Seagoing Cowboy

Two weeks ago we shared a quote from Ernest Boyer regarding the influence his grandfather had on him and his understanding of service.  The importance of service is very apparent through the many works of Dr. Boyer. For instance, the Carnegie Foundation’s publication, High School, suggested that American high schools incorporate a service unit that students must complete before they graduate and enter the “real world.”  In the mind of Boyer, community service was just as valuable a learning experience for high schoolers as efficient time in the classroom.  As it turns out, Boyer knew about the significance of service as a high school student firsthand.

On June 12, 1946, as a recent high school graduate, a young and vibrant Ernie Boyer left Newport News, Virginia on a ship called the Wesley Barrett bound for Poland.  Fighting in Europe had finally ended one year earlier, but the devastation left in the wake of the Second World War could not be mended overnight.  After World War II ended, European countries were desperate for aid – in any and all forms.  Countries around the world and renowned service organizations rose to the occasion and worked hard to help get an entire continent back on its feet.

One such form of aid was shipping livestock across the Atlantic to ensure that families living all throughout Europe had access to basic food. Providing a family with a cow rather than just a ration of milk, helped provide ongoing relief.  And after an event as destructive as World War II, that’s exactly the type of aid most Europeans needed.  This is still the premise of Heifer International today.  Of course, shipping livestock from one continent to another is no easy feat and requires volunteers willing to make the month-long trip with the animals.

Heifer International estimates that over 7,000 “cowboys” crossed the Atlantic Ocean with these shipments of animals, caring for them along the way. Ernie Boyer, at age 18, was one of them.  After becoming involved somehow with the Brethren Service Committee, a faith-based organization shipping livestock to Europe after the war, Boyer left for Poland.  In a letter to his family, dated June 11, 1946 (a day before his departure), Boyer wrote: “We are really lucky to get heifers because almost every boat leaving is taking horses.  Our supervisors said it would be at least an 8 week trip because we have a slow ship.”

It is probably not wrong to imagine that many young men signed up for this task because they sought a sense of adventure.  It gave them the chance to see more of the world, meet new people, and experience new things.  I’m sure Ernie Boyer was thrilled to have that opportunity.  One can also imagine, though, that despite the excitement, the joy of serving others in need and making a small but powerful impact had more of an effect on the young man than anything else – one that shaped his future career, beliefs, and energy – all because he chose to serve.

Check out the history page of Heifer International for more information about seagoing cowboys.

The Life of Martin Luther King: An Educational Imperative

Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledging the crowd gathered in Washington, D.C.

Today we Americans observe a federal holiday in remembrance of one of the greatest forces for peace and justice that ever lived.  Yes, for a lot of people the best thing about today is having a day off work or school.  I won’t deny that is a nice perk.  I mean, who doesn’t love a three-day weekend? No one.  However, amongst the extra errands you may be running to get a head start on the work week, or the extra relaxing you may be enjoying to recuperate from the hectic weekend, we should all carve out a few minutes of our day to remember the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  To remember how he lived so fearlessly for a cause of equality which he pursued tirelessly.  To remember the words he spoke so eloquently.  To remember that the echoes of his words still ring today, and that some are hearing his words for the first time.

In 1988, Ernest Boyer spoke at a conference sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission in Washington, D.C.  The conference was organized to discuss meaningful ways to infuse the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. in school curriculums across the nation. Boyer delivered a speech entitled “The Life of Martin Luther King: An Educational Imperative.”

To Boyer, incorporating the memory of Martin Luther King into the nation’s classrooms was a crucial necessity – and served as a way to expose students to the civil rights movement in the United States, the understanding and power of nonviolence, and reverence for the written and spoken word.  Not doing so would mean Martin Luther King, Jr. Day would “be a time when we remember only the symbols, not the substance of his work.”

Boyer’s speech outlined three specific reasons why school curriculums should include a study on Martin Luther King, Jr.:

1.) A study of Dr. King’s life, work, and legacy introduce students to the 20th century freedom movement in the United States.

2.) Dr. King’s legacy lives on today through the words he spoke and penned.  He has left the world a multitude of literary devices within his speeches and letters that teachers should tap into and incorporate in lessons.  Boyer never stopped triumphing the centrality of language, and for him, Dr. King’s lasting words can teach students that “language is a sacred trust.”

3.) Students that understand Dr. King learn that what you learn in life influences how you live.  Education has the power to teach morality. Education has the power to inspire service.  Education has the power to fuel mission.  The life of Martin Luther King, Jr., better than most, highlights these human imperatives.

In short, Boyer said it quite simply with one sentence in his speech: “No student in America’s schools can be considered well educated if he or she does not learn about this nation’s long and agonizing crusade for civil rights…”

Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times gallery on Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.