Dr. King on Excellence at Work

"kkep It Clean" photo by Steve Braund
February 1st, 2020

February is Black History Month, and it's difficult not to consider the impact Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has had on our culture for the good. But beyond his magnificent "I Have a Dream" speech and his monumental  "Letter from Birmingham Jail," he gave wise advice to a small audience in Philadelphia of equal importance.

It wasn't spoken to thousands, or written to challenge an unjust legal system, but to inspire the students at Barratt Junior High School on October 26, 1967, just six months before he was killed by an assassin's bullet. 


Knowing his dream of equality and justice for the African-American young people in his audience was only dawning, and echoing the Apostle Paul, he challenged them nonetheless to a level of excellence worthy of service to Almighty God, no matter the work they found themselves doing in the years to come. 

And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don't just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn't do it any better.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. But be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.

No doubt in King's mind was Proverbs 22:29,

Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.

God deserves our best work according to Paul.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 

But it's not just God that deserves our very best; so do our fellow human beings.

When I think of excellence, two examples stand out. Paul Abbott's commitment to excellence is on display daily in the aircraft engines Covington Aircraft rebuilds. If his work isn't excellent, people don't come home to their families after air travel. Bern Bertsche's commitment is less visible but no less important in the precision parts Camcraft manufactures to exacting tolerances, hidden inside hydraulic and electrical systems of machines and vehicles we depend on every day.

You'll enjoy their stories below.

Covington Aircraft


[Photo by "Keeping It Clean" by Steve Braund, (cropped) used under a creative commons license, sourced via Flickr.]