MLK Day: Remember His Words, Remember His Leadership

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'”

Today we honor the work, and the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But let us not honor him simply by letting freedom ring simply as freedom from a  day at work.  This should not be just a day off.  It may be well-deserved to our hard-working Airmen, and many Americans, yes, but for a purpose.  For Dr. King attacked an issue with such vigorous passion that his name will be forever be remembered in the halls of American history as changing the landscape of America.  He challenged the system to provide what it had designed…equality for all men and women.

This topic is especially poignant for me, for two reasons.  One, I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to command.  In that role, it is my duty and obligation to ensure that all of my Airmen, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, or other differentiating characteristics have an equal opportunity to succeed.  Their beliefs, or varying traits and lifestyles, belong to them, and should be a source of personal pride.  But those differences have little bearing on their ability to perform their duties, as they deserve every opportunity to be treated equally and fairly.  Our Airmen deserve respect in how they are treated, in recognition for excellence, as well as when discipline is required.  Mutual respect is essential to everything we do, every policy we create, and every action we take.  It sets the tone to allow greater inclusiveness, connectivity, and equality throughout the organization.  Only then can we truly strive towards the excellence the Air Force demands.

Second, and more important to me personally, I am blessed to have a diverse family through adoption, and I take great pride in my family.  However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the fears of a father who has children with different skin color.  My oldest son is from Ethiopia, and we have faced a few challenges of being a white family with a son with brown skin.  And I have three daughters from China, who are obviously non-white, and cause looks of confusion at times when we are out in public.  Looks which I now smile at, because of the pride I feel.  But I worry about how they are treated in school.  I worry about what they will face growing up.  There is still inequality on the streets, and it threatens the livelihood of children of color.  The national headlines over the last two years have brought this to bear for men of color, especially.  I don’t intend to wade into the debate of whether those individuals did anything to incite a reaction from police or others in the white community or not; this is not political.  What I do focus on, is the fact that my wife and I have to educate my son to be careful about wearing his hoodie up, or sagging his shorts.  We have to warn him about making playful gestures with his hand as a gun, even if just playing with his friends as all kids do.  Why?  Because those simple acts may seem normal for a white kid; they were normal for me growing up.  But for my son, simple acts like that may seem more threatening to others because of the inequality that still exists, even if it is an inequality of perception.  It creates more talk, puts more people on edge, and we have seen adults react differently to him first-hand.  Those simple actions are still perceived more threatening from someone with brown skin.  And that just scrapes the surface.  It is only a small taste of what many black families in America face, and many of them have to face much more.  I don’t claim to understand what it’s like to live their lives, and having son from Ethiopia is not the same, but having a son with brown skin has opened my eyes much more to the plight of many American kids across the country.  So my challenge to myself and the many white Americans out there is to challenge our own perceptions.  Challenge our own views.  Many would say they are not racist, but still may move across the aisle or street, away from a black teenager with a hoodie up.  So be introspective, and challenge yourself to see where you stand, and if this may apply to you, as it does to me, constantly reevaluate and see how we can overcome those perceptions.  If we can admit to ourselves the possibility that we may treat others differently because of their differences, then we open our minds to the hope of changing.  It is not weakness to admit our own shortfalls, but strength in the continual growth and development we require to constantly improve our own humanity.

These shortfalls and fears as a father highlight a world that still needs to change, one that still needs to address issues of inequality.  Equality begins with one.  It begins with how we treat each other, not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.  MLK taught us that, and it is essential to understanding how we must treat those around us, whether we’re talking about family, our military sisters and brothers in arms, or society as a whole.  We must keep Dr. King’s dream alive, and moving forward…

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”  I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.  I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.  I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The dream must continue not only in the fight for equality in everything we do, but in enacting the inspiration MLK provided.  It lives on through his vision, in his quest to improve the plight of black Americans and to improve American society.  In doing so, he provided an example of what it means to be a great communicator, to truly embrace a vision and drive forward to achieve it.  We can apply that example in everything we do.  In our own initiatives, our own tasks…we can utilize his purpose and his example as one to emulate in our own lives.  He knew why he fought for equality and justice.  And knowing his “why,” he never wavered.

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, take a moment to ponder his impact, and strive towards his ideals.  The fight for equality, to ensure the same opportunities are afforded to all Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, or how they’re different.  But also take a moment to think about his monumental efforts to lead a movement for change.  Consider how he led…how he moved millions to fight for change, inspiration that lives on today.  Dr. King challenged the status quo, but he did so with love and mutual respect, seeking justice through peace.  Take time today to watch or read his “I have a Dream” speech (click here for the text of his speech).  Think about the way he attacks the issue of equality.  It is not through, hate, it is through love.  Even against those he speaks against, he does not try to tear them down, but build all Americans up.  He does not seek additional opportunity, but equal opportunity.  His is a vision of leadership, love, and methodology of how to change the world.

Equality at work, in all facets, is something we must constantly strive for.  Equality in society is something we must be a beacon of hope for.  Equality in our families is something essential to how we build up those we love.  That is a cornerstone of leadership.  His examples embody all that we strive for as Airmen, living our core values of “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.”  He led well; may we do the same…

Parting thoughts. Consider the 10 Most Tweeted MLK Quotes (courtesy USA Today):

1.  “The time is always right to do what is right.”

2.   “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

3.  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

4. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

5. “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

6.  “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

7.  “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”

8. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

9. “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

10. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”



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