By CHRIS RASMUSSEN, Fort Jackson LeaderJanuary 19, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- C.C. Pinckney Elementary School student Victoria Thomas can appreciate Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream for equality among people as much as any adult.
The third grader, who was one of about 500 people in attendance Friday at this year's Fort Jackson MLK celebration, said King's legacy has enabled her to play with whomever she wishes.
"Martin Luther King Jr. gave us freedom. Without that I couldn't play with my friend Shemar," said Victoria Thomas, who is the daughter of Spc. Tony Thomas, 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception). "I wouldn't be happy if Shemar wasn't around. Even though he isn't my skin color, he is a good person to sit by.
"I wish Dr. Martin Luther King was alive because I could say thank you for making this world fair," she said. "I am very excited for MLK Day. It is one of the best holidays."
Sgt. 1st Class Chetoria Jackson, 165th Infantry Brigade equal opportunity officer, began the installation's celebration event for the King holiday event with a few words about the impact he has made for all races.
"Today is a gathering to remember and celebrate a man who left us with a loving memorial and legacy of non-violent service to our community and to our nation," Jackson said. "We've come together, not out of curiosity but to reflect on the life of a man who paid the ultimate sacrifice so we all might be free, regardless of race, color, religion, gender or national origin."
The event, which was held at the Solomon Center, featured numerous historical displays of words and photos portraying King's life.
"It is important that we keep the legacy of Dr. King alive and educate the Fort Jackson community as well as the surrounding communities," said. Sgt. 1st Class Yolanda Brown, 193rd Infantry Brigade equal opportunity adviser.
Columbia real estate agent Jessie McDonald found out about the event via Fort Jackson's Equal Opportunity Office.
"I try to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday every year," McDonald said. "I was excited to find out about Fort Jackson's celebration. I like to attend events across the Midlands community to keep his dream alive.
Following a powerful and emotional rendition of King's "I have a Dream" speech by Sgt. David Tucker, 171st Infantry Brigade, the event's guest speaker took to the podium.
David Swinton, president of Benedict College in Columbia, said that he believes King's dreams have mostly been fulfilled in this country.
"Nobody would tell you that they wouldn't hire negroes today. That is a huge change," he said. "There are significant opportunities for blacks that didn't exist 50 years ago. If you don't think there has been significant progress then you didn't live 50 years ago."
Still, Swinton said, there is more to be done to fully realize King's dream.
"Perhaps the reaction to the election of President (Barack) Obama is a sign," he said. "We still have that inequality gap between the haves and have-nots."
Swinton also pointed out the Army as a leader in providing equal opportunities.
"The Army has always been on the cutting edge of progress," he said. "One can visibly see in the military the advantage of tapping into everyone."
King, who was born Jan. 15, 1929, and assassinated April 4, 1968, was a clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the civil rights movement. King's birthday was established as a federal holiday in 1986.