HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Jan. 18, 2019) – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chaplain (Col.) Raymond Robinson made a special trip from USACE Headquarters in Washington D.C. to serve as the keynote speaker for Huntsville Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. observance and celebration Jan. 17.
In his speech, Robinson examined how far Americans have come since the Civil Rights Movement and how much more we can do.
Organized by Huntsville Center’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office, the event featured performances from Oakwood University’s Voices of Triumph gospel choir and, as part of Unity Day, volunteer-prepared cuisine representing cultures and locales from around the world.
Robinson, who was 5 years old when a sniper’s bullet took King’s life April 4, 1968, in Memphis, said though he was too young to fully grasp the magnitude of the civil rights leader’s death at the time, he quickly learned about racism while growing up in Forestville, Maryland, during school integration in the early ‘70s.
“I remember returning one day from a track meet at a neighboring school only to have our school bus met by a crowd with baseball bats, threatening to do harm to the black students on the bus,” he said. “That situation only resolved itself after police intervention. Those were some tense times that I pray we never, ever go back to as a nation.”
Thanks to King and a host of other heroes beside him during the Civil Rights Movement, Robinson said, the nation has moved “closer to the ideals upon which our country was founded.”
Robinson acknowledged that though the Founding Fathers held a limited view of whom these ideals applied to, he said their message transcends the prejudices of the time.
“While the framers of our Constitution only saw those ideals for a select few, their social myopia doesn’t limit the scope of the powerful truth expressed in our founding document when they said, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,’” Robinson said.
At the core of Robinson’s speech was a call to action: There is more all of us can do to help move the country closer to those ideals.
“Yes, we’ve come a mighty long way, but can we say on our journey to realizing the ideals of our nation that we are there yet?” Robinson asked. “Can we or should we just huddle around the mountain of our past successes and say, ‘Well, it’s good enough’?
“Yes, we have laws that have desegregated us externally, but not internally,” Robinson added. “Legislation is not enough. There is not a law on the books that can change the way we view each other. No law is going to affect how we treat each other. That takes intentional interaction.”
Robinson praised the diversity initiatives in the Army, the Corps of Engineers and Huntsville Center, but he challenged everyone to consciously reach out to one another, even in the workplace.
“What are we each doing individually to help inculcate, nurture and normalize that diversity within our footprints and within our Corps? It’s as simple as this: What am I doing to move across the cubicle or out of my office to build a relationship with somebody who doesn’t look like me?”
Finally, Robinson encouraged everyone to expand how they view their fellow man and woman from a perspective of merely tolerance to one of love.
“Love is still a powerful force for good and change in our world,” Robinson said. “It softens hearts and transforms relationships. Tolerance tends to look at things from the perspective of what’s required; love looks at it from what’s needed. Working out of tolerance tends to only open doors for a token few; love opens doors for all. It’s time to move from simply equal justice under the law to mutual respect within our hearts – a respect that moves us to recognize our common humanity and our mutual responsibility toward each other.”