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Walter Reed Bethesda staff members gathered Jan. 17 to reflect on the legacy of prominent civil rights leaders, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Nobel Peace Prize winner traveled the nation, speaking out against racial injustice, leading change and successfully protesting racial discrimination in federal and state law. One of the many nonviolent protests he led included a 382-day bus boycott in 1956, which resulted in the Supreme Court declaring segregation on buses to be unconstitutional, according to the Nobel Prize official site.

In King's honor, the Bethesda Multicultural Committee hosted a celebration in the America Building atrium on Jan. 17, featuring music by local singer Stephanie Offutt, pianist Paul Ruskin, and Walter Reed Bethesda's Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Delyn Scott. The crowd of over 50 staff members and patients listened as Scott began by singing the hymn, “Lift Every Voice.” Following various other melodies, such as “At Last,” and “Georgia,” the crowd was invited to sample a warm array of food.

While those who came enjoyed the entertainment, Walter Reed Bethesda's Chief of Staff Col. Ramona Fiorey said, it's important to remember what the celebration was truly about: Dr. King and what he gave this country.

“This is a celebration of the national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, who is known for being an incredible visionary,” Fiorey said.

The chief of staff also noted that King once spoke of everyone having “come here by different ships, but we're all in the same boat now.” She said, “We're glad to be in the same boat because it makes us a stronger nation.

“His life was extraordinary, it was shorter than it needed to be, but his legacy carried on, and is part of our history. It is part of the fabric of our country, as it should be.” she said.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Zielske, chair of the Bethesda Multicultural Committee, explained it's important to continue celebrating the life of King because of his peaceful approach in demanding equality. He noted Jan. 17th's event was a great success, thanks to leadership support and the committee's tireless efforts.

King was assassinated in 1968 at a motel in Memphis, Tenn., where he was supporting a protest for better working conditions for sanitation workers. Keeping his legacy alive, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is recognized annually on the third Monday of each January, around the time of his actual birthday, Jan. 15, 1929. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill, creating the federal holiday to honor King, which was observed for the first time Jan. 20, 1986, said Zielske. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act, making the observance a day of community service as well.

Throughout the year, the multicultural committee celebrates diversity, hosting monthly events at the medical center.

“It's important we celebrate monthly cultural events to bring awareness and recognition to all cultures that have had an influence in molding our country into the diverse nation that it is,” he added.

Next month, committee members will organize a celebration in honor of Black History Month, Zielske said, and further details will be announced in the coming weeks.

For more information about the Bethesda Multicultural Committee, contact Zielske at 301-400-3542.