“What is going to change the world today is the same thing that has changed it in the past: an idea, and the service of dedicated individuals committed to that idea.”    –Sargent Shriver

Joby Taylor, Director Shriver Peaceworker Center and former VISIONS summer director

Sargent Shriver sits at the tip top of my list of great leaders who were also great human beings. His resume doesn’t include “President” but sometimes, on a down day, just musing on that what-might-have-been scenario brings a smile. He’s a true hero.

In a career spanning the second half of the twentieth century, Sargent Shriver created and led an array of programs that met our most challenging issues with courage, compassion, and creativity. The Peace Corps, Legal Services for the Poor, VISTA, Head Start, Job Corps, Upward Bound, Community Action, Special Olympics, and others remain among our nation’s most effective programs for engaging citizens, transforming lives, and leading social change. Our own Shriver Center at UMBC has been leading this charge in his home state of Maryland for nearly two decades already, and the Shriver Peaceworker Program is proudly continuing his legacy in Baltimore, where I imagine Sarge standing alongside the City’s great citizen sons like Frederick Douglass.

Collectively, Shriver’s programs have changed our cultural landscape, impacting the very way we think about service and expanding the ways we come together to bridge human differences. Shriver’s innovative programs also helped firmly established National Service as a here-to-stay movement, and one with a rare tradition of bipartisan support. The fact that today virtually anyone,regardless of background, age, or ability, has substantial and structured opportunities to engage in service is, in large part, a direct legacy of Shriver’s social inventions. He made it easy for us to get involved and put our best selves forward.

Shriver’s energy and action sprang from his social and moral vision. He imbued programs with the overarching idea that because service highlights our common humanity even as it solves real and pressing problems, it is a primary pathway to peace. Far from the common negative view of peace as the absence of conflict, Shriver exemplified a richly positive vision of peace whose key qualities included happiness, joy, and love.

His natural skill as a social entrepreneur was to scale up these peacebuilding opportunities-to create service settings that called others to get engaged and realize this truth for themselves. “Serve, Serve, Serve” and “Shatter your mirrors!” he charged; and, in response to the question of how we should begin, he said, “In a phrase, the cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace!” In 50 years of the Peace Corps alone, 200,000 of us have the opportunity to learn these life lessons in 140 countries around the world. My years in Gabon continue to influence and guide me 20 years later. Thank you Sarge!

Shriver’s intuition that “peace follows service”, was his great leap of faith; an all-chips-on-the-table idea that he unflinchingly and infectiously insisted could change the world. Like Dr. King and other great servant leaders in our history, Shriver inspired us to believe that everyone can play a part in building a better world, because everyone can serve. The experience of working alongside others and solving problems, small or large, social or material, at home or abroad, instills in us a sense of the usefulness of our idealism. Shriver championed the term “practical idealism”-not pie-in-the-sky optimism, but a dogged commitment to social hope that is rooted in the skills and savvy to get good things done.

Developing this formula for practical idealism became Shriver’s ongoing experiment as he designed and launched program after program. Serving in the Peace Corps or VISTA, volunteering for Special Olympics, or providing Legal Services for the Poor, in addition to meeting real human needs, also offers us a chance to expand our moral imagination. At its best, our participation in these efforts provokes reflection on the life we want to live, it gives us new insight into the lives of others, and it redoubles our commitment. This is the spiraling elegance of Shriver’s big idea, that the life of service is its own antidote to despair and cynicism. And his own life example was an untiring witness that this is both the most effective and the happiest way to be in the world.

Shriver’s faith in this path and its outcome-his unwavering and enthusiastic belief that we can build peace through service-is a great gift to the world. His legacy, like his life, is turned toward the future; it will grow as each new generation catches the fire of his world-changing idea by answering the call to serve.

Joby Taylor
Director, Shriver Peaceworker Center
and former VISIONS Director, Guadeloupe

Joby is Director of the Shriver Peaceworker Programs at the University of Maryland Baltimore Campus. The Shriver Center Peaceworker Programs, established by the Shriver family, gives structure to Sarge Shriver’s vision that returning volunteers would have a lasting impact on American society. It is a unique graduate degree program specifically designed for select returned Peace Corps volunteers who pursue graduate degrees, engage in community service and participate in ongoing ethical reflection and development.

Joby, who served in Gabon, Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer, was privileged to meet Shriver, one of his heroes, and works with Shriver family members in his role as Director of the Peaceworker Programs. These were thoughts that he shared with students and colleagues shortly after hearing news of Shriver’s death.

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