Our history, our community

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Peterkins
  • 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron
Black History Month is when we set aside time to recognize, remember and celebrate the history of the black community.

Our nation pauses to remember trailblazers who left their mark on the world. We celebrate the past as we look to the future.

We celebrate the lives of iconic black leaders like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Dr. Thurgood Marshall. Also, W.E.B. Du Bois who shared in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Dr. Guion Stewart Bluford Jr., an American aerospace engineer, a retired Air Force fighter pilot and a former NASA astronaut, who was the second black individual to go to space.

Additionally we recognize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the exemplar for a generation, a Christian minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement. Another iconic leader who held the highest enlisted position within the Air Force, Chief Master Sgt. Thomas N. Barnes, was the first black individual to serve in this position. The most recent icon was President Barack H. Obama, the first black president of the United States.

There have been many men who made significant contributions, but there have been influential women as well. Wilma Rudolph, a sprinter, won three gold medals and one bronze medal during the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games. Another was Rosa Parks, the first lady of civil rights, best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. These are just a few of the most influential names, but it is by no means an exhaustive list.

Great leaders like Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Barnes had silent mentors, people who never shared the spotlight, but molded and shaped them into great leaders. It takes a community of family members, friends, teachers, and mentors to develop each of us to become the leaders we need to be.

We all have our own community, they may not be famous, but they make a difference. As I reflect on my life, I think of my community, the individuals who helped shape me into the person I am today.

My uncle Garrett showed me the importance of caring, nurturing and having compassion for people. He always wanted to see people happy, because he knew when people are happy, they are more willing to give their best. He always saw the best in people despite their past choices or prior missteps.

Uncle Arthur always made sure he looked his best. No matter where he was going, he took the time to pay attention to the small details, from his hat to his socks.

My uncle Joe gets up early every morning. He gets in his truck and drives to work with a smile on his face, simply to make others happier about being there.

Uncle Alston walks strong in his faith every day. He always looks past what is currently happening, and trusts his faith, that everything will be okay. He sets the example that no matter how much life gets you down, you need something to believe in and a good home cooked meal never hurts.

Uncle Stanford, the fighter, never allows anyone to run over him and he will let you know how he feels.

My mother Fannie, is the walking definition of resiliency. Out of all of her mistakes, let downs, and shortfalls -- she always bounces back. She always comes out on top. She is willing to share her experiences in hope others will not make the same mistakes she did.

Your community can be diverse. They can come in all forms and colors. Community is vital in shaping the Air Force. We all need that Uncle Garrett, who, like a first sergeant, who looks for the best in people; who is a leader who has compassion for their Airman who makes crazy decisions, yet still wants the best for them. We all need that Uncle Arthur, who is great at quality control as they pay close attention to detail, because they know the importance of getting it right. The uncle Alston, that flight chief who gives you something to believe in. They are the one who will sit down with you, break bread, listen, and encourage you. Uncle Joe, the supervisor that is the first one in and last one out; the one who comes to work ready to tackle the day, even when the day is long and the mission complex, yet they bear it with a smile. Uncle Stanford, who is a solid wingman who will tell you when you are wrong but will still go to war with you. Finally, my mother, the chief who knows what it is like to receive an Article 15, or a Letter of Reprimand, and has even been told they will never make it.

Black History Month is about pulling together a diverse group of people who share struggles, tears, successes and failures to form a community and celebrate our history while looking to a future unimaginable, yet obtainable, together. We remember Martin Luther King’s dream, while we set our focus on the path before us.

During this month, remember your community of family members, friends, teachers, and mentors as well as your brothers and sisters in arms who may not be in any history book, or may not be known outside of your community, but are nevertheless breaking barriers and changing lives through you. They never set out to be famous; they just wanted to be good people and live a good life.

And finally, ask yourself, how are you shaping your community?