Sailors aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) day with an observance on the mess deck held by the Diversity Committee on Jan. 20, 2021.
Living in a time of racial segregation, MLK’s firsthand experience with racial prejudice inspired him to dedicate his life to achieving equality for all Americans. His actions directly led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made race discrimination illegal and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited voter interference and forced states to make voting more accessible to all Americans.
The day’s observance began with comments from the Diversity Committee. Surrounded by posters with images of MLK and quotes he made throughout his life, Culinary Specialist Seaman Alicia Rocha, a Diversity Committee member, spoke on his life and accomplishments.
“Today is about equality and a man who helped make it all possible,” said Rocha. “Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. never backed down in his stand against racism. King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators in multiple marches, inspiring large crowds with his speeches, but one speech that will never be forgotten is his powerful ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”
After introductory remarks were made, the members of the Kearsarge Diversity Committee took turns, reciting parts of MLK’s famous speech.
During MLKs march on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, MLK delivered that famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of over 250,000 people. The speech is considered a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.
“The theme for the 2021 MLK holiday observance is ‘The Urgency of Creating the Beloved Community’, and gives us an important moment to reflect.” said Kearsarge commanding officer, Capt. Neil Koprowski. “With a quick look at today’s Department of Defense and all four branches of the United States military shows a dedication to a set of values that include the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
MLK described the ‘Beloved Community’ as a society where ‘caring and compassion drive political policies that support the worldwide elimination of poverty and hunger and all forms of bigotry and violence.’ According to The King Center, this theme was chosen to educate people of all ages about King’s legacy and how to champion completion of his unfinished work.
“The military has a unique responsibility to observe this particular holiday,” said Koprowski. “It was a slow and painful evolution from the segregated and unwelcoming environment that non-white troops had to endure as early as the Civil War. U.S. military history is marked with examples of discrimination and retaliation of non-white Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. The fact that in modern times we find the Department of Defense in support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his work, is an important step away from unfortunate mistakes and poor judgment of past decades.”
Koprowski finished his comments, making mention of the Navy’s ‘Task Force One’ initiative, established to combat discrimination and other destructive biases, in the Navy.
Nearly 30 Kearsarge Sailors participated in the special task force. According to the Department of the Navy, this work done by Sailors and members of leadership throughout the fleet will seek to promptly address the full spectrum of systemic racism, advocate for the needs of underserved communities, work to dismantle barriers and equalize professional development frameworks and opportunities within the Navy.
“We must demand of each other that we treat each everyone with dignity and respect. If you won’t do that, then our Navy is not the best place for you,” said Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday. “We are one team, and we are one Navy.”
Until his assassination, MLK traveled more than six million miles and spoke more than 2,500 times. Appearing wherever injustice was found, King led many protests, becoming a worldwide known symbolic leader of African Americans. His life and dream for America is still celebrated today, showing others the way to embracing peace and togetherness in American society nearly 52 years after his death.