JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - His name was Michael.
He graduated high school at the age of 15 at a time when, according to the U.S. census' website, less than 40 percent of the nation was able to do so.
He flew up to the top five percentile when he graduated college with a Bachelor of Arts, after which he went on to earn a doctorate degree from Boston University's School of Theology in 1955.
And he did all this as a black man in a racially segregated country.
But his name wasn't always Michael. As a matter of fact, his new name would become so engraved into American history that the mere mention of it would convey to me a message of equality and freedom.
Shortly after Michael was born, his father changed both his own name and his son's name to Martin Luther King, after one of my favorite historical figures, the famous German protestant reformationist, Martin Luther.
Martin Luther King Jr. would prove to be just as much of a revolutionary thinker as his namesake, and just like his namesake it would not be a revolution of violence, but one of cultural innovation.
For 13 years, King fought racial inequity not with bullets, fire or destruction, but with powerful speeches and inspirational leadership.
While other Americans received unwanted advertisements and sales calls, King received death threats and hate mail.
Those who called him an enemy found their words did not have nearly as much effect on him as his did on them.
So, they eventually resorted to violence which stopped his speeches, but not his legacy.
See, the person who killed Martin Luther King Jr. and those like him may have thought they had won, or maybe they thought they had put a stop to a troublesome upstart.
At least for me, all they had done was turn a hero into an icon.
So now, on the third Monday of January every year, schools close, federal employees stay home, and speeches are made, all in the name of racial equality.
Nearly 47 years later, we have equal opportunity laws, human resource policies and a host of elected African-American officials in office.
Certainly we've come a long way since the 60s in the battle for racial equality, and will continue to work toward a racial utopia in years to come, but what can we learn from King's teachings and apply right now?
We need to get to the heart of the matter.
I think every era brings a tragic conglomeration of unjust prejudices about people of certain races, nationalities and religions.
We shouldn't look at our neighbor and automatically make presuppositions based on their clothes, hairstyle, skin color or religion. I think we should look at our neighbor and make one observation - that person is human.
With this observation, perhaps we can make the seemingly small logical jump to treating that person like a human.
Racism killed Martin Luther King Jr., but not his dream.
His dream was equality for all mankind, regardless of race and also regardless of religion or nationality.
At the end of his famous "I have a dream" speech, King concluded in part with this:
"When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands."
Honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. isn't just about honoring a great man with a dream.
It's a commitment - a commitment to judge your neighbors by the content of their character, not by anything else; let us not forget this.
By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
Provided through DVIDS
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