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Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Kadena Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Gemma Clark, 18th Medical Group superintendent, works in her office Jan. 10, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Clark has a unique and personal perspective on what Martin Luther King Jr. means to her. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jessica H. Smith)

Kadena Celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Every third Monday in January is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to celebrate the compassionate acts of Dr. King in his pursuit of civil rights. By the age of 39, Dr. King left a huge impact in the civil rights movement. (Courtesy photo)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Every year, the third Monday of January brings the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day representing a call to end racism, the pursuit of true equal opportunity and the famed “I have a dream” speech. For some people, the celebration of King means so much more.

While some may see this as a holiday for people of African American heritage or descent, Coretta Scott King once said, “This is not a black holiday; it’s a people’s holiday.” Dr. King isn’t just an inspiration for those who have experienced racism, but for individuals from all walks of life.

For Chief Master Sgt. Gemma Clark, 18th Medical Group superintendent at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Dr. King is a source of pride – a motivator.

Growing up in the Caribbean Islands, Clark didn’t experience much racism, but after moving to the States at 20 years old and attending a historically black college, her interest in leaders of the civil rights movement peaked.

Her initial interest quickly developed into pride and inspiration – inspiration to serve her country. A young individual standing up for what’s right, advocating and accomplishing change during a time of turmoil, motivated her to join the Air Force.

“As an immigrant, I joined the Air Force because here you have this man fighting for the country – died at 39,” Clark said and then asked herself, “What can I do for this country as well?”

Amongst the many who could’ve inspired Clark, Dr. King stood out the most.

“I know what inspired me,” she said, “He always stood out because of his age and how much he accomplished in that short time – he has and will always be a role model to me.”

Despite the tragic end of Dr. King’s life, his role in the civil rights movement has resulted in great success and encouraged many to continue the pursuit of ending racism. For many in the upcoming generations, racism may just be a thing of the past, another chapter in a history book covering the early sixties, but Clark still sees the importance of knowing who Dr. King was.

“It’s still a part of history, it’s where we come from; you have to know your history to progress,” she said. “That is a lesson I’ve always taught my son.”

Not only is the celebration of Dr. King’s nonviolent and compassionate accomplishments valuable to Clark’s personal life, but is also just as important to her as a leader in the United States Air Force.

“The Air Force is very diverse and we want to highlight diversity – we recognize and respect all different races – we want to follow his dream that everybody can work together and what a better way to do it than recognize respected leaders,” Clark said.

No matter his race, Dr. King accomplished what some would think impossible in such a short span of his life. Fifty-five years later, taking a day of recognition and reflection for a kind man of extreme undertakings may be just the way to continue on his legacy and further what his dreams set in motion for our nation.

“I love it when all different people celebrate because it’s what’s right,” Clark said. “If you listen to his speech, he said it, he wanted all people to come together.”