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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ceremony honors, inspires

Photos from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are displayed at the MLK Day ceremony at the Leadership Development Center Jan. 11, 2016, on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The ceremony featured readings of Dr. King’s speeches, videos, and southern style food. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darren Scott/Released)

Photos from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are displayed at the MLK Day ceremony at the Leadership Development Center Jan. 11, 2016, on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The ceremony featured readings of Dr. King’s speeches, videos, and southern style food. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darren Scott/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Joel Johnson, Air Reserve Personnel Center education services specialist, speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ceremony at the Leadership Development Center Jan. 11, 2016, on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The ceremony featured readings of Dr. King’s speeches, videos, and southern style food. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darren Scott/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Joel Johnson, Air Reserve Personnel Center education services specialist, speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ceremony at the Leadership Development Center Jan. 11, 2016, on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The ceremony featured readings of Dr. King’s speeches, videos, and southern style food. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darren Scott/Released)

Airman 1st Class Alyssa Duprey, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs broadcast journalist, reads part of a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of the Leadership Development Center Jan. 11, 2016, on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The ceremony featured readings of Dr. King’s speeches, videos, and southern style food. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darren Scott/Released)

Airman 1st Class Alyssa Duprey, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs broadcast journalist, reads part of a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of the Leadership Development Center Jan. 11, 2016, on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The ceremony featured readings of Dr. King’s speeches, videos, and southern style food. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darren Scott/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Joel Johnson, Air Reserve Personnel Center education services specialist, speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ceremony at the Leadership Development Center Jan. 11, 2016, on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The ceremony featured readings of Dr. King’s speeches, videos, and southern style food. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darren Scott/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Joel Johnson, Air Reserve Personnel Center education services specialist, speaks during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ceremony at the Leadership Development Center Jan. 11, 2016, on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. The ceremony featured readings of Dr. King’s speeches, videos, and southern style food. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Darren Scott/Released)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- "Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make this a reality for all of God's children."

Those words, spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, were read once again Jan. 11 at the Leadership Development Center on Buckley Air Force Base during a ceremony meant to honor his legacy and spur others to action in the present day.

Tech. Sgt. Lee Smith, 460th Space Wing Equal Opportunity NCOIC, was tasked with bringing the event to life. Although originally ordered to plan the ceremony, Smith met the challenge with passion after being inspired by a film about Dr. King's life.

"It reminded me of some of the struggles that a lot of us have been through in American history," said Smith. "With my background, and my father coming from the south and things of that nature.  The reason why I wanted to do it was really to showcase everything that King had to offer, everything he'd done to change the American people, the culture."

Following a short video, members of Team Buckley read portions from different speeches given by Dr. King. Applause erupted after each reading, growing with intensity until the final portion, a reading of the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley.  Silence lingered before Col. John Wagner, 460th Space Wing commander, took the stage to give his final comments, honoring Dr. King's accomplishments and his passion for freedom.

"The struggle continues, inspired by Dr. King," said Wagner.  "A lesson for each and every one of us that we cannot ever dismiss someone's contribution based upon age, race, religion or gender, particularly in our Air Force. We all continue to grow together. To defend our liberty and freedom that our founding fathers inked and Dr. King urged us to bring to life."

Smith urges attendees to not only keep King's legacy alive, but to continue to take steps forward today. He also praised the military for the steps it has taken to champion freedom and diversity.

"The military is a great example of what Dr. King's legacy should be," said Smith. "The diversity, the inclusion, the acceptance of everybody's different values and beliefs. Without him and his dedication, his people leading the way, we probably wouldn't be here today in this form and this fashion, especially in the military."

Following the ceremony, southern style food was available to attendees, who were also able to walk around and view an array of posters and pictures from Dr. King's life and the civil rights movement, including artwork created by students to reflect the ideals of freedom and justice.

"It's hard not to wonder what Dr. King would be saying right now about America if he were still here with us," said Wagner. "What a powerful and moving tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Smith's goal was to honor King's memory and remind those in attendance of how far the U.S. has come since Dr. King's death.

"Some people might not have known the struggles that the older generations, historically, have gone through in the past," said Smith. "Ultimately, the goal was to remind people of the struggles we've been through in history."

King, who would have been 87 this year, was instrumental in changing a nationwide culture of racism and segregation during the 1960s, and is the first African-American and non-U.S. President to be honored by a federal holiday.
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