Luncheon honors powerhouse legacy

by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

2/10/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Maxwell-Gunter kicked off National African American History Month last week with a heritage luncheon, and the planning committee has events lined up throughout February to honor those who made a difference.

"It's so important that we remind people of the important contributions African-Americans have made," said Janet Speer, committee chairwoman.

The Feb. 1 event honored those who fought for freedom. "This is part of our history, no matter your color, your creed or your sex," said host Col. Brian Killough, the 42nd Air Base Wing commander.

In keeping with this year's theme, "black women in American culture and history," guest speaker LĂ©Netta Banks discussed the importance of powerhouse women.

"Remember, all of these women were told 'no' before they made the decision to stand up for themselves," she said.

Though all the women who made a difference are not household names, they are important to the cause because they stood up to injustice.

"Being a powerhouse woman, you don't just take what's given to you," Banks said.
Empowering others is Banks' mission as a life coach, using the skills she developed in the Air Force to help others.

She remembered learning from Maj. Shawna Kimbrell, the first female African-American fighter pilot, when Banks was a student at the Air Force Academy.

Knowing what Kimbrell accomplished, "I should be able to stand head and shoulders above my peers," Banks said.

Banks also listed her father, a retired Air Force sergeant, as an inspiration. "He let me know that excellence can overpower (stereotypes)," she said.

She told the story of her father's pride during one of her first duty assignments as an Air Force officer. They went to the base exchange, and "He stood behind me at the BX because he wanted to see everyone salute me," she said.

Looking back at the legacy of powerhouse African-American women in this country, women know they can make a difference, too.

"You have no excuses, none," Banks said, remembering these women were successful without the education or freedoms women have today. "If they did it, you can do it. You should do it."

The event also included Master Sgt. Gary Swanson and Tech. Sgt. DaWanda Leggette as masters of ceremony. They read the proclamation from President Barack Obama.

"During National African American History Month, we pay tribute to the contributions of past generations and reaffirm our commitment to keeping the American dream alive for the next generation," Leggette said.

"The achievements of African American women are not limited to those recorded and retold in our history books," Swanson said. "Their impact is felt in communities where they are quiet heroes who care for their families, in boardrooms where they are leaders of industry, in laboratories where they are discovering new technologies and in classrooms where they are preparing the next generation for the world they will inherit."

The luncheon included a gospel performance by E.D. Nixon Elementary School. Student Ashley Johnson also sang the national anthem.

"What a stirring performance," Swanson said after the choir sang such favorites as "Whole Wide World" and "Woke up this Morning."

Guests enjoyed a soul food buffet, which included chicken, catfish, greens, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and cake.