LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS —
The words of Martin Luther King Jr. echoed in Freedom Chapel Jan. 18 as about 165 Team Lackland members celebrated the life of the man who stirred the conscience of America from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968.
Standing at the podium with a huge image of Reverend King projected over his shoulder, Col. Stevenson "Sting" Ray, 37th Training Wing director of staff, delivered a moving speech that captured the essence of the civil rights leader by weaving excerpts from several speeches and messages written by the fallen hero.
"Dante said from a tiny spark might burst a mighty flame," said Colonel Ray. "A tiny spark was born in Atlanta on the 15th day of January in the year of 1929, and about 1955 that tiny spark burst into a mighty flame."
Colonel Ray said that Dr. King was much more than a civil rights leader and a dreamer. He described Martin Luther King as a staunch patriot and human rights advocate with an actionable dream for all mankind.
"Martin Luther King was mortally committed to direct action to make his unselfish dream for this great nation and the rest of the struggling people in the world a reality," said Colonel Ray. "He believed that the key to understanding and loving your enemy was first through reflection of self."
Colonel Ray read from the famous "I have a Dream" speech, but also from several others that have not received as much national attention.
"The founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible," Dr. King said. "The whole concept of the "image of God," is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected.
Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him uniqueness, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God," quoted Colonel Ray.
While Dr. King is considered the symbolic leader of African Americans and he repeatedly espoused a civil rights message, he also talked about ending the war in Vietnam and poverty.
"We must join the war against poverty and believe in the dignity of all work. What makes a job menial? I'm tired of this stuff about menial labor. What makes it menial is that we don't pay folk anything. Give somebody a job and pay them some money so they can live and educate their children and buy a home and have the basic necessities of life," quoted Colonel Ray.
A common theme in many of Dr. King's speeches was love, and he cautioned against hate.
"Hate does something to the soul that causes one to lose his objectivity. The man who hates can't think straight; the man who hates can't reason right; the man who hates can't walk right. And I know now that Jesus is right, that love is the way. And this is why John said, "God is love," read Colonel Ray.
Throughout the service as Colonel Ray brought Dr. King's words to life with his own conviction and passion, one couldn't help but notice a slight resemblance between the two.
Perhaps that's why the closing remarks about Dr. King's premonition of death were a bit eerie and cause for true reflection.
"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize - that isn't important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred awards - that's not important ... I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity ... Say that I was drum major for justice. Say that I was drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter."
Pearl Olison, who grew up in Selma where she met Dr. King, was clearly moved by the service and Colonel Ray's comments.
"I just thought it was great. It just breaks me up and makes me so glad to be an American," said Ms. Olison.
Tech. Sgt. Freddie Mims said he enjoyed how Colonel Ray commemorated Dr. King through his own words, but also noted the dream has not been fully achieved.
"We have a lot of work to do, but as time goes by people realize it's not just about African Americans, it's about people in general. When everybody learns to get along together, we'll be a better America and a better world," said Sergeant Mims.