Retired Army Col. Charles D. Allen was the guest speaker at the event held in the great room at depot headquarters.
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then, I said, here I am, send me,’” said Allen, quoting Isaiah 6:8 from the Bible.
This has been the reply of many blacks who have been called to service and who in the face of adversity stood up to be counted in the pursuit of a higher good, Allen said.
Allen is the professor of leadership and cultural studies in the Department of Command, Leadership and Management at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
Nearly 50 years after King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Allen recited a list of black servicemen who paved the way for King.
“We celebrate those selfless heroes in the tradition of service to our country,” he said.
Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave, was the first martyr of the Revolutionary War, Allen said. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment fought during the Civil War, and the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen all fought for a higher purpose, Allen said.
King was part of a tradition of black people throughout history who made a difference by answering the call of service, he said.
“The difference Dr. King made in my own life is clear,” said Allen, who grew up in the wake of the Civil Rights movement.
He received the first Martin Luther King Jr. award from his high school in Cleveland.
In 1972, Allen said he was contacted by a West Point officer who was recruiting young men of color to join the officers’ ranks.
“It is clear that Dr. King did make a difference in my life and in the lives of other black service members. He also made a difference in our nation when you consider names like Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Susan Rice and Barack Obama,” he said.
Allen challenged the audience to continue King’s legacy.
“You are the stones of hope, the present and future generations,” he said. “When called, what is your answer? ‘Whom will you serve?’
“I think Dr. King would have us look around and notice there are still inequities in our society in education, in employment, economic conditions and in health care,” Allen said.
King would ask what is being done now to make a difference, he said.
“As Dr. King once said, ‘If there is injustice for one, there is injustice for all,’” Allen said.
James Holmes, Letterkenny employee, said Allen’s speech was awesome.
“To be present here today was remarkable,” Holmes said. “Reflecting back on the inauguration, who would have thought we as African-American citizens would have the opportunity to be here and actually live our dream? For me, it is just an honor and a privilege to come to a service like this.”
Letterkenny Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist Denise Bagby said it’s important to remember King’s contributions.
“It makes us not get complacent,” Bagby said. “It continuously reminds us of Dr. King’s message and his dream. It gives us an opportunity to reflect and go back and say, ‘What difference have I made or what difference has Dr. King’s life made in my life?’”