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MLK Drum Major Award Recognizes Unsung Leaders

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CNCS Staff

In a sermon delivered nearly 55 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described what he called the “Drum Major Instinct” to the congregation in Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. The words he spoke that day were the inspiration for a national service award that recognizes leaders who give their time serving others but seldom seek the spotlight.

The sermon includes the following passage from Dr. King that acknowledged the desire to lead but emphasizes selfless motives: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness… We all have the drum major instinct.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service logo.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Majors for Service program gives organizations and groups an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate those volunteers who perform extraordinary everyday acts of service with reliability and commitment but seldom receive recognition. As part of the MLK Day of Service, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) provides two options to recognize individuals who have demonstrated the “drum major instinct” in their communities.

The MLK Drum Major for Service award is based on the quality of the person nominated and recognizes local leaders who perform extraordinary acts of service reliably and with commitment. The MLK Drum Major for Service Presidents Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) recognizes those who have completed a certain number of hours over a 12-month period or a lifetime. For more information on how you can honor someone in your area, visit the MLK Day awards page.

CNCS would like to know about the Drum Majors in your community. To tell us about the person you plan to honor with a Drum Major award and what they have accomplished through their service, e-mail us at


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