In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made history. His work to ensure equality between races and promote nonviolent protest resulted in his becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Almost 50 years later, another African American man who made history honored him during the Martin Luther King Jr. observance held in U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Jan. 20.
Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, the fifth African American to become a four-star general and the first commander of U.S. Africa Command, shared his memories of King in the 1960s, and encouraged community members to continue King’s vision of helping the “underprivileged and underrepresented” of mankind.
Ward recalled being a high school student during King’s civil rights movement and feeling the excitement in preparation for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He also recalled the shock of hearing about King’s assassination in 1968 while an ROTC cadet in college.
While King protested the Vietnam War, Ward wore a military uniform. But Ward came to realize that he and King were not so different in their philosophies. Both men believed that serving others and helping the underprivileged — as Ward does by focusing on war prevention and AIDS assistance on the African continent as the leader of AFRICOM — is the worthiest ambition that a person can have.
“Did he influence me? You’d better believe he did,” Ward said. “His message of service is applicable — and it rings loud — today.”
Ward also challenged community members to serve others in their own spheres of influence.
“The point [is] you can serve your fellow human beings in any and all capacities. Each of us is here to do that … ,” he said. “Those who are underrepresented, those who are disadvantaged — we have an obligation to improve their lot.”
After the official observance, community members took part in a themed buffet, which included “Peaceful Prime Rib,” prepared and served by men from the community gospel and contemporary church services.
The observance also featured a gospel song selection, performed by the Community Gospel Choir.
Several attendees expressed their appreciation for Ward and the way he memorialized King, both in words and deeds.
“What Martin Luther King impressed years ago, [Ward] implemented into his life,” said Cassandra Ross, a family member. “It impressed on us that we need to continue the ‘dream’ — that we need to serve others.”
During the observance, Garrison Commander Carl D. Bird thanked Ward for speaking and for his military service.
“Just as Dr. King devoted his life to serving others, Gen. Ward devoted most of his life — almost 40 years of it — to serving our nation,” Bird said.
Ward, in turn, thanked Sgt. 1st Class Chrysti Lassiter-Jones, USAG Stuttgart Equal Opportunity advisor, for the impact she has had on the community through coordinating events like this one, by giving her one of his commander’s coins.
He also thanked the community for honoring King’s memory and continuing his legacy of service.
“Let me thank you for taking the time to recognize, to acknowledge and pay some degree of tribute to the work that was done by an American who lived his life on behalf of others,” he said.