Keeping King’s dream alive

by Thomas Warner
LRMC Public Affairs

***image2***Are the hopes and dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still actively pursued by Americans today? Have we moved past the period of injustices and racial stratification that existed before and during the revolutionary minister’s short time on Earth?

“More than anything, I think Dr. King would be proud about how far we’ve all come,” said HM2 Marlen Staley, a Navy reservist working at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “You look at black tennis players, black golfers and athletes, black bishops, people in various professions − and even how many black officers there are within the military.

“I’m not just talking about Navy, but Marine Corps, Army and every branch − especially with regard to women.”

Dr. King’s legacy lives on in the United States and American military facilities worldwide in the form of a federal holiday set aside to commemorate his life. Monday was a paid leave day for all U.S. Department of Defense employees, including those working in Germany.

***image1***“It’s just another day off for a lot of people − it’s sad, but that’s just how they look at it,” said Tommy Washington, a USO worker at LRMC. “Probably most people would tell you that − black people or white people. We have these observances in the dining facility, the powers that be make speeches, and then the next day we are right back where we were.”

Mr. Washington uses his own memories of Dr. King to cast the Atlanta-born preacher in a positive and historic light, dating back before the time when he was in the military and heard of the non-violent, black leader’s death.

“I was really upset that a thing of that magnitude could happen in my country and to someone that meant so much to me,” Mr. Washington said. “It’s like that song, The Day the Music Died. It was like the dream sort of died after he was killed.”

Dr. King’s push for racial equality had the lasting effect, though, of helping to create inroads for other minorities, Washington said, regarding both race and gender.

“When I entered my area of work for my career within the military, and it was a specialized field, there were about 1,300 people working there worldwide and maybe 25 were black,”  Mr. Washington said. “There were not any women. In the 1970s they made a recruiting push and you started seeing some changes in the makeup of the organization.

“But the military itself was not segregated back when I entered it and even before then during Dr. King’s time. It had already for many years been made up of men and women of several races.”

Landstuhl staffers joined other Americans in observing the national holiday Monday. A midday observance also took place Thursday in Heaton Auditorium, which included information booths and narratives read by various military personnel.

Dr. King would have been 79 years old had he been alive to celebrate his Jan. 15 birthday this year. Different mindsets exist as to how he would have felt about the status of the nation.

“If Dr. King was alive today, he’d probably agree with (comedian/entertainer) Bill Cosby’s assessment of ‘Black America’ in Cosby’s book Come On, People,” said SFC Jon-Michael Britain, an assistant adjutant at LRMC. “He would say we’ve come a long way. Example: Barack Obama. But he’d say we’ve also got a long way to go.

“Race relations in America is not all about black versus white. We’ve done a lot of melting, but we’ve got a lot of melting left to do.”