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If a man is called to be a street sweeper,
He should sweep
streets as Michelangelo painted, or
Beethoven composed music, or
Shakespeare wrote poetry.
He should sweep streets so well
that all the hosts of heaven and earth
will pause to say,
“Here lived a great street sweeper
who did his job well.”

                                Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who builds this world?

All manner of men and women.

Some in their heads.

Others behind the saw.

Some with money and paper.

Others with motors and tendons.

With sweat and fear and a bowl of beam.

With rest and hope and a cup of cool water.

With gratefulness for work.

With the work of gratefulness.

With Grace and gratitude.

You can taste us in the wind

Hear us in the water

See us in the red clay

Smell us in the rainbow

Feel us in our singing

I cut the grass

I scrub the floors

I type the letters

I push the papers

Behind you before you beside you with you

I design the system

I repair the system

I design the process

I manage the process

I aid the process

I conduct the process

I write the report

Behind you before you beside you with you

I care for patients

I tighten bolts

I order parts

I pay bills

I take what’s owed

I direct traffic

I observe and speak

Behind you before you beside you with you

I mother the students

I father the students

I teach the students

I am a student

Behind you before you beside you with you

I paint the rooms

I lay the bricks

I lay the stone

Behind you before you beside you with you

I have been here 200 years

I will always be here

In bitter cold

In hot weather

In hurricane and snow

In sweet-smelling Spring days

In crisp bright Fall ones

You can taste us in the wind

Hear us in the water

See us in the red clay

Smell us in the rainbow

Feel us in our singing

From the board rooms to the classrooms.

From the dining halls to the gardens.

From the libraries to the laboratories.

Behind you before you beside you with you

From the offices to the gymnasiums.

From the repair shops to the computer rooms.

From midnight till morning.

From morning to midnight.

Behind you before you beside you with you

When fire burns and ice freezes.

When friends call and strangers come.

When enemies threaten and allies praise.

Behind you before you beside you with you

Who builds this world?

All manner of men and women.

Some in their heads.

Others behind the saw.

Some with money and paper.

Others with motors and tendons.

With sweat and fear and a bowl of beam.

With rest and hope and a cup of cool water.

With gratefulness for work.

With the work of gratefulness.

With Grace and gratitude.

Behind you before you beside you with you

 

Jeffery Beam

Vice Chair, Employee Forum

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

1998

This poem written for a presentation by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Employee Forum to the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees, May 28, 1998.

My gratitude to Anne Montgomery and Lucille Brooks for the idea, and their inspiring and unfaltering belief in my abilities.

Thanks also to Rachel Windham, Jackie Overton, and Elizabeth Evans for their contributions to the poem.

 

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