Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
“Remember! Celebrate! Act! Make it a day on, not a day off!”
That was the theme for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day luncheon on Jan. 22 at the Frontier Conference Center. The luncheon, hosted by the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth and sponsored by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, was attended by nearly 100 people.
This year’s guest speaker, retired Army 1st Sgt. Christopher Burnett, is a Kansas City native and an award-winning composer and saxophone artist and is currently the marketing and communications director at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Mo. His speech focused on the “Remember! Celebrate! Act!” theme, taking time to reflect on each word’s meaning to him.
King, a Baptist minister and social activist, led the civil rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968, Burnett said.
Burnett shared a timeline of King’s life, which he described as the “bio most everyone knows from children ... to adults now in our time.”
The “Remember!” section of Burnett’s speech included details of King’s early years, education, spiritual growth, the Montgomery bus boycott, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, and his assassination and death. Burnett talked about King’s family background, beginning with his maternal grandfather A.D. Williams, and went on to give details about King’s early religious doubts.
“Although his family was deeply involved in the church and worship, young Martin questioned religion in general and felt uncomfortable with overly emotional displays of religious worship,” Burnett said. “It was not until his junior year in high school, when he took a Bible class, that King was brought back to the faith.”
Burnett concluded the “Remember!” section of the speech saying, “Martin Luther King Jr.’s life had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States. Years after his death, he is the most widely known African-American leader of his era. His life and work have been honored with a national holiday, schools and public buildings named after him, and a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.”
He quoted King’s final speech on April 3, 1968, the day before his death, “’I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.’”
The “Celebrate” portion of Burnett’s speech focused on the question, “Why is it that Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement?”
Page 2 of 2 - Burnett answered his own question by citing Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why.”
“Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question, ‘Why?’ His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright brothers ... they all think, act and communicate the exact same way. And it’s the complete opposite to everyone else. This is because people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it,” Burnett said.
“(King) didn’t go around telling people what needed to change in America. He went around and told people what he believed and people who believed what he believed took his cause, and they made it their own, and they told people.”
Burnett noted that it was all a matter of showing up at the right place at the right time and no one showed up just for King.
“It’s what they believed, and it wasn’t necessarily about black versus white; 25 percent of the audience was white,” Burnett said. “It just so happened that the civil rights movement was the perfect thing to help him bring his cause to life.”
Finally, Burnett went on to address the idea of “act” by telling the audience, “we are Americans and we get better.”
Burnett talked about the American Jazz Museum where he works, noting the historic timeline that features community life before, during and after the civil rights era.
“It is a subtle reminder of the courage that Kansas City demonstrates to show all of our history, even those times when we need to get better,” Burnett said. “Like America has done throughout her entire history, we should always seek to get better. That’s another major lesson that Reverend Dr. King can teach us today. We may make mistakes or do dumb things along the way, but we Americans always get better.”
After Burnett’s speech, Brig. Gen. John S. Kem, provost of Army University, presented Burnett with a framed photo of Fort Leavenworth. Kem spoke of the many similarities he had with Burnett including family members who served in the military. Then, complimenting Burnett on how the way he spoke and his (Burnett’s) own experiences in the Army was matched by what he had to say about King.
“As you heard him speak, you could hear his leadership and teamwork experiences for the Army reflected in what he focused on Martin Luther King,” Kem said. “In the Army we talk about leadership and teamwork and commitment, being able to ‘talk the talk’ and also ‘walk the walk.’ You’d be pretty hard-pressed to be able to find someone who did that more than Martin Luther King. And so, what he focused on are great lessons for us as Army leaders to not only emulate and try to be more like Martin Luther King, but just to remind ourselves in our lane how to be entrepreneurial.”