Honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- A humanitarian awards luncheon honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was held Jan. 20 at the Wright-Patterson Club.

The luncheon, hosted by Col. John Devillier, 88th Air Base Wing commander, carried the theme "The Power of a Dream: Remember. Celebrate. Act."

In his opening remarks, Devillier said, "History is very powerful, and we have to understand where we came from in order to have a better future. Martin Luther King clearly understood that. ... The past shapes who we are today."

Devillier explored King's legacy and vision, not only for the United States but across the globe.
"He didn't do it alone," Devillier said. "Rather, his message was something the majority of humanity believed in to their core. It was not just African-Americans who rallied around him."

The "golden rule" is common across multiple religions and cultures, Devillier remarked. King was able to articulate this message to people, he said, despite haters and threats.

"I'm fond of saying that one person can make a difference in an organization. My charge to you is to be that one person wherever you work, wherever you socialize. Treat people with dignity, honor and respect, and you'll be shocked at how you can come together as a community," he said.

Guest speaker Dr. Clark E. Beck Sr. was the first African-American to earn a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering at the University of Cincinnati in 1955. He was employed at Wright-Patterson AFB for 32 years, working on such projects as testing Kevlar, conducting crucial evaluation tests to determine how the United States approached space travel, and assessing how much air conditioning was needed in cockpits to keep pilots comfortable.

He also helped establish Wright State University's Service, Technology and Engineering Preparatory Program in 1987. STEPP is a pre-college academic intervention program designed to increase the number of minority Dayton Public Schools graduates who are academically prepared and motivated to successfully complete a math or science degree-based four-year college curriculum.

"I was so honored that every commander (at Wright-Patterson AFB) since 1987 has told employees that they could participate as a volunteer in the STEPP program as long as it does not affect their job performance," he said.

The program draws up to 200 employee volunteers annually. More than 900 students have gone through the program and have earned college degrees.

Beck outlined information about King and said, "We have a long way to go, but we can get there one step at a time."

In April this year, King would have celebrated his 87th birthday, as Beck will.

"I believe when the power of love becomes greater than the love of power, the world will have a chance at peace. We will have the chance of reaching that promised land (King spoke of)."

Beck said he believes King knew he would not live a long life and die of natural causes.

"He knew he would have a traumatic end, but that did not stop him from dreaming a powerful dream," he said.

Beck questioned why King would follow a path that led to his death.

"True heroism can be found anytime and in many different places," Beck said.

He commented on the bravery of Rosa Parks and students who sought an education even when they were not welcome at the institution of higher learning. He recalled being told by a dean at an unnamed school, "'Your people cannot be engineers.' That was a shock to me." The dean, having never even looked at Beck's excellent undergraduate transcript in front of him, also told him he would never graduate. Beck left that school that day and drove with his mother to UC. The UC dean encouraged him to enroll.

If there's one characteristic that trumps all characteristics, it's the will to fight, live, succeed and overcome unfairness, Beck advised the audience of several hundred people. He wanted to make his parents proud of him, he recalled.

Devillier called Beck, "an impressive individual who has made a huge contribution to the defense of this nation during his time at Wright-Patterson AFB."

Following the presentation, Devillier gave the 2016 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award to Senior Airman Daniel Ononiwu, a public health technician with the 88th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Public Health Flight.

Ononiwu is the founder and president of Airmen Breaking Bread, a private organization that links Airmen to local community needs. To boost morale and camaraderie during sequestration, Ononiwu organized two base-wide athletic tournaments that involved eight base groups and 23 squadrons.

"It is a great honor to receive this award," Ononiwu said. "I have a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. above my mantel and he's a great inspiration to me."

Ononiwu's mother is a first-generation American from Africa, and Ononiwu said he appreciates everything King did to "pave the way" for him and his family. He also thanked his supervisors and coworkers for believing in him and helping him to achieve.