Schweitzer fellows explore similarities, differences in Martin Luther King, Jr., and Albert Schweitzer

By Dennis Archambault

This year’s Albert Schweitzer fellows chose to commemorate the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday with a service project at Vista Maria, one of the nation’s only residential care programs for traumatized women, a large percentage of whom are victims of human trafficking. The King holiday also provided an opportunity to consider the shared legacies of Dr. King and Dr. Schweitzer who were born within days of each other, but only shared about a decade of their adult ministries — Schweitzer in Africa and King in the United States, but both known to be great humanitarians.

Like many people who conduct service projects on the King holiday, the Schweitzer fellows provide a meaningful service that serves as a platform for reflection. Throughout their fellowship, the fellows consider the complex nature of Dr. Schweitzer as a white European whose consciousness called him to “make my life my argument” by leaving Germany and establishing a hospital in Africa. Dr. King recognized that: “Albert Schweitzer…looks at men in dark Africa who have been the victims of colonialism and imperialism and there he gave his life to that. He objectifies himself in this great cause.”

Dr. Schweitzer undoubtedly knew of Dr. King, but never acknowledged him in a public way. Still, each defined their unique space in humanitarian work: Schweitzer taught whites in Europe and the United States that they had a moral obligation to do something to right the wrongs of colonialism. King taught Americans, and oppressed minorities throughout the world, that peaceful engagement, however tense, was a means toward the end of racism. Both men have been subjected to revisionist history and the lens of our contemporary fellows. A robust reflection on the two Nobel Peace Prize winners led to a sense that our current racial and political tension calls for radical change. Our fellows, and the 200-plus other fellows throughout the nation, are well-prepared to play a critical role of defining humanitarianism in the future.

 The Schweitzer fellows closed their service day by considering the well-known quote by Dr. King regarding health equity — which Dr. Schweitzer likely would have embraced: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.