Culture News

Say It Loud, "I'm Black and I'm Proud!"

February 1, 2021

I was in sixth grade when a good friend of mine said, “We’re not colored anymore—we’re Black.” It was around that time when James Brown’s “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud" became a hit in my neighborhood. That was a watershed moment for me. I thought about that song and how we as Black people should be proud of ourselves despite negative stereotypes. That’s what Black History Month means—pride. Pride in who I am, in my family, and in my community.

I know what it’s like for someone to try to take that pride away. I didn’t learn about the accomplishments of African Americans in my grade school in the Tidewater area of Virginia. Instead, I was taught that Blacks were “happy” to be enslaved and didn’t want to be free after the end of the Civil War. On TV programs and in the media, Black men and women were portrayed as criminals, victims of crimes, or dumb and inarticulate. (I fondly remember how Diahann Carroll on “Julia” and Nichelle Nichols on “Star Trek” defy this caricature.)

LMI's Mike Dudley shares his personal story and the importance of diversity and representation in the workplace.

A Different Experience

I didn’t see Black people on TV like my parents. We lived in a segregated neighborhood near Fort Eustis, where the Army Transportation Corps was located at the time. A lot of the fathers in the neighborhood, military and civilian, worked there and were proud men. My dad, a sergeant, wore his uniform to work; my mother had a part-time job at a restaurant. Our community was full of Black men and women who thrived professionally, raised their children, and supported each other. Many were highly intelligent and provided good advice and wise counsel. My neighborhood was safe and secure, with well-kept properties. The media stereotypes of Black people acting stupid and living in squalor wasn’t my experience growing up.

Sixth grade was also when the school district bussed me and my friends to an all-white elementary school. Thankfully, the integration of that school went peacefully. I wondered whether the outraged parents had moved their children to private schools by then. I excelled academically and earned the privilege to raise and lower the flag in front of the school—the first Black student to do so. It was the beginning of many “firsts.” The next year my family moved, contributing to the integration of a previously all-white neighborhood. We were welcomed with “KKK” spray-painted on our garage door. It motivated me to graduate early. I skipped a grade to leave home as soon as I could.

LMI's Mike Dudley (third from left) at the 45th anniversary celebration of UVA's Kappa Alpha Psi chapter.

An Extraordinary Community

I arrived at the University of Virginia (UVA) during the early years of integration. In my first year, friends and I were running to the theater—we were excited to see a new movie, “Star Wars”—and a campus police officer stopped us. Dubious that we belonged on campus, he made us produce our student ID cards and continued to question us. I remember other students rushing past without so much as a glance from this officer, who seemed disappointed that he eventually had to let us go. We were disappointed, too—the show was sold out by the time we arrived.

I found an extraordinary community at UVA in Kappa Alpha Psi, the historically Black service fraternity founded by Elder Watson Diggs and nine other men at Indiana University in 1911. Four decades after my initiation, I remain an active member. As treasurer of my local alumni chapter in California, I had the honor of seeing dozens of young men and women receive college scholarships sponsored by Kappa Alpha Psi and young men benefit from monthly mentoring sessions. I was drawn to Kappa Alpha Psi by how its activities elevated the pride of its members through community service. Mentees and scholarship recipients uniformly say how proud they are to have raised their grades, graduated from high school, and been able to attend college thanks to Kappa Alpha Psi. I plan to become similarly involved with my local chapter.

There Is Much To Be Proud Of

After graduation, I began my federal civil servant career as a GS-5/7/9 quality assurance specialist (Ammunition Surveillance) (QASAS) at Sierra Army Depot in Herlong, California. The first Black QASAS at Sierra, I was told I was unsuitable for promotion beyond GS-9. Undeterred, I sought a more supportive environment. Today, I am proud to have lived in eight states and two foreign countries—traveling to 49 states and more than 40 countries—representing the U.S. Army or Department of Defense. I retired in August 2019 as a GS-15 after serving for five years as the first Black director of DCMA’s office in Stockton, California.

This past November, I co-chaired the 45th anniversary celebration marking the chartering of UVA’s Kappa Alpha Psi chapter. This chapter is positioned to continue its legacy of community service in the Charlottesville community.

Being reminded of the positive contributions by Black Americans—not just during Black History Month, but daily (#BlackHistory365)—has sustained me during tough and lonely times. Each February, my spirit is refreshed by reading and hearing about the positive impact Black men and women have made on the United States and the world. I intend to do my part to further those contributions for the next generation. There is much to be proud of.


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