By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Soldiers stationed at the Fort Hamilton Army Base commemorated the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by taking part in a march around the Bay Ridge military installation and stopping at various points along the way to listen to speakers talk about the legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
Walking proudly behind a banner bearing a portrait of King, dozens of soldiers and civilian workers took time out of their day on Jan. 17 to pay tribute to a man who inspired a nation.
“Let’s do this march and do it right!” Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Prince, who led the procession, told the participants at the starting point outside the fort’s headquarters building.
The idea of the march around the base was to give participants a sense of what it was like back in the 1960s when King and his followers held protest demonstrations across the south to demand equality and justice in jobs, housing, and political life, organizers said. The fort march took place four days before the national holiday in remembrance of King on Jan. 21.
Many of the speakers quoted King’s words. Calling King, “a man of courage and conviction,” the Rev. Vivianna Hernandez recited a line from one of his speeches. “We refuse to believe the bank of justice is empty,” he had said many years ago.
King, who was born on Jan. 15, 1929, would have been 84 years old this year if he had not been struck down by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968 in Memphis. King was 39 years old when he was killed.
At one stop, an open field inside the fort, a soldier talked about how “Martin Luther King chose his words carefully” and was aware of their powerful impact. “He saw beyond his speeches,” the soldier said.
Joseph Martinez, a civilian who took part in the march, paid tribute to King’s millions of followers, the unsung heroes who marched alongside him all those years ago.
One of them was his teacher, Martinez said. He recalled that when he was a little boy, he asked his teacher, an African-American woman, why she marched in those protest demonstrations. She told him that when she was a little girl, a racist white waitress in a restaurant removed her eyeglasses from her head, shoved them in a plate of mashed potatoes, and then put them back on her head. The teacher told Martinez that she marched so that her children and grandchildren would never have to endure that type of humiliation.
“Her name will never be in a book, but she did her part,” Martinez said.
Captain Christina Mouradjian described an interview King gave in which he was asked what he wanted to be remembered for. “"If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter," King had said.
The marchers stopped in front of a day care center on the military base where a class of pre-kindergarten students shouted, “I have a dream” in unison before Sgt. Heather Norris recited sections of King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream” speech, which he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. in front of hundreds of thousands of people in 1963.
At the final stop on the march, in front of the Fort Hamilton Community Club, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Edwin Mondezie. Jr. said “I live the dream every day of my life.”
Mondezie said he that King would have been very happy with what he sees today. “Today, you expect to be judged by the content of your character. You expect that when you get on the bus, you can sit anywhere you like. You can tell your children you can grow up to be president of the United States,” he said.