FORT POLK — In keeping with the 2018 theme for Black History Month, “African Americans in times of war,” the contributions, sacrifices and heroic deeds of black service members throughout American history were highlighted at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Black History Month observance held Feb. 22 at the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Gym. Soldiers of the hosting unit, the 46th Engineer Battalion, offered music, poetry and educational insight before the guest speaker, Rev. Dr. Derrick D. Johnson, addressed the audience.

After the singing of the national anthem, performed in five-part harmony by the engineers’ own “Four-Six Five,” Spc. Michael Jones sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also called the black national anthem.

Staff Sgt. Leslie Clement read the poem “The Slaves Complain,” by George Moses Horten, followed by Pfc. Sydney St. Brun, who recited “Southern Mansion” by poet Arna Bontemps.

After the poems, historical narratives were read by Spc. Pierre Pierre and Pvt. Malik Dorsey.

The event concluded with Johnson, a two-year Marine Corps and 20-year Army veteran, addressing the Soldiers and guests at the event.

He said it was important to remember why Black History Month is important.

“It gives us a great opportunity to honor and recognize those African Americans who have contributed to the safety and defense of this great nation. It is important because our future is shaped by our past,” he said. “For me personally, it allows me to think back on the progress and sacrifices that were made for me to stand here this morning."

Johnson said with this year’s thematic focus on African Americans in times of war, it was crucial to reflect upon the burdens that were placed on these individuals, who not only fought wars, but also fought racism.

“Despite seemingly overwhelming obstacles, insurmountable odds and constant discrimination, African American service members served their country with honor and distinction,” said Johnson. “So on this day, as we take time to celebrate this occasion, let us continue to understand that it has not been an easy struggle. We have come a long way in this country and in our own service ... and yet we still have more mountains to climb and more valleys to go through. When we share and remember, we inspire hope and a better today, and a better tomorrow."