The Power of… ONE

Dr. Lillian Kennedy Beam in Kenya

Dr. Lillian Kennedy Beam in Kenya


“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


ONE. Can one person change the world? What will be your legacy?

Whenever anyone says, “What can I do? I’m only one person,” I remind them of Gandhi’s insistence that personal change and the ability to bring about social change are linked. It starts at home with you. That is the essence of his often repeated quote: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” For him, it wasn’t a trite statement; it was a responsibility of the living. The PWR – Purpose With Results philosophy is based on discovering your own Life Purpose and then inspiring others through it. That’s how each and every person can make a difference in this world because we each have a unique gift to share. The power of one is the power to inspire many and start a chain reaction of good.

This column I write with sadness and with hope. The sadness comes from the earthly loss of my Aunt Lillian – Dr. Lillian Kennedy Beam – who died on July 6, 2008 at the age of 84. The hope comes from the inspiration and model of service and unconditional love she provided. A small woman, at barely 5 feet tall, she had a big heart and great vision. What you saw first was her smile, what you felt always was her warmth. I am extremely blessed to have been her niece and to have spent time with her over the years, and particularly our time together in Kenya with her older brother, my dad. It was a special time and a special place I will always remember. On July 28th, we also commemorated the third year of dad’s passing. Now I know that he has greeted her on the other side.

As a Navy wife, Aunt Lillian traveled with her husband Loudin Beam to Japan, Guam and elsewhere until the family settled in San Diego in 1960. As a mother of six, she worked part time as a teacher assistant for the San Diego Unified School District. Her devotion to her family led to leadership roles in the PTA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and the San Diego Association for Gifted Children. When her youngest child was 3, she began teaching in adult education and returned to school earning her master’s in education and Ph.D. in Psychology and Business Management. She served for various civic organizations and went on to be president of the Educational Cultural Complex in the San Diego Community College District.

In 1984, she took on the job of rebuilding the United States International University in Africa (USIUA). She called it the biggest challenge of her life. USIUA in Nairobi was founded in 1969 when it was granted a Presidential Charter by President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta making it the first and only secular university in East Africa. In 1970 USIUA began with five American students in a house in Parklands. When Aunt Lillian joined there were approximately 60 to 80 students and the classes were held at the New Mayfair Hotel. In seven years she took a school described as being “The Phoenix in the Ashes,” purchased 20 acres of land in Kasarani with a view of Mount Kenya, and built a fully accredited American University with 14 buildings spread over five acres of the 20-acre campus.

USIU-Africa became the best and most prestigious private university in all of Africa. In 1992 Aunt Lillian was named Kenya’s First Woman Vice-Chancellor to the President of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi. In 1993 the library – a beautiful three story wood and stone building was opened and dedicated as the Dr. Lillian Kennedy Beam Library. Today over 2,500 students attend the University and obtain degrees recognized internationally. She officially left USIUA in 1994, but continued as an educational consultant. With her extensive knowledge of education and the region, she built smaller village schools throughout Kenya and a university in Burundi. She moved back to the United States in 2001.

On my first day at Harvard Business School I was sitting in the classroom and didn’t know anyone, or so I thought. I sat next to Erica Motley. She kept looking at me and then my name placard. Finally, she exclaimed, “You’re Terri Kennedy! Your aunt is Dr. Lillian Beam!” I was shocked. Erica had just returned from studying at USIUA in Kenya and remembered my picture on Aunt Lillian’s desk in her office in Nairobi. This small woman’s reach was quite expansive – from USIUA in Kenya to Harvard Business School in Boston!

The summers teaching at USIUA, and producing plays for the Now Africa Theatre Company there, were a delight for my dad. Through Aunt Lillian’s efforts in building a world-class university, dad was able to inspire hundreds of future global leaders and arts activists. Through one small woman multiple lives were touched year after year. One woman sparked an exponential ripple effect that still continues past her death – one teaching twenty, twenty touching a hundred, and so on. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Franklin, Ohio, she did not have riches; instead, she had a dream to help others better themselves through education. In an interview, after receiving the International Living Legacy Award in 1994, she said: “You have to dare to be different and willing to be yourself and accept the consequences.”

What dream is in your heart? What special gift are you being prepared to share? If you believe you can make a difference, you can. It’s in the decisions you make every day – how you act, what you purchase, who you inspire. Each decision you make affects the whole – because we are all a part of One. You can transform your family, your school, your organization, your community, your environment by being a role model, by speaking up for what is right, by being mindful of your choices and by simply getting involved. You are not alone and one arm can reach far. Technological interconnectedness, using tools of email and the Internet, allows you to affect change on a global scale from your home base. Your voice, your vote, your helping hand can shift one person’s perspective, start a chain reaction and change the course of history.

Write a letter to the editor to share your opinion. Join your local civic group to support your community. Visit your state senator to change a policy. Be a mentor. Be a rainmaker. Be a hero. Dare to dream and share your dream. Don’t wait for someone else to lead. Make a statement with your life. You have the power. Use it wisely. As the Jewish scholar, Hillel the Elder said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?”


  • Have a vision. You were created for a distinct Purpose. Know who you are by taking time to understand your gifts. Use your experiences and what you’ve learned to help others. Ask yourself: “What can I do to impact the world?” If that seems like a big task, ask: “What can I do to help one person?”
  • Use what you have. You have all you need right now to affect change in another person’s life. Be creative and resourceful. If you can listen, you can help.
  • Do what is right. If you witness injustice speak up. You are your brother’s keeper.
  • Take action now. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect. Life is in this moment so act now!


    Today, I change the world through my actions.

    I understand that I have the power to change the world through my choices. I have all I need right now to be a hero in another person’s life. I can speak, I can teach, I can listen. I can be a role model for purposeful living.

    Today, I change the world through my actions.

    Listen to the Affirmation:


    Copyright Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy. Power Living® Column Vol. 75.08, originally published August 2008. Teresa Kennedy has written over 70 “The Power of…” columns that are a part of the Power Living® Empowerment Series and available for syndication. Call 212-901-6913 for more information.

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