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DoD, Nation, More Than 100 Countries Celebrate Martin Luther King Holiday

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2003 – The nation will observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 20, 2003, but the Pentagon is getting an early start with a King breakfast on Jan. 16.

Other celebrations and activities surrounding the holiday are occurring on military installations throughout DoD. The Pentagon event is its 18th annual breakfast and is hosted by DoD's Washington Headquarters Service to commemorate King's life and works.

This year marks what would have been the 74th birthday of the slain civil rights leader, humanitarian and clergyman. He was born in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 1929.

It is also 20 years since the designation of the King holiday. President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in November 1983 designating the third Monday in January, beginning in 1986, as a federal holiday.

As it has been for many years, this year's theme is "Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On Not A Day Off." The theme is issued annually by the King Center in Atlanta, which acts as the national promoter of the King Day observance.

In a commemoration message, King's widow, Coretta Scott King, said the holiday "celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example -- the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King's character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit."

She said the world commemorates her late husband's inspiring words because his voice and vision filled a great void and answered the country's longing to become a nation that "truly lived by its noblest principles."

King knew it wasn't enough "to talk the talk," he had to "walk the walk for his words to be credible," Mrs. King noted. "So we commemorate on this holiday the man of action who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans."

The King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America's greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a colorblind society, but who also led a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality, Mrs. King said.

Calling the holiday a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing, she said no other day of the year brings so many peoples from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood.

"Whether you're African American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you're Caucasian or Asian American, you're part of the great dream Martin Luther King Jr. had for America," Mrs. King said.

She emphasized that "this is not a black holiday; it's a people's holiday! And it's the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream."

Noting that programs commemorating her husband's birthday are being observed in more than 100 nations, Mrs. King pointed out that he envisioned a world whose people and nations had triumphed over poverty, racism, war and violence.

"This holiday honors the courage of a man who endured harassment, threats and beatings and even bombings," she said. "We commemorate the man who went to jail 29 times to achieve freedom for others and who knew he would pay the ultimate price for his leadership, but kept on marching and protesting and organizing anyway."

Above all, she emphasized, King Day is a day of service.

"All across America on the holiday, his followers perform service in hospitals, shelters, prisons and wherever people need some help," she said. "It's a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutoring those who can't read, mentoring at risk youngsters, consoling the broken hearted and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream."

Throughout his years of public service, King encouraged everyone to participate in community service.

"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve," he said in a 1968 sermon entitled "The Drum Major Instinct."

"You don't have to have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love, and you can be that servant."

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