Martin Luther King Jr. Day: 'A day on, not a day off'

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Tyrone Bess
  • 8th Security Forces Squadron
As we celebrate the world-changing movements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and countless other civil rights leaders, their actions resonate in the theme of this year's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Remember, act, celebrate, and it's a day on -- not a day off.

Remember past challenges, hurts and conflicts endured by those who came before you. Remember your own past because there lies the person you are today.
I am reminded of a quote my mother once shared with me from Louisa May
Alcott: "I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship." Those words exemplify all Martin Luther King Jr. stood for.

Knowing the relentless criticism he would undergo, not only from those different from him, but also the very people he stood in the gap defending.

Standing up to continuous beatings, threats against his life and the lives of family members and enduring unjust prison sentences -- all for the right to be called equal.
Few in the military are old enough to remember seeing the violence demonstrated against nonviolent protestors during the civil rights movement.

However, we have heard of and seen video of inhumane treatment against those demonstrators and remember the bloodshed, sacrifice, attack dogs, fire hoses and determination exhibited for the right to have a drink of water, a sandwich at the local restaurant with those from all walks of life. The sacrifices were not for those who lost their lives, but for those of us who would come after.

What we do today and the lessons we're learning now are not for our benefit, but those who will follow in our footsteps.

Dr. King acted on what he believed were injustices against African-Americans. In a letter from a Birmingham, Ala. prison, Dr. King wrote to fellow clergymen. "I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

He acted as the sounding voice in a time when African-American's were barely heard. His actions could move mountains and teach us to act in defense of what we believe is right.

As military men and women, we have to realize the fight has not stopped. We have a role to act on behalf of others who do not have a voice. Those in the Middle East and Africa need our voice, our remembrance, our action. Acting on injustices is important because as the popular military saying goes: "Freedom isn't free."

Celebrate the past from which we came and the future ahead. Celebrate those who realized change was needed and despite the seeming insurmountable odds banded together to create a legacy lasting beyond their lifetimes.

Celebrate the fact that regardless of your status you are free. Free to dream, free to meditate, free to pray and free to think. These freedoms can seem so small we take them for granted not realizing how many are dying right now for the same privileges.

Celebrate that you're in a position to help make a difference and positively affect another person's life.

Even when Dr. King realized his life was coming to an end, celebration was on his mind.

He celebrated that his children and many like them would have a better life because he chose to speak on their behalf.

He chose to stand where others would not, he chose to go where others would not, he chose to see what others were afraid of and he chose to celebrate before the outcome could be seen.

The celebrations during January and February do not affect African-Americans alone; these months are for all to remember the past in order to affect the present and future, to act for what we know is right and celebrate because you know the end result is freedom and life.

There is work yet to do, so today is a day on -- not a day off. A personal challenge from me is to see who you can impact in positive ways over the next two months.

Maybe you will be a sounding voice for someone and one day there will be writings about your accomplishments.

I will end with one of Dr. King's more famous quotes: "The true stature of man is not how he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but how he stands in times of challenge and controversy."

Be courageous, remember, act and celebrate.

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