Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Lessons of service-before-self epitomize Dr. King's legacy

Image of Outline of Dr. Martin Luther King, with text: "Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18, 2021". MLK Day is celebrated as a day of service to others. (Graphic courtesy of the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.)

“I believe what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.”

This message, from 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech highlight the gift that inspired his civil rights career - his dedication to serving others. 

King was a respected civil rights leader who dreamed of establishing peace, justice, and brotherhood between people of all races and ethnicities. He marched more than six million miles and delivered more than 2,500 speeches to protest against segregation. Tragically, he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, leaving the nation in mourning.

Each January we honor King’s legacy on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a federal holiday dedicated as a national day of service.

Throughout January, the Defense Health Agency will honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy with a #MonthOfService, an invitation for each of us to help establish justice through service in our communities.

Nonviolence is the Way

King was the leader of a civil rights movement that sought to end segregation through nonviolent action.

“Nonviolence,” he said, “is not sterile passivity but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation.” He was inspired by Gandhi’s nonviolent movement in India.

MLK in a crowd with people holding signs
Martin Luther King, Jr, in a Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. in August 1963. (Courtesy of National Archives.)

King and his followers organized sit-ins, marches, and other forms of nonviolent protest. When met with violence by those who wanted to protect segregation, Dr. King and his followers responded with his principles of nonviolence.

On Dec. 5, 1965, King and his followers stayed off of the buses in Montgomery, Alabama – thus started the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This nonviolent action was initiated to pressure the city to repeal its segregation laws. The city refused to budge and the protests continued for more than a year, until 1966 when a federal court declared the laws unconstitutional.

King believed that nonviolent action would create a “tension” that would force “a community which has consistently refused to negotiate to confront the issue.”  He believed that there was a “constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” He sought to achieve justice for people of color, who were oppressed by unjust laws.

Justice for All is the Goal

King’s nonviolent movement brought the nation’s attention to the injustices that people of color faced in the United States.

In the 1950s the Supreme Court upheld a series of lower court rulings that declared segregation in public school and transportation systems as unconstitutional. 

In the 1960s Congress followed suit by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. These key pieces of legislation effectively outlawed segregation throughout the nation.

King’s dream of justice and brotherhood throughout the nation—a dream inspired by his dedication to service—was becoming a reality!

Love is the Foundation of Service

To achieve his dream King believed that, “man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” 

Love was the foundation of his nonviolent movement to seek justice for people of color.  It was the powerful force that drove him to lead a life service, no matter what it cost him personally. 

Join the DHA community in honoring King’s legacy throughout January by using your talents to help serve in your community.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is “a day on, not a day off!”

Learn more:

You also may be interested in...

Mentoring advice from a Navy senior chief

Two military personnel, wearing masks, sitting at a desk talking

A Navy senior chief petty officer shares his secrets to being a successful mentor.

Spouse’s Appreciation Day: Resources for military spouses

Image of man, smiling and hugging a woman

Helpful resources for military spouses

Corpsman Up! – Navy ‘doc’ reiterates importance of blood donations

Person's hand and arm, squeezing a ball, giving blood

Navy corpsman impresses the importance of donating blood through the Armed Services Blood Program.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

Medical mentoring fosters retention, improved health care delivery

Two medical military personnel in an operating room

Naval medical officer mentoring continues across career in a variety of modalities.

COVID-19 hinders blood donations during National Blood Donor Month

Navy Capt. R. Wade Blizzard, commanding officer of U.S. Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia, donates blood for the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Units Diego Garcia walking blood bank on Dec. 17, 2020. The walking blood bank is a list of eligible donors who can provide blood in case of emergency. (U.S. Navy photo by Navy Seaman Apprentice Stevin Atkins)

Life-saving blood is in high-demand by the Armed Services Blood Program, as the COVID-19 has negatively impacted donations.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program | Public Health | Coronavirus

COVID presents new set of challenges for DOD environmental health

Group of Marines, snowshoeing through the snow

One of the most important factors to take into account when maintaining one’s overall fitness is physical environment.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Total Force Fitness

Get into fighting weight with the 2021 Total Force Fitness Challenge

Soldier, wearing a mask, with fists ready to punch

The 2021 Total Force Fitness Challenge helps Service Members recommit to their fitness and weight goals by promoting holistic aspects of health and performance that can impact their weight.

Mentoring builds strong bonds and a network of support

Three military personnel, wearing masks, having a discussion in a room

January serves as National Mentoring Month.

Decreasing cervical cancer – one HPV vaccine at a time

Image of medical personnel showing report to soldier. Click to open a larger version of the image.

Early detection and prevention methods are key to help women fight and prevent this form of cancer.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Total Force Fitness
Showing results 1 - 9 Page 1 of 1
Refine your search
Last Updated: December 03, 2021

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.