By Dee Christian
USAG Plans, Analysis & Integration Office
" have a dream..." While most people have heard these familiar words, few may realize the life of dedication and service that stood behind them.
More than 100 people received an education about equality, service and the need to treat others with dignity and respect as they listened to Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin B. Stuart, Command Sergeant Major of the Medical Research and Materiel Command at the celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jan. 20.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a lot of things to many people. It’s a day to celebrate the life of a man who stood for equality and peace. It’s a federal holiday, when Soldiers and federal workers stay home with their families and relax. It’s also a day to reflect back on the history of this country, especially the Civil Rights movements.
For Stuart, the holiday is that and so much more. Stuart was just a child when King was preaching and teaching about nonviolent ways to take a stand, ways to bring about peace and equality for all humankind.
"When I was a young child, my dad and I were going to the grocery store – to get bread, milk, cigarettes and candy. My dad knew I LOVED candy!" Stuart said, reflecting back on that day. He said that after his dad picked up all the items they needed, they went to the check out and the clerk was a young white man.
"He said to my dad, 'What do you need, boy?' As a young child, I knew what 'boy' meant, my dad called me and my brothers 'boy' sometimes. But why would this man who appeared much younger than my dad, call him 'boy?' After the man rang up our order, he said, 'that will be $1.68.' "My dad handed, from his hand to the clerk’s hand, a five-dollar bill," Stuart said.
"But when the clerk made change, he didn’t hand the change back to my dad. He threw it down on the counter. Some of the coins rolled off, and as I stooped to pick them up, I looked up at my dad and saw that he was staring at that man. If looks could kill, my dad would have killed that man."
"We took our items and left the store. I remember we got in the car and had a moment of silence. That moment stretched into two, three, four minutes. Finally, I had to break the ice. I asked my dad, 'Is everything all right?'
"My dad said, 'There's a lot of hate in this world. People are going to hate you for what you are, who you are and the color of your skin. You got to rise above that and never stoop down to the level of that stupidity. There’s a man going around preaching about equality. He’s telling folks that darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.'"
Stuart talked about being a young private first class, stationed at Fort Polk, La. It was a time when guard duty rosters were ample, guarding the motor pool, ammo dump, perimeter, you name it. Stuart felt like he was good at guarding, he was proud of what he did and often pulled the duty for others (and to earn some extra cash).
Prior to taking up a guard post, each soldier was asked questions that pertained to his duty, the guard chain of command, inspection of arms, weapon serial number, battle sight zero and general orders. As the sergeant of the guard was inspecting those preparing to go on duty, he asked questions.
The first soldier, who was white, was asked who was the officer of the guard? His answer was less than stellar. The second soldier was asked one question. But when the sergeant of the guard got to Stuart, he began firing questions. Stuart fired back all the right answers. He remembers distinctly that sergeant leaning in close and saying, so that only Stuart could hear, "N------, are you trying to be a smart aleck?"
"This was a small fraction of what people had to go through during that time. We need to continue educating people so it can change. Dr. King went through a lot. He was facing a tall mountain. The reason people don’t get along is because we fear one another. We fear one another because we don’t know one another. We don’t know one another because we don’t communicate. If we could know each other, we could overcome our fears and start to get along together." Stuart said.
The words of wisdom and spirit of Dr. King helped people through the atrocities. "Dr. King would say often that this is the greatest country in the world because of the people who live here," Stuart told the gathering. "He was an Ambassador for Peace, an advocate of civil rights. He was human enough to make mistakes and humble enough to admit to them. He challenged us: Do you want to make this country powerful? You have to give it up – give up yourself to others."
To Stuart, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day of service. He said that Dr. King wanted to be remembered for his love of others and his service to humanity. Everyone can serve. You don’t have to have a degree. All you need is a heart full of grace.
"Dr. King has inspired people in the United States and all over the world to serve. He encouraged all Americans to live up to their potential. It's about making a difference in our country. One of the greatest things he gave us was that legacy of service."
Stuart also challenged the audience to make a commitment to excellence. "Be the best at whatever you are. It doesn’t matter what you do in life. You could be a street sweeper. But you should be the best ever street sweeper that ever there was."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was named Michael Luther King at birth, died on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39. His life was full of accomplishments. It was a dreary day when one single bullet brought an end to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So although the day of celebration, the day set aside for remembrance has passed, it would have been King’s wish that everyone commit every day to serving others.
"Martin Luther King Day is a celebration of his accomplishments and how he has contributed to his country and to the world,” said Master Sgt. Robin Livingston, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 21st Brigade. Although he knew a lot of the information Stuart told the group, “hearing it again makes you reflect on how things were compared to how they are now."
Chaplain (Col.) Thomas Waynick, command chaplain with the 7th Signal Command (Theater), also felt that the program was a reminder that, “when we sit down with people and look at the problems they present, there’s a lot of pain and prejudice, and we need to be more sensitive to that. It’s also a reminder that words have power. We share the power of common humanity with each other. We lift each other up out of our prejudices. You can’t walk away just remembering the negative. It was a call to remember those positive movements inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "It’s not to say we are where we should be, but we’re moving in the right direction."
"I just hope more people would understand and live by (King’s) words. I wish more people would buy into fair, equal treatment of all people with dignity and the way they want to be treated. That’s my philosophy," said Charles Harriday, Installation Safety Management Office.
"Even today, in this place, on Jan. 20, 2011, we have to stand together, stand strong and stand proud," Stuart said.