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Dr. King: A Leader of Nonviolent Social Transformation

Image of Picture of Martin Luther King Jr. . In a celebration of Martin Luther King Day, the DHA honored the legacy of one of our nation’s greatest civil rights leaders with an observance called, “Dr. King: A Leader of Nonviolent Social Change.” (Courtesy photo from Defense Equal Opportunity Management)

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"We use the word transformation a lot in military medicine,"

With these words, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, Defense Health Agency director, opened the agency's event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of our nation's greatest civil rights leaders,

"When we talk about Martin Luther King Jr.," he continued, "we're talking about someone who individually transformed how a society a thinks about itself and acts on those beliefs."

In a panel discussion entitled, Dr. King: A leader of nonviolent social change, Naomi Escoffery, chief of business operations for the assistant director of healthcare administration at the DHA; and Eric Smith, chief of staff of the Defense Logistics Agency shared their perspectives on the importance of honoring King's legacy.

A Leader of Transformation

In discussing what about King inspired her most, Escoffery responded, "Dr. King chose nonviolence in the midst of the violence taking place in Vietnam and in the American South."

"He said, 'we're going to confront [violence] with love, respect, and decency for all.'"

Second, she was inspired by King's belief that everyone has a responsibility to help strengthen the nation.

Smith cited King's commitment to the cause of justice and equality as his source of inspiration.

"In his view justice and equality is a moral obligation. He didn't let the threat of jail or violence dissuade him."

King sought to transform our country into a place where justice and equality could thrive.

A Commitment to Nonviolent Action

King believed the best means of creating this transformation was nonviolent social activism, which he called, "not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force" that leads to lasting social change.

Picture of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Defense Health Agency remains committed to carrying on Dr. King’s legacy of combatting discrimination and establishing a culture where justice and equality reign. (Courtesy photo from Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute)

Speaking about King's nonviolent methods, Smith stated, "He was all-inclusive...He was looking for the country as a whole to come together."

"If we revert to violence, we allow our opposition to discredit our efforts."

Escoffery replied, "King emphasized that violence makes people insensitive and brings into being bitterness...and more violence."

King's nonviolent methods proved to be an overwhelming success, as he helped pressure Congress to pass a number of key pieces of legislation outlawing discrimination, the most noteworthy being the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Mission Must Continue

Escoffery and Smith both stressed the importance of continuing King's mission to transform the nation.

Smith asserted, "We need to put forth the efforts laid out by Dr. King for nonviolent social change to help us progress toward our goals [of justice and equality]."

Escoffery added, "He wanted everyone to know that they count, and that they have worth... that everyone has what it takes to make this place a better place."

As the event closed, Place encouraged the event attendees to support each other.

"In medicine we learn that complacency can be deadly. We need to lift each other up with kindness and compassion."

King's commitment to establishing nonviolent social transformation was inspired by a question he himself posed, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

Our celebration of Martin Luther King Day invites us to answer this question ourselves by making the same commitment to nonviolent social action that King made more than 50 years ago.

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Last Updated: January 21, 2022

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