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 January's Martin Luther King, Jr. luncheon: 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 in 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 physically seeing the violence demonstrated against non-violent protestors during the Civil Rights movement.
However, we have all heard of and seen video of inhumane treatment against those demonstrators involved in the marches 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 American's. 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 where African American's were not heard. His actions could move mountains and teach us to act in defense of what we believe is right. It's important to keep in mind Dr. King's lessons were for African Americans at the time; however the teachings apply to all.

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


Celebrate the past from which we came and the future we are destined. Celebrate those who realized change was needed and despite the seeming insurmountable odds banded together creating a legacy lasting a lifetime.

Celebrate the fact that regardless of status you are free ... free to dream, free to meditate, free to pray and free to think. Items which seem so small we often take for granted not realizing how many are dying right now for the same privilege.
Celebrate that you're in a position to help make a difference and positively affect the outcome of another person's life.

Even when Dr. King realized his life was coming to an end, celebration was on his mind. He celebrated knowing 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 American's 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 positives 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.