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By Christine June
GCMC Public Affairs

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (Jan. 18, 2017) – U.S. Army Maj. (P) Joseph Gardner’s paternal grandmother often told him about the time she heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Batesville, Miss., March 19, 1968 – days before he was assassinated.

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Garmisch Elementary Middle School students in Kindergarten to second grade sing “Sing About Martin” during the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration “Remember!  Celebrate!  Act! A Day On, Not A Day Off” Jan. 18 in the school’s multi-purpose room. (Marshall Center photo by Christine June)

“She often told me about this event and marching with Dr. King as he made his way through Mississippi in route to Memphis, Tennessee,” said Gardner, regional affairs officer with the Plans and Strategy Division at the Marshall Center.

Gardner was the guest speaker of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration “Remember!  Celebrate!  Act! A Day On, Not A Day Off” Jan. 18 in the multi-purpose room of the Garmisch Elementary Middle School.

“Dr. King’s legacy is more than his most noted ‘I have a Dream’ speech given in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial,” Gardner said. “Even though, this particular march on Washington and the adjourning speech led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and helped pave the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, his legacy is much more.”

Everyone at the event had just watched a short video of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August of 1963.

“Furthermore,” Gardner continued, “Dr. King’s legacy is not limited to Washington D.C. or confined in Selma, Alabama, instead it stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the East to the Pacific Ocean in the West and from the Gulf of Mexico in the South to Great Lakes in the North.

“His legacy is not constrained by the color of his skin, but cemented in the content of his character,” Gardner said. “We honor his legacy, by acknowledging that we are all created equal and by treating one another with respect, dignity and compassion.”

Gardner highlighted the importance of three words as they related to Dr. King: equality; character; and, legacy.

He talked about the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which introduced the idea of equality for all. He talked about how our character is a reflection of who we are. And, he said that our legacy – much like Dr. King’s – lives on in the people we associate with our families, friends and colleagues and sometimes, people we barely know.

“May these three words be our guide post as we interact with others, because it’s the right thing to do,” Gardner said.

Other highlights of the celebration were: Garmisch Elementary Middle School students in Kindergarten to second grade staging a play on fairness and singing “Sing About Martin;” selected fourth and fifth graders giving speeches on what they would change. Andrew and Ethan share that they would like to save the planet through recycling efforts, while Alex said he would like to end terrorism.

Officially, the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. observance is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15.

President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, and it was first observed three years later. At first, some states resisted observing the holiday as such, giving it alternative names or combining it with other holidays. It was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time in 2000.

“The reason we celebrate Dr. King and the significance of the American Civil Rights Movement is that his efforts and this undertaking highlighted that as Americans, we have many common causes that unite us, which outweighs anything that may divide us,” Gardner said. “We must not lose sight of this.”