Walker discusses the calling of public service

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After stepping up to the podium to address Annual Meeting attendees on Jan. 24, Liz Walker proclaimed, “I want to talk to you about practicing grace.”
Grace, she said, is the foundation of civility. It is commitment, passion, tolerance and mutual respect, all of which, she said, are expressed by local officials every day.
“We need more grace in the world,” she said.
Speaking at the Friday night dinner, Walker, an ordained minister and former TV news anchor, shared experiences from her life-changing trip to war-torn Sudan. In 2001, Walker traveled to South Sudan with a group to investigate allegations of slavery. Her mission was to cover a story about Africans in conflict.
Sudan, now divided into two countries, has been drowning in violence, hatred, conflict and inhumanity for more than two decades. It was, she said, the last place she thought she would find grace.
Her knowledge of Africa before the trip was limited, she said, because Africans were always represented as “the others” and “those people.” When she landed in Sudan, Walker said, what she saw was people who were suffering in ways that were unimaginable.
“I saw people who had their villages destroyed by bombs, women who had their husbands hacked to death by machetes, women who were gang raped – nothing redeeming about living there,” Walker said.
Yet in the midst of all the suffering and violence, Walker was amazed how the people were going on with their lives, because, she realized, they had no choice.
“They were living in extremely difficult situations, but living nonetheless.”
Walker recalled the time she was trying to get some footage of a woman pounding grain and accidentally knocked over the bowl. Walker was horrified when she learned the woman had been working on the grain for four hours to feed her family. She thought about how easy it is for someone to mistakenly do something harmful that deeply affects someone else.
Instead of getting angry, however, the woman forgave her.
“She didn’t know I was on TV, didn’t hear who I was,” she said. “I was an intruder, but she was willing to show me grace.”
Walker first saw grace in motion when she was 7 years old and her father took her to see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was moved by King’s message that ordinary people can do things to change the world, and that grace can be used as a motivator.
Those fighting for civil rights, she said, “withstood hoses, and dogs that were biting, and people who were calling them names, and they stood up in the name of freedom.”
They forgave those who spat on them, who called them names and thought they were less than human. For one shining moment in history, Walker said, showing grace worked.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” King said. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
This message, Walker said, filters into our public arenas. Grace and civility, she explained, is what public service is about.
“It’s about what you people do everyday,” she said. “Whether it’s listening to people’s lowest complaints or listening to their highest aspirations, you take it all in and serve them, and that is a calling.
“A calling is when your joy meets the world’s needs, your grace meets the world’s needs,” she said. “If we can’t give grace to each other, then what good is it all?”
Walker was a news anchor at WBZ-TV for two decades and currently hosts a special television magazine health series called “Better Living With Liz Walker” on WCVB-TV. She is a transitional minister at Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Boston and co-founder of My Sister’s Keeper, a grassroots initiative that advocates for women and children. Recently, it built a girls’ school in South Sudan.