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.)
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.