COLUMBUS, Ohio –
Members of the Columbus Defense Federal Community gathered inside the Defense Supply Center Columbus’ Operations Center Auditorium Jan. 15 to celebrate the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The event “Still Moving Forward,” presented as part of the Equal Employment Opportunity Office African American Employment Program, featured Army Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., the Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard as the keynote speaker.
The event included saxophonist Wynueco Washington, who began the event with a cultural expression performance, and Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Deputy Commander Kenneth Watson, who provided the opening remarks and welcomed Harris to the stage.
“This year’s theme – Remember, Celebrate, Act, Still Moving Forward - emphasizes the task we willingly embrace as we lend our energies to continue Dr. King’s work,” Watson said. “To further our efforts, we’re fortunate to have with us today a distinguished visitor and neighbor who will share some of his insights about the significance of today’s celebration.”
Harris, who began his military career in 1981, assumed the duties of the Adjutant General of the Ohio National Guard on January 14, 2019. Having been appointed by Ohio Gov. Michael DeWine, Harris serves as the governor’s principal advisor on all National Guard procedures, is responsible for both federal and state missions and his leadership impacts more than 16,000 personnel on a daily basis.
Harris began his address by asking Washington and Fred Thomas, who sang the National Anthem at the start of the event, to join him upfront and personally thanked them while providing them with a Commander’s Coin.
The Commander’s Coin has traditionally been used as a means of rewarding troops for a job well done as well as for building camaraderie between one another.
Harris thanked his wife Angela whom he referred to as his greatest supporter, followed by his appreciation of Watson for hosting the event and Bernadine Davis-Sheets, for recommending him as the keynote speaker. Harris concluded by stating most of all, he wanted to thank all of those in attendance today.
“As it was previously mentioned, I command over 16,000 soldiers and airmen and right now I have over 700 soldiers in harm’s way,” Harris said. “I have an entire arms battalion and a black hawk medical evacuation company deployed as part of the United Stated Central Command Coalition, and they were there during the events that transpired over the last week. I can tell you that when you have people that you know and love personally in that situation, you gain a deep appreciation for the folks who make sure our warfighters have what they need when they need it at the tip of the spear.”
Following a round of applause, Harris began his address by sharing some personal background information, where he referred to himself as what the Air Force would deem as having “high thrust and no vector.”
“I was a young man with lots of horse power, but had zero direction,” Harris said. “I went to Ohio State and touched absolutely everything I could possibly touch. I was in the band, walked on the track team, started out by pursing a degree in aeronautical engineering, switched to musical education, and finished with a degree in sociology,” he added.
Harris shared that his experiences at the Ohio State University allowed him to gain an interesting perspective on life, and that while preparing to come speak at this event, he had the opportunity to reflect on these experiences and rediscover the true brilliance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Dr. King’s brilliance should be evident to each of us, but when you sit down and read some of his quotes, you really get to see what was going on inside his mind,” Harris said. “But, of all Dr. King’s quotes, the one that struck me the most, was his quote regarding the arc of the moral universe ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice’.”
Harris shared that as a result of his college experiences studying philosophy, sociology and engineering, he became a bit of a science nerd, and this particular quote made him begin to think about the laws and principles of physics. Principles such as nothing changes an arc or trajectory of an object without some external influence on it.
“Without some outside external force acting on it, no arc is going to bend toward anything, it’s Newton’s first law,” Harris said. “A body in motion, remains in motion a body at rest remains at rest. If you want to change the trajectory of something you have to put motion to it, you have to apply energy to it, you have to move it with external force. So if the arc of the moral universe bends, it is because somebody is applying energy to bend it.”
Harris stated these same principles can be applied to society. Social culture will remain at rest until someone makes a decision to apply a force to it, to move it. Harris added that this is why Dr. King is so influential, he made the conscious decision to be that force.
“We can learn from Dr. King’s example, each one of us has the potential to expend our energy to bend the arc of the moral universe,” Harris said. “My question that I challenge each and every one of you with is, how do you convert your potential energy into work that honors Dr. King?”
To conclude his address, Harris provided the audience with three ways they can begin to honor the life of Dr. King and begin expending their energy to bend the arc of the moral universe.
Harris stated if we are going to start healing the divide in this country, the first thing we must have is open dialogue. He proclaimed we have to stop screaming at one another and listen, no one or no group is responsible for all our problems.
Second, Harris advised we must find a cause to support, we must work towards improving the lives of others. He added that each one of us will have a PS attached to our obituary at the end of our lives, that PS is how we will be remembered. Harris shared that the PS should stand for purpose and service, not position and status.
Lastly, Harris encouraged everyone in attendance to go home and learn something new about Dr. King. That by doing this on their own they become self-learners, thereby honoring King’s commitment to education.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Watson and representatives from DSCC’s African American Employment Program thanked Harris for his participation and presented him with mementos on behalf of the installation.
Following the presentation of mementos, Equal Employment Office African American Executive Program Champion Kenneth Goodson provided closing remarks inviting everyone to attend the Feb. 19 Black History Month and Carter G. Woodson Award celebration and reminding everyone to “Remember, Celebrate, Act, and continue to Move Forward.