By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Not a day off, but a day on — that is how Wynona James, 21st Space Wing special emphasis program manager, says everyone should spend holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“He would expect us to be proactive and engaging,” James said. “It’s a nice day off, but can you imagine what could be done if we engaged in something civically?”
The equal opportunity office hosted a Martin Luther King Jr. walk-through display Jan. 19 in the chapel as an opportunity to learn and reflect on history. “We decided on that format because people are being challenged today with position cut backs, doing more with less,” James said. The walk-through ran from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. so those attending the exhibit could do so at their leisure.
Over the sound system, James played King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. “It was his hope that men would not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. That speech is really the epitome of his vision,” she said.
Along with the speech, there was a pictorial display, handouts of King’s biography, and a documentary called “King: Man of Peace in a Time of War.”
“We wanted it to be reflective — hear the speech, see the images. A lot of people from my observation were really impacted by that,” she said.
It’s appropriate that King’s holiday is followed closely by Black History Month in February. Black History Month originated in 1926 as Negro History Week, James said.
“Today, Black History Month is nationally recognized in every facet of America and abroad,” she said. “The federal government is a forerunner in recognizing the importance of the holiday and the importance of contributions made by black Americans in American history.”
In the Air Force, steps toward equality were first taken during World War II with the Tuskegee Airmen, an entirely African-American squadron. “They were such a strong-willed, courageous group of men. They did things that were phenomenal and ended up leading the white fighter pilots into combat and fought with them. They saved a major number of aircraft and men from major disaster,” James said. “That’s when things began to change.”
Many strides have been taken in the last 50 years to ensure equality regardless of race, but there’s still a long way to go. Many people, James said, would like to keep the past in the past and forget about it but there’s a reason the country recognizes this holiday. “A lot of people don’t want to, but we’ve got to (examine history),” she said. “The minute we forget and close a blind eye to it, then those are the times that we become vulnerable to situations that can repeat.”