REMARKS BY AMBASSADOR ODEEN ISHMAEL ON RECEIVING THE KING LEGACY AWARD FOR INTERNATIONAL SERVICE, Washington DC, January 21, 2002
Posted January 24th. 2002
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I feel delighted and honored this morning to be presented with The King Legacy Award for International Service. I wish to sincerely thank the Committee for the International Salute to the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for bestowing this great honor on me. I feel especially humbled, indeed.
While I regard this award as a personal honor, I see it as one for my country, Guyana, as well. I therefore accept it on behalf of all the people of my country whom I am proud to serve.
This commendation is now an inspiration that urges me to work harder to generate international understanding among the nations and peoples of the world. We all need to do more of this since we are now seeing an upsurge of racial profiling and bigotry, two types of deviant attitudes and behavior that Dr. King firmly struggled against.
I first learned of Dr. Martin Luther King from my grandfather. This was way back in the early 1960s during my boyhood days. Grandfather, who lived in a little village, could not read nor write. However, he had a wonderful knowledge of world affairs. You see, he had a very big radio which he kept on a table in the front part of his house. Powered by a car battery, his radio picked up stations from all over the world, and he listened to news from as far away as London, New York, Washington, India, Australia, Moscow, and everywhere else.
In the evenings, he turned it up at full volume, and many people in the village without radios were drawn to his front porch, where they sat and listened to the local news and the death announcements which followed immediately after.
It was on that very radio that I first heard the distinctive and commanding voice of the great Martin Luther King. Parts of his speeches were aired, and Grandfather explained to me that Martin Luther King was doing the same for America that Mahatma Gandhi did for India. Even though Grandfather was an unlettered man, he clearly understood the vibrant message that Dr. King delivered to America and the rest of the world.
Since then I began to follow the career and the struggles of Dr. King, and was stunned when an assassin's bullet cut him down in the prime of his life. I must say that his ideas and his ideals have helped me fashion my own outlook of life to give service to people with the hope that what good is imparted to others will in turn be passed on down the line.
I have always been, and will always be, an admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I firmly believe in his dream that people should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. The granting of this prestigious award to me, a citizen of Guyana, throws a spotlight on my country. Guyanese, as some of you may know, like to boast that Guyana is the only English speaking country in South America. With this in mind, I urge you to visit my country and enjoy our pristine rain forests and natural wonders and experience our culture and the hospitality of our people. I also appeal to investors to go to Guyana to explore the great business opportunities that we offer.
Many years ago when I was in elementary school, one of my teachers implored my class to work hard and aim for the stars. I think that is what all of us should do. For, you see, even if we fall short we can still reach the mountain top. From there, we can have a very clear view of the world that surrounds us, and work with others to help solve the numerous problems that we see from there. This is what Dr. King would have wanted all of us to do. It was a great part of his dream for America and the world. Let us all work to fulfil his dream. Let us climb to the mountain top.