FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- When considering whether or not to host the African-American History Month luncheon this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, leadership decided to go ahead with the event because it is “too important to us because of what it represents, and also what it does for us as individuals and as Americans,” said the deputy to the commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker.
“This is a chance to reflect on the history of America, and the history of African-Americans in relation to that history as one,” William G. Kidd said at the event at the Landing Feb. 22. “As we drink deeply from the program today and the talents that are going to be displayed here, I just ask you to reflect on the words, emotions and lessons we’ll gain from it, and then commit ourselves as individuals, as organizations and groups, as Americans, all of us, to making the American dream a reality for all of us – all Americans.”
The few attendees at the event sat at tables wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines, while enjoying interpretive dance, spoken word and musical performances, and lunch provided by the Landing staff. The event was aired on Facebook Live.
Maj. Gen. David J. Francis introduced the guest speaker of the event, Enterprise Mayor William E. Cooper, who also spoke at the event last year, as a “tremendous friend and partner for us here at Fort Rucker.”
A Dothan native, Cooper became Enterprise’s 21st mayor and first African-American mayor in 2017 after serving on the city council for the past 28 years, according to his biography.
“His efforts extend beyond the impact of his mayoral duties as he serves on multiple boards, committees and organizations that have been instrumental in the service of and dedication to all members of the community,” Francis added. “This month, we celebrate the cultural heritage, diverse contributions and unbreakable spirit of African-Americans and of America itself. We commend the heroes, the pioneers and the common Americans who tirelessly fought for and firmly believed in the promise of racial equality as granted by our creator, enshrined in our Constitution and enacted in our laws.”
Cooper thanked the general for the introduction, and then quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great of a burden to bear,” he said.
“It is good that we look back at the history of African-Americans, who have unquestionably had a historic and far-reaching impact on this nation and our world, with the same kind of pride, strength and determination as our forefathers who achieved the progress that we know of today,” Cooper said. “We recognize the struggle that they faced in order to gain fair representation, so that we can use our talents and skills, obtained in education, to live productive lives. They understood that with the opportunities open, with the freedom to make life the choice, we can put our talents and our skills to use to further our education, reach positive goals, and live our professional and personal lives in the realm of society, of business, as we desire.
“The black race has come from the cotton field to the White House. From shared houses under the hill to the brick houses on the hill,” he added. “Now we must learn how to live amongst ourselves. There’s too much violence in the black community. We need to align ourselves with the 4Bs – brains, books, bucks and the ballot.
“Brains being that you must learn to think for yourself. There is no hope in dope,” Cooper said. “Books means that you must learn how to read and understand what you have read. Bucks means that you must work hard, save your money, and buy some land or buy a house. Ballots means for you to go and register to vote, and when the time comes exercise that right.”
The mayor thanked his family for teaching him the values he lives his life by.
“I am a blessed man to have a strong family background that has taught me these things. I had a mother, a father and grandparents who loved me and instilled in me good values, taught me a good work ethic and motivated me to do the best things in all things,” he said.
“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. This is the advice that I’ve given to people of all races and backgrounds – I promise it will serve you well,” Cooper added. “Be productive, not aimless. Be understanding, not intolerant. Be loving, not hateful. Be generous, not selfish. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. These are the values set by our heavenly father, and they are values taught in every home by responsible parents and grandparents. It’s each individual’s choice to accept them. I firmly believe that the progress that the larger African-American community has made throughout the generations has been largely in the belief of those values.
“Black Americans have been resilient and have spread their influence around the world with great contributions to science, education, music, literature, politics, etc. They sought diversity rather than accept defeat. We have come a long way and every day we are continuing to write our own history,” he said.