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Lt. Gen. McDew speaks at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon
Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, 18th Air Force commander, greets Airmen before the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Luncheon Jan. 10, 2012 at the Bay Breeze Event Center, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. McDew toured the 403rd wing and was the keynote speaker for the luncheon. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue).
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Lt. Gen. McDew speaks at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon

Posted 1/11/2013   Updated 1/11/2013 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Heather Heiney
81st Training Wing Public Affairs

1/11/2013 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Hundreds of Keesler members packed into the Bay Breeze Event Center ballroom here Jan. 10 to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hear from Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, 18th Air Force commander and the event's keynote speaker.

The theme for the 2013 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Luncheon, hosted by Keesler's African-American Heritage Committee, was "Remember, celebrate, act ... a day on, not a day off."

"By ultimately giving his life in pursuit of a wonderful goal, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not only changed the course of history in the United States of America and made us the great country we are, but he set the example for the world by showing them what is possible and what dedication to a cause can bring to a people," Said Brig. Gen. Brad Spacy, 81st TrainingWing commander, as he kicked off the luncheon.

McDew began his remarks by explaining that many of America's most important leaders have offered words that continue to resonate long after their deaths:

President Roosevelt: "Yesterday, Dec. 7. 1941 -- a day which will live in infamy."

President Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

President Lincoln: "All men are created equal."

Dr. King, "I have a dream."

"Those few words now belong to the ages and echo through the years," McDew said. "We must breathe new meaning into 'I have a dream,' and together as a free people, as Americans, we can realize a deeper and more profound dimension of Dr. King's dream."

The general went on to explain that King did not pursue civil rights for civil rights' sake, but to ensure that all people, no matter who they are, have the opportunity to experience their own rewarding personal journey.

"Dr. King led a life focused on improving the human condition and the spirit of his fellow man so that everyone could achieve his own greatness in the eyes of their creator," McDew said. "Dr. King understood that concepts like freedom and equality were the keys to unlock the door but it was up to each individual to determine whether the door would open to reveal a small, dank closet or a magnificent, grand ballroom."

Kurt Higgins, AAHC president and luncheon organizer, said, "I think it's important to have events like these to spread awareness. It's incumbent upon those of us who have lived through this history to share it."

Dr. King dismissed the notion of being famous, McDew explained, because it ran contrary to his life's work. "Not everyone can be famous, but everyone can be great because greatness is determined by your service," King said.

"Dr. King understood that freedom without a personal commitment to excellence soon leads to an empty life measured by moments of merely taking breaths rather than a life quantified by breathtaking moments," McDew said. "Success is, in fact, up to you. It is about the content of your character. It's not about who you are, it's about who you're determined to be. It's not about where you come from, it's about where you are determined to go. It's about the freedom to dream big dreams, the freedom to work hard and achieve and the freedom to believe and succeed."

When McDew was a child, he had the opportunity to live with his family in Europe and attend integrated Department of Defense schools. He said that while overseas, he was just Darren. It wasn't until his family returned to Virginia that he became subject to discrimination. But he never let those early struggles stop him from reaching his full potential.

"I have worked at the Pentagon, the White House and the U.S. Senate; I have served the men, women and families of seven separate commands; and I have risen to the rank of lieutenant general because of God's grace, the struggles of many civil rights champions like Dr. King and the Tuskegee Airmen and because of fellow military men and women, civilians and family members of all races, just like you," McDew said. "I, just like you, have a unique story -- not any better or worse, just a unique story, and someone asked me to come tell it."

"If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, 'here lived a great street sweeper,'" King said. "The ultimate measure of a man is not in where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"Dr. King's commitment to excellence inspires us to live up to our own core value of excellence in all we do, but regardless of our roots, we remain first, foremost and always, Americans," McDew said.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. annual luncheon is only the first event planned by the African-American Heritage Committee for Black History Month in February. Other events include soul food sampling, a basketball tournament, a bowling tournament, a free gospel concert and a luncheon. Proceeds received from the events benefit the Col. Lawrence E. Roberts Scholarship Fund.

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