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Future Air Force leaders continue inclusion, awareness conversation

Marshall W. ‘Major’ Taylor (left) and Léon Hourlier race each other at Paris’ Vélodrome Buffalo cycling track in 1909. Taylor, an Indianapolis native, was an African American world champion cyclist who lived and trained in nearby Worcester, Massachusetts at the turn of the last century. (Courtesy Photo, Agence Rol / Public Domain)

A statue of Marshal W. “Major” Taylor, an African American world champion cyclist, sits outside the Worcester, Massachusetts library. Taylor’s resiliency as he overcame barriers in the Jim Crow era influenced discussions in Westover Air Reserve Base’s Development and Training Flight during the July unit training assembly. (Courtesy photo, Paul F. Henegan)

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. --

Nearly 70 future leaders of the 439th Airlift Wing continued the conversation on inclusion and racial equality in the military during the July unit training assembly.  

Lt. Col. Rodney Furr, 439th Airlift Wing chief of Public Affairs, spoke to the Development and Training Flight on the life and times of Marshal W. “Major” Taylor, an African American world champion cyclist who lived and trained in nearby Worcester, Massachusetts at the turn of the last century.  

“Since the theme of this year’s Special Emphasis Program is ‘Honoring the past; securing the future’, I felt my Major Taylor briefing is the ideal topic to support that focus, as well as supporting the Air Force chief of staff’s direction for continued dialogue,” Furr said. “Taylor’s life and achievements, both as a cyclist and someone who overcame barriers in the Jim Crow era, should be honored. They are certainly an inspiration for our future Air Force leaders in the D&TF.”

Former CSAF Gen. David Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright began the discussion in June in response to the country’s civil unrest and how it relates to the Air Force.

“Diversity, inclusion and a sense of belonging are important attributes to a healthy service culture,” Goldfein said in a military.com article. “Leaders must create a culture where we can have lasting meaningful dialogue on difficult issues that affect our Airmen.” 

He encouraged service members to keep talking about the topic, even if it’s difficult.

“What's important is that there's a forum for this conversation to happen, as uncomfortable as it may be,” Goldfein added. “That's what we're trying to get after.” 

Furr’s talk spanned Taylor’s entire life: including growing up in Indianapolis, his rise to one of the top track cyclists in the world, his post-racing career loss of his prize earnings and death as a near unknown in 1935.  

Furr emphasized how Taylor’s story can translate to the lives of today’s Reserve members.

“Taylor’s resiliency – mental, physical and spiritual – was incredibly strong. He encountered threats of bodily harm, dirty tactics from his fellow racers and many times chose not to compete in big prize money races because they were held on Sundays,” Furr said. “Despite these obstacles, he persevered to become accepted and respected in his sport and community.”

Tech. Sgt. Andrea Wieciech, D&TF NCO in charge, previously collaborated with Furr to facilitate an operations security, social media and political activity involvement briefing to the D&TF. When he approached her with the idea of giving his Taylor presentation to her Airmen, she quickly accepted.  

“To me, the legacy of Major Taylor shows how young Airman can learn from his resiliency to essentially become anything they want to be in the Air Force,” said Wieciech. “Life isn’t easy nor fair, but that should never stop you from obtaining your goals. There are multiple paths to success. If the path you are currently on isn’t working, it might be time to change directions, but never lose focus of your goals and the reason why. Becoming a more resilient Airman will make you a more compassionate and well-rounded leader.”