ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - More than 680 Soldiers, civilians, retirees, family members and local students reflected on the timeless words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the annual APG ceremony that celebrated the legacy of the civil rights leader at the Myer Auditorium Jan. 21. The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO CBD) coordinated the event.
"Dr. King's relentless struggle for justice through rational and nondestructive social change galvanized our nation and helped reorder its priorities," said Capt. Tamika Mckenzie of the U.S. Army Public Health Command, during opening remarks. "His wisdom, actions, commitment and dreams are intertwined with the American experience and are deeply embedded in our diverse culture."
The national recurring theme of MLK Jr. Day is "Remember, Celebrate, Act! A Day On, Not A Day Off," and is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service.
In keeping with this theme, guest speaker Rodney Bullard, the executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation and the vice president of community affairs talked about giving back to the community.
"We don't have to worry about segregation," he said. "But we still have hard problems to solve."
Bullard said there is room for improvement in America's public schools. For example, only 57 percent of black males in Baltimore City schools graduate from high school, he said. Similar statistics are found in other large cities.
"That is wholly unacceptable that we are leaving behind half of our community, half of our nation," he said.
He recalled that as a first grade student, because he struggled to read on grade level, his teacher tutored him during the summer so he could catch up to his fellow classmates. He told attendees that they can make a difference in their communities by mentoring.
"What she said and what she did led me to the Air Force Academy, led me to do law and led me to business school," he said. "What investment are you making in someone else? We are all unexpected heroes for someone."
Other program highlights included performances by the Rhema Praise Choir and an original poem reading by Larry O'Neal from the APG Directorate of Public Works.
After the program Hilda Thomas, of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command Logistics and Readiness Center, said she thought the message was thought provoking.
"I thought the message transcended age," Thomas said. "The program reminded me that everyone can do something to improve their community."
Hanna Armstrong, a 7th grade student from Havre de Grace Middle School said the program inspired her to want to make a difference in her community now and in the future.
"Martin Luther King Jr. is my hero," she said.
Cicely Levingston, JPEO CBD chief of strategic communications, said the purpose of the event was to pay tribute to the principles of equality, peace and service.
"We wanted to motivate others to serve and support their communities making them better places to live," she said. "No matter how young or how old, we all have the ability to serve."
Bullard said he appreciated having the opportunity to speak to the APG community.
"It's obvious that this installation is filled with leaders who care, and leadership is truly what it's all about it," Bullard said. "Leadership, though, means motivating others to take action. Motivating and supporting others in their journey to overcome obstacles. That's the message I wanted to convey."