Growing up in Alaska, I had the privilege of living in a “world without race.” Where everyone was just an American and it was just us versus the weather and the harsh terrain Alaska imposed upon us.

You share everything you have from food and clothing, to firewood and snow machines. But when I moved from Alaska, I was faced with a reality harsher than anything Alaska had ever thrown at me.

My mother’s side is from a small town in South Carolina. I can specifically remember the first time I ever heard any racial slurs. I was visiting my grandfather when I was in 3rd grade. I was in a grocery store when a stranger began speaking about a man of another race in a way that would usually be reserved for a rabid animal.

I was so confused. I began looking at the adults I was with to see if they had heard it as well. Their faces showed that they had. Once we were out of the store, I asked my parents about it. They explained that some people dislike or even hate others based solely off of the color of their skin.

When growing up I was told you treat everyone with the same respect you want yourself treated with. This means you don’t bully anyone on the playground, even if they are mean to you and call you names. Someone else’s actions should never validate your own bad behavior. It blew my mind that someone could be so hateful towards someone not because of an action they did or a thing that they said, but by something they had absolutely no control over.

Something as trivial as hair color, or eye color, would split playgrounds and restaurants.

When my father would deploy to war, I never sat back and worried about what race the men and women who fought next to him were. I worried about their training and their ability to defend our country. As I grew into adulthood, I continued to live with the beautiful freedoms Alaska provided. I had friends of all races and focused on the character of the person, rather than the pigment of their skin.

Then one day I fell in love.

My husband is Dominican and Cuban. His skin looks as if he has the perfect tan year round. He speaks multiple languages and defends our country with the courage and dignity I admire fiercely.

We were young when we married and began our Family shortly thereafter. I had no idea the ugliness that was in the world would have any repercussions on my Family.

When the nation was literally divided in half, a man roughly my age decided to stand up and make a difference. He decided enough was enough and fought the hatred with love, kindness and positivity through techniques from Gandhi and Christianity.

Martin Luther King Jr. would be celebrating his 90th birthday this year on Jan. 15. He organized numerous walks and organizations to support the civil rights movement. None were as memorable as the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, from which he delivered his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963.

Elsewhere others were picking up their torches and joining the fight as well. For Richard and Mildred Loving, the fight would be brought inside their home and into the sanctity of their own bed.

Police broke into their home at 2 a.m. on July 11, 1958, arresting the two for violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. This action sparked a nationwide nine-year legal fight. Finally, on June 12, 1967, in a unanimous decision, laws banning interracial marriage were deemed unconstitutional and were overturned in 16 states.

A year later, shortly after his 39th birthday, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in an attempt to stop the movement he was so dedicated to. The funny thing is, his assassination only inspired the world more.

St. Francis of Assisi explained it best when he wrote “all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”

If it weren’t for the actions of so many Soldiers, I wouldn’t celebrate the freedoms in which I enjoy today. If it weren’t for the bravery and dedication of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Lovings, I wouldn’t be able to have the Family I have today. When I hold hands with the husband I adore, or watch my children grow each day, I am reminded of all the racial sacrifices made so we could be here and not a moment goes by in which I am not thankful.