Being a Pioneer for Change

Just imagine the origins of social change in our society. Think about the pioneers who were some of the first advocates for social justice, human rights, civil rights, gender equality, health care guarantees, public education, environmental protection, and other advances in society. Today most of these changes are generally accepted as essential traits of a just society. But they weren’t when the pioneers began their advocacy. Who were these pioneers? What was in their DNA that compelled them to take the lead?

Perhaps the best way to think about these questions is to reflect on the life of one person. It’s hard to imagine the courage and vision of this one person being at the forefront of what are essential aspects of our society. It’s even more remarkable when you learn that he passed away in 1970.

He was born in Wheeling, WV to parents who were immigrants from Germany. His parents organized debates among their five children to get them aware of the social issues of the day. He started working when he was 9 and never finished high school.

Over his career, he was one of the most influential Americans. He was one of the pioneers in bringing about the following social changes:

  • Creation of the Peace Corps
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Medicare and Medicaid
  • Fair Housing Act

He was an advisor to Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson. He was an ally of Martin Luther King and worked with King in Selma, AL. He facilitated for Dr. King’s release from the Birmingham jail where he authored his famous letter. He helped organize the March on Washington. He was a supporter of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. He played a critical role in organizing the first Earth Day one month before his death. He was also reviled by those who opposed social change. Perhaps the best summary of his life is a quote from a journalist: “He is the only man I have ever met who could reminisce about the future.”

Think about why we don’t often share more stories about individuals who are instrumental in bringing about social change. What more could we learn about their lives, their approaches, and how they bring about change? But most importantly, what could we learn about how they developed their vision?

Just imagine how many people reading this message still don’t know the person who contributed so much to our society. Just imagine how knowing more about him could help us deal with our current societal challenges. Just imagine how inspiring his story would be to young people of modest means but glorious dreams. His name was Walter Reuther and he was President of the United States Auto Workers. His story is one that many of the hidden heroes in this series share.

* * *

            “There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.” – Walter Reuther (Longtime President of the United Auto Workers)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.