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Diversity and Inclusion: The Urgency of Now

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

“We the people of the United States of America in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity.”

The preamble to the Constitution of the United States promises all citizens five key elements: Justice – reasonable and fair treatment not just for some, but for all. Tranquility – peace of mind and the right to live free of oppression and discrimination. Defense – against all enemies foreign and domestic. Welfare – all the health, happiness and fortunes this country has to offer. Liberty – freedom from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior or political views.

Unfortunately, the events of the past few months have made it soberingly clear that there is a large segment of our population who believes the country has reneged on these promises.

As a result of the recent social unrest across our country, we find ourselves perched upon the cliffs of hope overlooking the dawn of a new era – an era in which every citizen can recognize his or her unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently stated in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, there is an urgency of now!

The Air Force Reserve has long been a leader within the Department of Defense in the areas of diversity and inclusion. We can continue to lead the way or we can fall prey to the false sense of accomplishment through gradualism.

The urgency of now requires courage and immediate action: courage to challenge unconscious biases and deep-rooted socialization that makes us who we are, and courage to talk to and listen to those who do not look, talk, think or believe the same as we do.

Then there must be immediate and meaningful action: action that is lasting and not temporary, and action that will ensure every Reserve Citizen Airman feels and believes he or she is a valued and integral part of team AFRC.

The fact that we are living in, going through and will emerge on the other side of turbulent times provides us an opportunity to affect an everlasting paradigm shifting change.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, it is imperative that we recognize our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world, but to change ourselves.

Change, however, takes time, and changing perceptions requires patience and persistence. We must work to change the mindset of those who view the military as a safe haven – a place where there is no racism, no sexism and the thought that everyone is on the same team, when in actuality, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Air Force Reserve is a microcosm of society. Are we to believe that we are different when we put the uniform on? Do we bring our civilian selves into our military life and close our civilian eyes while in uniform? Whether we wear the uniform or not, we still view the world through the same lenses.

Regardless, there are no rose-colored glasses that will paint a pretty, nonracial, unbiased picture. Therein lies the problem. What you do, see and feel as a civilian is also the same sight, actions and feelings that are with you on drill weekends, TDYs, deployments and annual tours.

In obtaining this long overdue change, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for equality by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must always conduct our struggle with the utmost dignity and discipline.

And so, it becomes increasingly clear that Reserve Citizen Airmen are tied to the Citizen and, more importantly, we are one in the same.

These past few weeks have challenged us to our core. The country has been forced to come to terms with some painful realities. We are aware of serious inequities that currently exist in the country, DoD, Air Force and, more specifically, the Air Force Reserve.

Knowing is only part of the equation. Now comes the hard part – self-evaluation. If we are to grow as a country, grow as a people and grow as an organization, we must begin the sometimes-painful practice of self-evaluation.

Self-evaluation will help us garner an appreciation and understanding of who we are as individuals. In addition, we should be able to determine if we are or have been a barrier to someone else’s progression.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the honor of facilitating and participating in numerous guided discussions on race relations. These have been extremely intense and soul wrenching sessions that reveal and uncover the many wounds carried by our Reserve Citizen Airmen brothers and sisters.

I was, and continue to be, heartbroken by some of the stories I heard. Our courageous team members told their stories in a nonthreatening, safe environment that provided a much-needed portal to share some of their most personal, private and painful experiences. I was amazed at the sympathy and empathy shown during these crucial conversations.

I want you to know that Lt. Gen. Scobee, Chief Master Sgt. White, the entire leadership structure and I are extremely honored to serve with each of you. We want you to know and believe you are truly a valued and integral part of this team.

We want you to know we recognize and value the differences each of you bring to the fight. We want you to know if we’ve made you feel as though we were not listening to you in the past, we endeavor to ensure you know we are listening to you moving forward.

Please continue to engage in the difficult discussions we’ve started. Be sure to acknowledge, appreciate and respect each other. Always remember that diversity is our strength and inclusion will enable us to fly, fight and win!

(Floyd is Air Force Reserve’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.)