By Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 21, 2010
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- More than 100 Buckley members took part in a ceremony to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader who impacted the world with his messages of nonviolent activism and racial equality.
Col. Gerald Curry, Air Force Space Command Director of Security Forces and author of "Striving For Perfection, Developing Professional Black Officers," was the keynote speaker for the event. The Colonel pointed out that people of all colors and all walks of life should be able to tell the story of how Dr. King impacted their lives and the lives of those around them.
"It is customary for African American Officers to be asked to make presentations during MLK Celebrations and Black History Month, and while I cherish the opportunity, I want to come on line as saying that these ethnic observances should not be confined to African Americans, but all Americans that understand the struggle and the sacrifices that have been made," said Colonel Curry. "The MLK story is an American story and should be cherished and told by all. If we are ever going to grow beyond where we are today, others must take up this challenge and share the tremendous impact Dr. King has had on their life. I firmly believe that many of us would be surprised by what we might learn by listening to others."
Colonel Curry explained what this year's theme - "Remember, Celebrate, Act, A Day On, Not A Day Off" - means to him. "These words denote action; they focus our attention on continuing the struggle in uniting toward world peace and global understanding. This is a day to make good on Dr. King's work, so we need to take this time and think about living the legacy he created and improve on our society by eliminating barriers that cause illegal conditions."
He said many have come to romanticize the Civil Rights Era and the life of Dr. King despite the harsh reality of what the times.
"During Dr. King's speeches, he would pack centuries of pain and possibility into each word and phrase. During his famous 'I Have A Dream' speech it was not his intentions to simply detail a dream that created hope, but to narrate a nightmare," the Colonel explained. "Our nation is too often overwhelmed by the desire for a past where racial issues, are minimized and diluted. Too many of us today, do not like to think about the brutality that existed and was a common-part of African American life. Please understand that this was an age where boundaries were blurred and issues became somewhat muddy. One explanation is America's hunger for amnesia is too great! And where amnesia fails, nostalgia succeeds!"
Colonel Curry made the comparison of settlers who came to America for their own reasons to the arrival of blacks who were stolen from their homes and forced into slavery. He said in spite of this beginning, African Americans have played a major role in defining and shaping American culture, customs and traditions.
"The African American legacy did not start with slavery. It started with the very first man that was created in the heart of Africa, the birthplace of mankind. It produced the makers of the great pyramids, the world's first universities in Mali and Songhai Empires located in northern Africa. These great nations studied mathematics, geography, history, astrology, multiple languages, and song. These people became the true mentors for European giants like Socrates, and Aristotle," said Colonel Curry. "You see,Dr. King was not an isolated case of excellence; he is an extension of the brilliance that was developed over centuries. These are the ingenious people that provide the strong shoulders we stand on today. If we are going to accurately reflect back on the milestones, accomplishments, and legacy of Dr. King we must make mention of these beginnings."
Colonel Curry talked about how ship captains ferrying slaves to America would separate tribal members because they didn't want them communicate enough to revolt or escape. He said no matter how under duress the blacks were, they would find a way - first with drums and when they were taken away, with song.
Using his own voice to pull listeners into the world he was describing, Colonel Curry sang examples of what one might hear slaves singing as they planned an early morning escape, faced a water danger or crossing up ahead and what he pictured Dr. King himself singing while sitting in the Birmingham jail feeling deserted, isolated and rejected.
"Slaves learned to communicate through their songs, and from this period we gained our old Negro spirituals that were used to frame the Civil Rights Era, offer encouragement, and promise," said Colonel Curry. "Our music was used to unite us and invite others. Still today music is used to bring people together and for celebrations.
"Dr. King left us a legacy that is built on the shoulders of our phenomenal ancestors. Because of their brave steadfastness and strong belief in God they were able to endure. They were able to excel in spite of the raping, lynching, beatings, and unfair treatment of the past. Today, I challenge you to tap into his legacy and pick up where he left off. Create a society where school teachers are paid more than entertainers and athletes. Register to vote and impeach politicians that don't live up to the standards expected of their constituency. For the first time in modern history, the head of state of a major world power is a black man. This is not only monumental, but goes to illustrate what is possible if you only commit yourself to greatness.
Colonel Curry said Dr. King left the world several lessons that he summarized in five quick points.
Build a life plan that is based on excellence that puts service first and your personal needs second
We need to get away from this materialistic, me-me-me philosophy. We need to concentrate on helping others by ensuring our life is clear of junk and drama. One of my favorite motivational speakers is Zig Ziglar, who once said, "The best way to get what you want out of life is to help someone get what they want." This plan needs to include brother and sisterhood, economic empowerment, pushing educational excellence, and a deeper spiritual awareness.
Great things are born outside the system
Some times you have to step outside your comfort zones and take calculated risks. Many times the system will not embrace you or does not want to take the time to understand you. So you have to step outside the system to make things happen. Dr. King clearly understood that "if God is for you who can be against you." When you stand up for the Lord he promises to thwart off your enemies. When Jim Crow laws abounded and blacks were being lynched, Dr. King knew that God would protect his children. Great things are born outside of the system.
Everyone who smiles at you, or pats you on the back is not for you
As we remember Dr. King we need to know that he had enemies both black and white. Many blacks at the time called him a trouble-maker and nuisance, they would often say, "Why can't he just stay at home and mind his own business," or "We don't have any problems with blacks and whites in these parts, why can't he just go back to where he came from." Dr. King knew that he had to weather many of the storms of life alone. You need to clearly understand that just because you have an outstanding military record, and look impressive in your uniform that everyone is not going to be your admirer. Do the right thing for right's sake. Don't expect everyone to pat you on the back with praises just because you are a good person. Everyone who is around you is not for you.
Keep your gifts hidden while they grow
While you develop your gifts keep them to yourself. Your good news is not always going to be celebrated by others. When Dr. King won the Noble Peace Prize many within the civil rights organizations became instantly jealous and did not think it appropriate for him to receive such a high award and recognition. Learn to keep your eyes open and mouth closed. Your business is not everyone's business. Work hard and develop your skills, knowing that when opportunity knocks you will be ready to answer the call.
Be willing to stand up and speak up for what you believe in
Be a person of Principle. Arm yourself with high moral values, strengthen yourself with the hope and God's promises. Don't be shy and expect people to read you mind. If you got something to say then say it. I do not know too many mind-readers running around Buckley Air Force Base. Stand up and be heard.