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Martin Luther King Jr. birthday commemoration

22ARW

Senior Master Sgt. Francis Mitokpe, 22nd Civil Engineering Operations flight superintendent, poses for a photo Jan. 14, 2021, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. At a young age Mitokpe came to the United Sates with hopes of achieving the American dream after reading Martin Luther King junior’s “I have a dream” speech. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Willis)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "When your character is built on spiritual and moral foundation, your contagious way of life will influence millions.” King influenced how Americans felt, thought and acted during the civil rights movement in the 1960s like no one had ever done before him.

He inspired millions of citizens to engage in action for the betterment of America. In doing so, he also influenced millions of people across the globe, including myself.

I was born and raised in Lome, Togo, West Africa. When I was about 8 or 9, I came across King's "I have a dream" speech in one of my textbooks. His words inspired me so much that I would read it over and over until I had memorized the entire speech in French. Little did I know back then I, too, would one day become an American.

In 1998 I won a lottery visa that granted me the ability to immigrate to the United States under the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

I was 18 years old when I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, coincidently, the hometown of my hero, Martin Luther King Jr. I didn’t know any English and I didn’t have any family in the states. I traveled with one carry-on bag and $250 in my pocket. All I really had was hope and belief in the American dream.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I enlisted and joined the United States Air Force. I was determined to serve, to protect and to defend a country that I had long fallen in love with through King’s words and vision.

In his "I have a dream" speech, King painted a brighter future for our country when he said, “I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

As a young boy growing up in poverty and under a dictatorship regime in Africa, those words gave me hope that one day I would also grow up into a better life. A life where my kids would not have to walk miles to school barefoot with no food in their stomachs.

Today, I am a proud American Airman; an American Airman judged not by the color of my skin, nor by the fact that I am a naturalized citizen, but by the content of my character and my performance as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer.

I am grateful for my career, particularly the four years I spent at the White House in direct support of the first Black president our nation had elected 45 years after King’s dream.

My story would not have been possible if King had not had a dream that he believed in. The same dream that he fought and died for. My story is one in a million already told and millions more that have yet to be told.

The racial struggle in our country is not over yet; however, King’s dream is still very much alive today as it was the first day he delivered it. It will continue to be alive as our nation continues to exist because it is a dream embedded with American ideals and the principles upon which our nation was founded.

Like King, each one of us is called to work hard to preserve the founding fathers' idea that all men are created equal. When we act together we can achieve great things, not just for our nation but for the world. We can build a society where our children and grandchildren can thrive together no matter their diversities.

We can find strength in our uniqueness that was King’s dream and vision for our nation. We should celebrate him because, as President Kennedy said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the man it produces but also by the man it honors, the man it remembers.”

Rest in peace my hero.