JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --
The 108th Wing Diversity Council hosted an open forum discussion panel Feb. 13, 2022 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ.
In line with the annual observation during the month of February, panelists fielded questions on topics surrounding Black History Month and offered their thoughts and experiences of being a Black person in the military. The panel offered a supportive and respectful environment, inviting attendees both in person and virtual to have an open discussion about the topic.
The wing’s Diversity Council was a recently stood-up initiative following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. It is focused on promoting and celebrating diversity within the 108th Wing as well as finding solutions to possible barriers that Airmen face. The organization intends to continue hosting events for both full time and part time 108th Wing Airmen.
Here are some of the answers and discussions that took place:
What challenges do you think Black people face in the military? Challenges that you have faced personally?
“I think people are tired of the same-old celebration of Dr. King’s birthday,” said Staff Sgt. Martin White from the 140th Cyberspace Operations Squadron. “We should be focusing and celebrating his accomplishments and how we can realize the dream he spoke so much about.”
“Things have gotten better in the military, but issues are still evident.” said Senior Master Sgt. Tonya Nicholson, the 108th Logistics Readiness Squadron superintendent. “We have to take these discussions home with us and back to our squadrons. If you’re in a situation that you know makes someone else uncomfortable and you do nothing to remedy it, you are allowing issues to continue. Take action. It goes back to our bystander training and standing up for each other.”
In your opinion, what can we do to push towards progression with the challenges you outlined?
“We have to tackle the hard questions,” said Staff Sgt. White. “When people ask, ‘Why don’t we have representation in leadership positions?’ it is really a question as old as the Tuskegee Airmen. These discussion panels will continue to take place until we tackle those difficult questions. Support should not be performative. We need to look at the root causes and get the background understanding of why things happen to inform thoughtful decisions towards solutions of diversity and inclusion.”
“For a way forward, we need to know and establish our lines of effort and identify these barriers to overcome,” said Col. Lola Washington, the Chief of the Joint Staff for the New Jersey National Guard Joint Force Headquarters. “We have to take things to the next level otherwise we’ll have these panels forever and stay in the same place. We need something to stand for. People need to get out of their individual silos and get involved in the various established councils. When you get involved, you get to see other people’s stories and have your own story be heard by others. We have a joint diversity council at the higher headquarters with an O7 [brigadier general] who always heads the group. We are here to support you, so please come with your issues and possible solutions.”
What does Black Lives Matter mean to you?
“If someone is telling you their story, listen to them and hear them out,” said 1st Lt. Andy Amakihe, the 108th Maintenance Operations Flight commander. “For me, when people are talking about Black Lives Matter, it is an affirmation that our lives matter too. I am speaking about the ideology and I cannot speak for the established organization. The concept of Black Lives Matter does not negate the lives of other groups of people, but it highlights the long and well-documented history of Black lives being treated less than others. This history is not fabricated. These are facts.”
How can one be an ally to the Black community in and out of uniform?
“Don’t discredit someone’s experience,” said Col. Washington. “Anyone can be an ally and help support the cause.”
“Let the people who are directly affected by a situation speak first,” Staff Sgt. White. “It is their lived experience, so they should have a say in what happens next. Also, if you are with a group of people that does not include a Black person and someone says something not right, you need to stand up to it otherwise you’re advocating for that type of behavior.”