MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. — On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream with the world.
Fast forward to the present day. When I wake up in the morning, I am his dream. I am black and every day I serve as an equal with my brothers and sisters in arms.
Sixty years ago, as an African American, I wouldn’t have been able to freely pursue this career that I love. This fact wouldn’t be true due to a lack of qualifications, but simply because of the color of my skin. Fortunately, times have changed. The Air Force I love has changed.
According to the Department of Defense, today approximately 15 percent of the more than 300,000 people who serve on active duty Air Force are African American, but this privilege did not come without sacrifices.
While facing the hardships of segregation in America such as sitting on the back of the bus, using separate water fountains, and attending different schools, churches, businesses, etc., African Americans such as the Tuskegee Airmen wanted to do their part. They joined the fight for rights that they themselves didn’t have in America.
During this time, it was still widely accepted that African Americans were inferior, but still they joined the fight to defeat Hitler and his ideology. Even though they couldn’t battle beside their Caucasian counterparts, they felt a sense of patriotism and refused to let the history books be written without them.
The Tuskegee Airmen conducted approximately 15,000 combat sorties and earned more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. As World War II came to an end, their success made it impossible to ignore the need for a more diverse service.
In 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order integrating the military but that order did little to change the culture. In fact, Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James, who was the first black to reach the rank of four-star general, didn’t earn this distinction until 1975.
As Black History Month kicks off, I challenge everyone to learn about people like Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Barnes. He is the first and, to-date, only black Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. Additionally, I encourage everyone to research Maj. Shawna Kimbrell, the Air Force’s first female, African-American fighter pilot.
I challenge you to research someone’s history other than your own. I challenge you to get to know about some of the service members, who came before us and made serving possible today. The reality of life is that we can never truly know the way ahead unless we know where we came from as a person, as a race, as a society, and lastly as an Air Force.
It is an honor to be among the small percentage of African Americans who are eligible and want to serve. Today, I say to Dr. King, “dreams do come true.”