Fort Drum community honors work of Martin Luther King Jr.
January 20, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- An Army doctor credits the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for affording him some of the opportunities that he has had in life as an African-American.
Col. Bertram C. Providence, Fort Drum MEDDAC commander and a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, paid homage to the famous civil rights leader Thursday during Fort Drum's annual observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"I owe so much today to Dr. King and the freedom fighters of the past for not having to experience the ignorance of segregation, and for allowing me the freedom to succeed or to fail on my own merits," he told an audience of more than 200 Soldiers.
"Martin Luther King Day is a day of observance not just of the greatness of the man, but I believe - and I really believe this," he said, "it is also a celebration about the greatness of America."
Providence, a self-described "little kid" who came from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, said King believed America could not remain a first-class nation while retaining "second-class citizenships." But even so, King's patience in the face of bigotry and intolerance proved to be his lasting legacy, Providence noted.
"Dr. King's goal was not to defeat the oppressor, but to redeem them, through love and education, to avoid a legacy of bitterness," he said.
The chaplain who delivered the invocation at the event said later that King's message of love is a powerful weapon against the evils of the world.
"Martin Luther King's dream is a dream of unity and love for all mankind," said Fort Drum MEDDAC Chaplain (Capt.) Shannon K. Philio. "It's a dream of equality, where we are all working together to make this world a better place.
"What the world needs more of is love," Philio added. "In light of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., and the other evils that we see around the world, I think that as we try to hold back the tide of evil, it is going to take one team ... of all different colors, genders, ages, nationalities and political affiliations, working together."
During his speech, Providence called King a "freedom fighter" whose values resembled the ideals found in the Warrior Ethos.
"Dr. King's dedication to the Civil Rights Movement is very similar to our own Warrior Ethos within the Soldier's Creed," Providence said. "'I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.'
"Dr. King had the opportunity to stay in the North after obtaining several job offers at the completion of his Ph.D. in theology," Providence said, alluding to his point about "I will never leave a fallen comrade."
"However, Dr. King decided to return to the South," he said, "but not just any part of the South, but to Birmingham, Ala., once the home of the first confederate capital ... and known as the most segregated city in the United States."
The colonel also explained that King's efforts had to be understood in the context of American history, since the Civil Rights Movement was really a continuation of a long struggle that began with the Declaration of Independence and extended beyond the Civil War.
"It has been said that America has had three revolutions," he said, listing the American Revolution, the Civil War and the American Civil Rights Movement.
"At the completion of the Civil Rights Movement," he continued, "the opening sentence of the United States Declaration of Independence - that 'all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' - now applied to all Americans.
"We have accomplished many things as a nation since the Civil Rights Movement," Providence added. "But I do believe that freedom and liberty is a race without a finish line."
After the keynote address, Brig. Gen. Harry E. Miller Jr., senior commander Fort Drum, publically thanked Providence for an "inspirational and insightful speech."
"It really motivates me, individually," Miller said. "But I'm sure it resonated well with everyone here.
"You did us right," Miller added. "You're 'a little kid from Brooklyn' who is still running with the football."
After the observance, a young African-American Soldier with 590th Quartermaster Company, 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, said that she was grateful for how much King did to bridge racial divides in America.
"Today, we have all races joined together, living together and working together (in America)," Spec. Shirleta Webb said. "We have (integrated) only after the (tragedy) of what happened to him. It's unfortunate, but at the same time it is fortunate for the rest of us, because it brought us all closer."