KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
As we begin to make strides to return to “normal” functioning we want to keep in mind current events that are going on around the world as they relate to COVID-19, race relations, and the sensitive but important topic of equality and justice.
I want to take the time to remind people to be mindful of your actions and the thoughts you choose to articulate.
Throughout my life, I have had issues that were biased against me, but the first time I actually realized it, was at the age of 16 in high school. During an appointment with a high school counselor concerning my choices post high school, I expressed my desire to pursue a bachelor's degree in journalism. My first choice of schools was Louisiana State University, which had a well-known and reputable mass communications curriculum.
This counselor, after looking at my 3.3 GPA, great attendance, no discipline record and my choices, told me that she didn’t think I should attend LSU. When I asked why, she said that it wasn’t the school for me and that I should attend a historically black college and university.
I wasn't sure what she meant by that and asked her to help me understand. This counselor then stated that the school isn't for individuals like yourself, you would fit better at Southern University, the HBCU in the same city.
While my GPA would guarantee me a scholarship into the school (and did) as well as acceptance into the college, she used cost as a factor against attending LSU and overlooked all of the factors that would guarantee me an opportunity to attend and tried to convince me the school of my choice, a predominately white institute, wasn’t for people like me.
I was only 16, and while prior experiences as it pertains to biased actions, both overt and covert racism, had already prepared me for this moment and many that did follow, this one was different. This awakened something in me, something that made me become more aware of my surroundings and how people (non-black) interacted with me and what they would say to me or in my presence.
I began to study African American history more, because I wanted to thoroughly understand more than what was being taught in school. I learned that so much was left out and was relevant to the times we live in and relevant for my life.
It helped me understand more about myself and others around me, and my experiences made me realize that I shouldn’t treat people in the same ways that I had been treated.
I joined the Air Force Reserve in 2010. After completing college and being laid off due to budget cuts from a job in the education field, this was the next big step in my life.
Even after joining the Reserve, I had bad experiences, but the most unfortunate part about bad experiences in the military (from my perspective) is that they can be looked over and minimized.
However, initially I was reactive to those experiences. It was hard being the type of man I am and trying to stay away from the stereotype of being "the angry black man." There is never an excuse for a reaction but we have to take into account the action that influenced or provoked the reaction. Continuing, my perception of what the military was began to change, and I was no longer the "go to Airman."
One thing that helped me handle my experiences and make changes was when I gained some great mentors who helped guide me on how to function in the confines of the military while not stripping myself of my personal identity.
Chief Master Sgt. Monte Snyder and Master Sgt. Crystal Jones helped me channel the grief, anger, sadness and lack of interest that had come over me into becoming the military leader that I wanted to be and not one I had experienced. From then on, I made sure I became a person who would operate in a capacity that gets the mission done but also where I also make sure to keep the people in mind who do the work and treat them in a manner that pushes them in that work, while building healthy relationships.
A part of helping others to build healthy relationships is my job in the Equal Opportunity Office. When the job opened up, someone referred me stating I would be a good candidate, so EO came to me.
EO's impact has been amazing, introduced me to more information, and gave me experiences that I wouldn't have had. My parents and experiences have taught me well, but EO has opened the door for healthy conversations and education as it pertains to harassment and discrimination.
My job as an EO advisor is to try and help create awareness as it pertains to disparities amongst individuals through Human Relations education, Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) Organizational Climate Surveys, processing complaints and simply treating others fairly. But I know there are others across the Air Force, including you, doing the same thing in their own way.
Let’s be aware of our own biases, opinions and how they affect others. Current events are on everyone’s minds at this time and the EO team asks that when you have discussions about these events, remember to keep three things in mind: cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and openness.
We are mission and people first Airmen. The mission can’t go on without the Airman and the Airman can’t effectively work if their work environment is met with hostility and a lack of empathy.
We should operate as a team so we can continue the Air Force Reserve mission that we have committed to. So we need to remember to be mindful of others and take care of our brothers and sisters standing alongside us.