By Tina Ray/ParaglideJanuary 22, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Not long after the XVIII Airborne Corps' annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observance began Jan. 14 with a moment of silence for the people of Haiti, students from Albritton Jr. High School Drama Club recited excerpts of poems by Countee Cullen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, among others.
Hughes's words rang in the air: "The kid in front/And the kid behind/And the kid across from me -/Just American kids together/The kids in school with me."
The poems represent how far America has come in the 46 years since King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, said one Albritton student.
The students said that they themselves are "the dream fulfilled." The theme for the King observance was "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day on, Not a Day Off!" The 11:30 a.m. observance was hosted by the 82nd Airborne Division at Ritz-Epps Physical Fitness Center.
Another presentation included the reading of an essay by Mia Morales, 11, on what would have happened had King not lived.
She said if King had not stood up and fought for freedom, America would still be living in segregation.
Morales won the essay contest, beating out nearly 60 essays submitted by students of Fort Bragg schools, said Master Sgt. Stephanie Buffaloe, 82nd Abn. Div. Equal Opportunity noncommissioned officer in charge.
Another presentation included songs by the Fayetteville State University Choir under the direction of Denise Payton.
King's voice became the modern day voice of equality, said Lt. Col. Rafeal D. Boyd, EO program manager, XVIII Abn. Corps. Boyd spoke in place of scheduled guest speaker, Lt. Gen. Dennis L. Via, director of Command, Control, Communication and Computer Systems, who could not attend because of travel difficulties.
Boyd said that King was influenced by the abolitionists John Brown, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln who "used the Civil War as a crusade to end slavery."
All are called to celebrate the values of equality that King espoused, said Boyd.
Those values of equality were heard in the recitation of King's "I Have a Dream" speech by Sgt. 1st Class retired Lonnie Robinson.
"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir," said Robinson, quoting King.
In the speech, King said that America would become a great nation when children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character; when America realized that all men are created equal; and when black boys and girls could join hands with white boys and girls as sisters and brothers.
In his letter to the community, published in the Paraglide last week, Lt. Gen. Frank G. Helmick, commander, XVIII Abn. Corps, wrote:
"As Americans, we believe it is self-evident that all individuals are created equal and that freedom is not a grant of government but a gift of life. Dr. King trusted in these beliefs articulated in our founding documents even when our country's practices did not live up to its promises. He roused the conscience of a complacent nation by drawing attention to the ugliness of discrimination and segregation and by calling on Americans to live up to our guarantee of equality."
Crystal Schoenhut attended the observance with her husband, Spc. Steven Schoenhut of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade and with their sons, Colynn and Quenton. Quenton was a finalist in the essay contest, she said.
King represented, freedom, equality and a change in America, said Schoenhut. "The changes Martin Luther King did for history, it's amazing."
During the benediction, Chaplain Joel Jenkins, rear detachment 82nd Abn. Div., said King showed that one life matters.
King moved America forward and brought the rest of us with him, Jenkins said.