BARSTOW• Guests nodded their heads, said an occasional "thank you" or clapped as Pastor Roger Thomas shared his Black History message at the Veterans Home on Wednesday.

"The Emancipation Proclamation, breaking the bonds of slavery, that was the theme and that's what it's all about," House Keeping Supervisor Valerie Wilson said.

Wilson has worked at the Veterans Home for 17 years and was one of the first black employees hired there, she said. The Veterans Home has organized a Black History Month program for 12 years, according to Wilson.

Veterans Home Social Worker Elizabeth Ustick remembers marching on the Mall in Washington D.C. when Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. She delivered her own speech during the program.

"I was actually there 50 years ago. The whole crowd just 'shh'd.' It was powerful then and it was powerful now," Ustick said.

Vietnam Air Force Veteran Tony Marshall shared a message of giving back and life lessons learned. Marshall, who is African-American, was interned as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam when he was shot down on July 3, 1972 and was held until his release on March 29, 1973.

"We're celebrating Black History Month but more let us make sure we take the lessons from the past and build on that," he said.

A group of about 50 veterans and guests were in attendance for the hour-long program.

One guest Alberta Sanders said she grew up in Alabama and remembers watching the rioting in Birmingham from her window.

"I've learned a lot growing up amid all of that," she said. "We have come this far through Martin Luther King and non-violence."

A local black musician Ken Courtney serenaded the group with the saxophone to end the program.

Contact Brooke Self at or (760) 256-4123.