Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Is the dream now reality?

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- -- Editor's note: Airman Finley is a member of the Black Heritage Awareness Committee. 

As most people rejoice in the day they are given off for the Martin Luther King Jr. observance, I would like to rejoice in the man himself. For years, I--like many--took the day and did whatever recreationally suited my time. It wasn't until I became older and more conscious of the foundation he set forth that I began to truly admire Dr. King.

Vividly to this date, I recollect as a child becoming totally astonished as I watched the famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I can still quote the most powerful part of his speech:

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal ... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

I was not aware at that time of the meaning those words hold in the hearts of our nation. I couldn't quite grasp how one man could influence so many people to allow their attitudes to reject hatred for peace. My grandmother explained to me the diversity he helped our nation recognize and celebrate as I listened, spellbound.

Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. only lived to the age of 42, his vision changed lives well beyond his years. January 16 will mark what would be Dr. King's 77th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the nation's first observance of his birthday. Dr. King is currently the only American to have a national holiday designated solely for his birthday. At one time, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both had holidays, but those two merged into President's Day.

Dr. King credited his philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience to the teachings of the Bible, the writings of Henry David Thoreau and of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. He notably once explained in a meeting at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., "There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression."

Because of the civil rights movement Dr. King led, he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Other great struggles arose in his wake--struggles for equal rights for women, peace, environmental protection and more. Dr. King is an example we can use of a leader who took a stand for what was right.

If Dr. King were alive today, I believe he would ask our society: "Is the dream now reality?" It amazes me to see how some ignore the contributions for which he lived and died and persist in discriminating against others.

We as a nation have upheld the dream Dr. King envisioned. But as individuals we have more strides to make this dream a more permanent reality. As we take the time to flood shopping centers, relax our eyes or watch television, let us not disregard the man who gave so much to ensure equal rights for all of our nation's citizens.

As my grandmother did, I plan to pass along the same teachings of equality I learned to my son one day. Today as an African-American woman in the United States Air Force, I salute Dr. Martin Luther King for fostering a civil rights movement that gave me the opportunity to stand proud and recognize how he has transformed American society.

I challenge you to unite in the celebration of Dr. King's prolific accomplishments. Martin Luther King Day observances around the nation will commemorate the man who paved the way for a more integrated society.

Dr. King's birthday is worth remembering--and his remarkable achievements are worth reverence.