even thought about going into politics for a time, though I eventually decided not to, and it's a good thing, too; I don't have the temperament for it. What I love about service is the hands-on aspect, working with people, especially children, who need my help; that excites me far more than sitting in some conference room hammering out policy. Plus I think I would be far too impatient—as in bite my arm off!—with the slow pace of creating policy when I can serve in a hands-on way on behalf of critical issues that need immediate attention. I understand, though, that politicians, administrators, and especially advocates are a crucial part of service. Howard was where I first began to understand that each of us has to find our own path, our own particular way to serve.

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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