The Defense Supply Center Columbus’ annual celebration honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was released in a virtual format this week as the nation celebrates what would’ve been his 92nd birthday.
The historically popular program kicks off DSCC’s slate of annual special emphasis programming each year however in light of COVID-related safety measures the 2021 ceremony was pre-recorded and made available to the Columbus federal community to coincide with Monday’s federal observance.
“Dr. King truly recognized the power of service,” said DSCC and Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Commander Navy Rear Adm. Kristen Fabry in her opening remarks. “He once said, ‘Everyone can be great because everybody can serve.’ Observing Martin Luther King Day through service continues the DOD’s mission of fostering change and building communities – which were key elements in his exhortations for equality. It’s our desire that today’s program reinforces that sense of service we all share.”
Keynote speaker DLA Land and Maritime Chief of Staff Col. Samuel F. Payne, Jr. delivered touching remarks in a riveting speech centered on the 2021 theme “Remember…Celebrate and Act…Why We Can’t Wait.”
The nation has come far since the days of Dr. King’s nonviolent movement for civil rights began, and his legacy of action and service serves as a continual reminder of the importance of becoming involved in the community. Payne, a Gahanna native and former Lincoln High School graduate, interwove his own personal stories with those of historical moments and key figures of the civil rights era centering around the values of education, communication and participation. He touched on lessons passed down through his ancestors and how they influenced subsequent generations.
“In my family, education has always been a valued commodity,” he said. “Following the Payne line of our family tree, our story in America began with our ancestors being purchased by Quakers, who introduced the value of education. My grandparents also stressed the importance of education.”
Payne’s grandmothers both earned college degrees. His grandfather progressed through the Army ranks, retiring at the rank of colonel, after taking advantage of government education benefits following his service in World War II – benefits Dr. King fought for with limited success.
“As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,’” Payne said. “We must understand our history. We must understand our political processes. We must understand the social issues which impact our community. We must read. We must research. Now is the time, we cannot wait!”
As we educate, we must also communicate, Payne said.
Speaking of his experience growing up in Central Ohio, Payne highlighted a diverse upbringing that included attending the Leo Yassenoff Jewish Center, participating in the Columbus Boychoir and traveling the world representing the Columbus Public School system before going onto a career with the U.S. Air Force.
“Each, and every one of these experiences, shaped my view of the world and provided an opportunity to communicate with others of diverse backgrounds,” he said.
Payne said that despite his career success and diverse experiences, he’s not immune to the dangers and worries of an African American man. He described his friends astonishment when they hear of situations he’s experienced.
“They are surprised to hear I feel the need to teach my teenage son how to interact with police officers, so he does not become a statistic,” Payne shared. “They are also amazed to know that even today, there are places I do not stop because it does not feel safe for me or my family. Now, is the time to tell our story and in telling our story, we must also be receptive to hear other’s stories.”
Moving to the final chapter of his keynote speech, Payne emphasized the importance of participating in American democracy and in our communities. He detailed examples of modern-day achievements in participation as well as those from his own life, including his opportunity to travel and recruit minority youth for the Air Force Academy and serve as an ambassador for African Americans in uniform.
“Our country has come a long way since 1963; however, we still have a long way to go,” he said.
Payne concluded his speech with a call to action echoing the program’s theme: “Why can’t we wait? Our children and children’s children are depending on us to make this world better for them. Why can’t we wait? Our fellow Americans are trusting us to take direct action to fight for equality for all citizens. Why can’t we wait? The world is counting on us to lead by example as global ambassadors for diversity and inclusion. Now is the time, our direct action requires education, communication and participation to eliminate prejudice in all forms and bolster diversity, inclusion, and equality for all.”
The virtual program was developed by the African American Employment Program committee led by chairwoman Anita Jones and executive champion Kenneth Goodson. Eugene Williams, director of DLA Land and Maritime’s Technical Quality and Engineering Directorate, served as the Master of Ceremonies. The invocation traditionally offered at DSCC ceremonies was delivered in a touching tribute by Dr. King himself. The program included several videos and a cultural expression tying in the day’s theme.
Associates can view the full program at the following link (CAC-enabled): https://hmp.itv.dla.mil/recording/d8a826e9-812a-4991-83ff-1d8df0b28951
Editor's Note: There are technical glitches in playing the video of the Martin Luther King Jr. program. When viewing the video associates will need to manually advance it at time indicators 0:52, 23:31, 30:20. Apologies for any inconvenience experienced.