Is the message of Martin Luther King Jr. relevant today?

  • Published
  • By Commentary by Tinisha Agramonte
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Equal Opportunity Office
January marks the start of the New Year as well as the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Today, we recognize the ever-changing demographics in our country, schools and work areas. These changes have influenced the way we relate to one another and how we do business.

In recent years, managing diversity has become a business imperative. Senior Air Force leaders have stated that the service's capability to function as a team and accomplish its mission depends on respecting diversity.

Brig. Gen. Dana H. Born, academy dean of the faculty, supported the same view during a recent symposium at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

"Without integrity and mutual respect, we simply aren't a team," General Born said. "And that's the heart of our philosophy of officer development at the Academy and Airmen development in our Air Force doctrine."

The Rev. King espoused the message of diversity management before the term became widely used. His work, words and legacy embody not only diversity principles, but also the Air Force core values.

He spoke of the three major pillars that form the foundation for diversity management - the legal case, the moral case and the business case. When advocating legal rights and equitable treatment through various marches, protests and boycotts, he didn't champion one racial, religious, age or gender group, but rather all people.

He said, "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."

His actions led to laws that protect the rights of all and in doing so, benefit others. Many people are thankful they are able to maneuver strollers and luggage on curbs and ramps created by law to allow equal accessibility to those in wheelchairs.

He dreamed of a time when people would feel compelled morally to treat people equitably:

"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."

He demonstrated the adverse economical consequences businesses can suffer when inequities are permitted; the Montgomery bus boycott crippled that city's and Alabama's economy as a whole.

More pertinent to Airmen are the relation of his words to the Air Force core values.

Integrity First -- "Cowardice asks the question -- is it safe? Expediency asks the question -- is it politic? Vanity asks the question -- is it popular? But conscience asks the question -- is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right."

Service Before Self -- "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"

Excellence in All We Do -- "Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

His work has left an indelible mark on America's history. However, his story is not the only one.

The purpose of ethnic observances is to shed light and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of a diverse group of Americans who helped shape America -- not to illicit pity for one group, while discounting another. The Air Force's ability to maintain air and space dominance will rely heavily on its ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest.

That ability is enhanced when people perceive that equitable treatment, human dignity and respect extend to all. The stories shared and lessons learned from those who exhibit the core values we strive to live by, make the observances relevant and serve as reminders of what is required to achieve mission success.