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By: Petty Officer 3rd Class Gray Gibson

Sailors aboard the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 14. The ship’s Diversity and Heritage Committee hosted a celebration event on the aft mess decks that highlighted some of his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement, which sought to achieve equality for all Americans regardless of race.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. was a revolutionary leader,” said Yeoman 2nd Class Kyree Darrien, president of the Diversity and Heritage Committee. “He helped change the world by holding marches, and spoke on how he had a dream about making change for people of color. He wanted to help change the world and he would go out and speak against racism. He believed that we should all love each other and come together. Instead of thinking about people being black and white he wanted us to unite as one.”

Aboard Ronald Reagan, Sailors celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day to embrace the different races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures on the ship. It is not only a time of commemoration for an influential figure, but also a time of reflection on the current state of the fight for equality that King worked to achieve.

“Everyone has a story. Everyone has a background,” said Darrien. “We can all be different and come together that way.”

For the holiday the ship hosted a presentation about the work King accomplished for civil rights. Master-at-Arms 1st Class Patrick Hill recited King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Afterwards, the ship’s culinary specialists prepared a special lunch and the ship’s Commanding Officer, Capt. Fred Goldhammer cut the ceremonial cake.

“Today we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and accomplishments,” said Goldhammer. “We benefit from both in our nation and the Navy, which are vastly different today compared to the late 50s and 60s. It is important to understand our history, so that we fully appreciate the sacrifices that were made on our behalf, and understand the work that still lies ahead.”

Days after King’s assassination in 1968, civil rights activists pushed for the U.S. to recognize his birthday as a national holiday to honor his legacy. It took 11 years for the proposed bill to come to a vote in the House of Representatives in 1979 but it did not initially pass. However, with support from Stevie Wonder, President Jimmy Carter, a march on Washington, and a petition signed by more than 3 million people, the bill was once again put up for a vote and succeeded. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan, the namesake for USS Ronald Reagan, signed the bill declaring it a national holiday. The first Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated Jan. 20, 1986, and is designated as a national day of service. Americans are encouraged to volunteer and improve their communities just as Dr. King did.

“There was not just a change of law; there was a change of heart,” said Reagan. “The conscience of America had been touched. Across the land, people had begun to treat each other not as blacks and whites, but as fellow Americans.”

King was inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and his Christian faith. He was an advocate for peaceful protests and contributed significantly to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which abolished segregation in public and private places.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” said King during his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

King’s message is still being heard today as diversity in the Navy continues to expand. According to a 2018 study done by My Navy HR, senior enlisted leadership in the Navy has grown 300% more diverse in the last 20 years.

Ronald Reagan, the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the United States, and supports alliances, partnerships and collective maritime interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

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