By Capt. Ty Bess, Squadron Officer School student
/ Published February 25, 2009
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
As I ponder the thought of citizenship, I can almost hear the voices of our ancestors, voices seeking a listening ear; echoing words of freedom, justice and equality. An ear to hear their cry of acceptance, the hope of receiving a fair shake, an opportunity to prove their worth without being ridiculed or enslaved. What our forefathers sought was citizenship; a political voice in a biased society ... an opportunity to be heard.
Although we were all created equal, with similar abilities, capabilities to learn and advance, the fact remains black Americans were not afforded the opportunity to practice equality until roughly 60 years ago. Despite contributing to every U.S. conflict our country was engaged, black Americans were treated as expendable items and second-class citizens. Our forefathers paid the ultimate price with their lives and their quest for freedom deepened their eagerness and solidified the quest for citizenship of future generations.
The military we serve in today is vastly different from the military our founding fathers and grandparents encountered. There are no longer all white or black units, racial boundaries are no longer used for military job placement, and opportunities to excel are evident at all levels. Today, black Americans and black military members have an equal voice, a legal voice ... a voice of real citizenship.
Since the foundation of our great nation, black people sought citizenship, inclusion in city, state and world matters in hopes of having ideas heard or an opportunity to receive equal treatment. Although the path to citizenship for black Americans met numerous obstacles; those black leaders who paved the way, refused the status quo at a time when opposition was met with death or certain incarceration, black leaders of the time focused on those who would follow instead of a life of exclusion for future generations.
As a nation, we made mistakes in our past, mistakes that invoke hurt, emotional skepticism and distrust in many black Americans. Black Americans under the age of 60 experienced various levels of racism; however, none can fully comprehend the real life stories of slavery, lynching's, separate eating establishments, units commanded only by white officers, black men denied the opportunity to willingly serve a nation who held them hostage, black officers not being able to command white military men, government programs designed to eliminate blacks from military service, advancement programs and rejection from military service solely based on race, all for the right to be called an American citizen. Those are stories we only hear, watch movies, or read books about.
Today's military is a microcosm of the world we occupy and we have made tremendous strides for equality, in many cases setting the standard for the world to follow. There was a time when life was not equal for black Americans in uniform. Military integration was challenged with heavy resistance; however, thanks to leaders such as, Crispus Attucks, Eugene Jacques Bullard, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, who endured obstacles many are unable to comprehend, black Americans have ascended to a level our forefathers would admire and respect today.
Today is a new day. A day filled with hope, change, and pursuit for excellence, equality and citizenship. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had the vision well before the writing of this document because he saw the mountain top and our role is to continue traversing the mountain, taking hold of the path of opportunity sought by our forefathers. The difference this time is the mountain has a slight decline and we have a nation willing to lend a supporting hand. Americans of all ethnicities should be proud of the direction we are moving and hold your head high for contributing to forward progress.
Of course there will be those Monday-morning quarterbacks of all racial backgrounds who feel we should be further along the path then we currently are. However, the reality is, our nation and our military have made tremendous strides in the past 60 years. Overcoming four centuries of calculated hate, racial tension, segregation, Jim Crow laws, educational mismanagement, disproportionate labor wages and countless other areas takes time, and we have leaped centuries in 60 years.
The month of February is not only a celebration for black Americans; it is a celebration for all Americans. Take time to reflect on the images seen in history books, television shows and movies, and reflect how you have contributed to the success of black citizenship, better yet, how you have contributed to American citizenship.