Why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day

We celebrate the life and dream of a man of faith, courage and leadership — Martin Luther King Jr.

A special focus of the 2012 Martin Luther King observance is turning it into a day of service, with numerous community projects taking place across the country, including weatherizing homes, beautifying schools, serving meals and supporting veterans and military families. By turning the observance into a day of service, we advance King's dream of economic opportunity, equality, and social justice for all.

King would have turned 83 years old on Jan. 15. Though his time with us was too brief, the wisdom of the messages he brought forth as a young man still hold today. He believed freedom was the one thing worth dying for, and ultimately, this freedom is what our veterans and our soldiers have served to protect. He believed that love could overcome hate, that justice required sacrifice, and that faith is the equalizer that surmounts all controversy.

Now more than ever, amid the worst recession since the Great Depression, we must take to heart King's teachings to work together to achieve this dream. Duty to country knows only three colors — red, white and blue — and those who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces have truly served us all and earned the honored title of "veteran."

King never served in the military, but he commanded an army of Americans dedicated to fulfilling our country's highest ideal — that all men and all women are created equal; an ideal forged in the heat of battle here at home in the struggle for civil rights and around the world in wars against tyranny and oppression. And he died for his commitment to this ideal.

"If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live," King said, understanding — as every veteran understands — that freedom is not free. His strength and purpose are matched by those of the veterans we serve, representing Americans of all ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. The key to our success is our diverse workforce with Americans from every racial and ethnic group finding increasing opportunities to serve veterans in rewarding and fulfilling careers.

King's highest goal was to make all of us better than we are, to help us realize our highest possibilities as individuals and as a people. May God bless this dear and noble nation he fought so hard and died to improve — and may we soon share the radiant vision of unity he so wanted us to see.

Dennis H. Smith, Baltimore

The writer is director of VA Maryland Health.

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