2020 has hit us all very hard, first with COVID-19 and now with the unrest around the world due to the brutal death of George Floyd. I wish I had the words to explain the pain that I feel for our country in this moment, but I know my words could never fully illustrate the agony it felt for all of us to watch a man suffocate on the ground at the hands of those who, like us, have pledged their life to service. As a servicemember, I understand the power of a uniform and the weight and responsibility to defend the Constitution of the United States. Too often, I have seen that power abused. Too often, I have witnessed American citizens unlawfully detained, arrested, brutalized, and killed.
As a black woman, I understand the painful history of this nation and the daily injustices faced by people of color. When I was 8 years old, my family moved from Fayetteville, North Carolina where my elementary school was 90% black to Burnsville, Minnesota where my elementary school was 95% white. Defining this experience as a “culture shock” is an understatement. It was at my Minnesota elementary school during my first week of 4th grade, I was first called “nigger” by one of my classmates. I remember being confused and wondering if this word was a cartoon character from a Nickelodeon show I had never seen. I assumed that maybe this was the name of a barbie doll or action figure that I had never played with. I was confused and had no idea what this word meant. After school that day I asked my mother, “what does ‘nigger’ mean?”
As I sit here writing this, I am sure my late mother had the same question then, that I have now. How does her young white classmate know this word but she, a young black girl, does not? This is one of my earliest memories of racism but there are many, many more. This was just the tip of the iceberg of the experiences as a black woman in America. I could write for hours about all the moments of racial profiling, biased targeting, and unequal treatment my family and I have experienced on so many occasions.
Instead of allowing my negative experiences to define my future, I have used it as fuel to break barriers and make history. So instead of looking in the past, let us unite as a service-driven community and think what can I do? Because racism is systemic within our culture it will take many pressure points to root out; there is no simple solution. However, my staff has developed several suggestions for how to take action and make an impact.
1) Start by educating yourself. We recommend several resources including books, movies, articles and podcasts included in the separate tab on our website titled “Anti-Racism Resources.”
2) Join an organization that fights racism.
3) Participate in peaceful demonstrations and online petitions.
4) Support legislation by writing and calling your elected leaders when called upon to do so.
I will forever have the utmost respect for all women and men in uniform, but it is important to remember that we, as servicemembers and veterans, are obligated by our oath to the Constitution of the United States, including American’s first amendment right to exercise their freedom of speech and their right to peacefully assemble. Every person in uniform must hold high their individual oaths to this country that we swore to protect. Let us stand worthy of our commitment and promise as women and men in uniform. May we never forget the sacrifices that have been made to ensure every American has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. During this time of struggle, I am praying for unity within our nation and compassion within our hearts so that we can move forward as a changed country that hears the cries of the unheard.
As CEO of Service Women’s Action Network, an organization founded on the ideals of fairness, equality, and opportunity I will continue this fight in every form. I ask that you fight with me, our team, our board, and the entire SWAN community.
Humanity starts with us. Racism must end with us.