Story by SPC Liane Schmersahl on 02/27/2017More than 250 Soldiers, military Civilians and Family Members gathered for a Black History Month observance and luncheon at the Commons on Fort Drum on February 23, 2017.
The event featured musical and creative performances, including both the historic national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," sung by Spc. Anthony White, and the unofficial black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which was performed by Allison Gunter, as well as another musical performance by White, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Douglas Patterson, Cpl. Elvis Imes and Spc. Javon Freeman. Next, Pfc. Jamaica Wright read a poem titled "What is Black History?"
The event's guest speaker was 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade Chaplain Maj. James Key, who delivered an impassioned speech on this year's theme: The Crisis in Black Education.
Drawing from black military history, Key used the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American fighter and bomber pilots who served in WWII, as an example of black service members working hard to break down the walls of injustice.
"Their story reminds me today, in no uncertain terms, that when opportunity and education meet, success is bound to happen," he said.
"Today the door of opportunity for young African Americans is open wide," he said, "However because lack of educational preparation, because of economic and social impediments, many of them are unable to walk through this very important door."
Key cited statistic from the Children's Defense Fund, highlighting the achievement gap that exists in the United States - a gap that Key said makes children "dead on arrival" in the national economy. He applauded the many organizations and foundations that work endlessly to close the achievement gap and bring higher education within reach of minority and low-income students, but attributed most praise to the men and women working behind-the scenes to equip and inspire young children to achieve greatness.
"Each year during black history month, our nation focuses largely on the great African-American leaders of the past; however, thousands of lesser known heroes and sheroes deserve recognition too," he said. "I'm talking about the humble souls that helped many African-Americans, including individuals like the Tuskegee Airmen, achieve greatness and achieve higher education. . . They work diligently behind the scenes, on a low profile; they work in a quiet and systematic way, but you've seen them."
Key cited his own neighbor from the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles during his childhood, who, though uneducated himself, made it his mission to "preach education to every kid in the hood he could get his hands on," as well as his great-grandmother, whose legacy, he says, he owes his absolute best.
Key's message concluded that the past and present are "intimately connected," that those who have gone before set the stage for accomplishment today, and that it is in turn this generation's responsibility to do the same for children today.
"I adamantly believe that as we celebrate the accomplishments of prominent and well known African-Americans this month, we mustn't forget the resiliency of the unknown faces who paved the way for future generations. Our challenge today is to pick up where they left off by striving to do more for those who can't do for themselves, especially our young people."
Key's speech was met with a standing ovation and enthusiastic applause.