JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, Washington, D.C. –
“The Air Staff is nothing without the Airmen. They deserve to work in an environment that fosters diversity, inclusion and belonging,” said Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff in a memo to his Air Staff Directors.
Each year in February, the U.S. celebrates the cultural heritage, triumphs and overcoming of adversity by Black Americans during Black History Month. The African American Heritage Committee, a Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and Joint Base Andrews organization, strives to educate Airmen on Black History not just in February but each month with events and gatherings.
“Our mission is to bring everyone together, but still put a spotlight on the contributions that African Americans have brought to the U.S. and the military,” said Tech. Sgt. Roy McCalister, NCO in charge of unaccompanied housing in the 11th Civil Engineer Squadron on JBAB.
McCalister stood up the AAHC while he was stationed on JBA.
“I think it’s important to leave our own legacy, so I wanted to do something different,” said McCalister. “When I realized there wasn’t an African American Heritage Committee on base, I wanted to get it started.”
He took it upon himself to search for people who would be interested in helping him stand up an AAHC for JBA and eventually gathered the first members.
Airmen came together to build something bigger than themselves, and accomplished just that. However, it took some time. Starting with only three members on JBA, the AAHC now has over 30 members from all over the National Capital Region.
In February 2020, the AAHC invited then Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, to speak to Airmen about Black History Month and that year’s theme of “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future.” His acceptance of that invitation proved to be a growth milestone for the AAHC.
“There was a big turnout, almost 100 Airmen,” said McCalister. “I think that’s when more people started getting interested in joining.”
The event prompted U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Talia Johnson, NCOIC of the Walter Reed Medical Facility surgical intensive care unit, to get involved.
“Being a Black woman in the military is hard, and I felt like no one was going through what I was going through,” said Johnson.
Only 28% of the enlisted military are Black women.
For Johnson, she said she felt like even more of a minority being the only African American Airman in a leadership position at Walter Reed.
“I have a great team around me, but I don’t truly feel like I have someone that can relate to some of the struggles that I’ve experienced,” said Johnson.
When she joined the AAHC, she found not only people who have lived similar experiences, but also people who have not and are willing to learn more about Black people’s experiences and culture, said Johnson.
“The African American Heritage Committee isn’t just for Black people,” said Johnson. “It’s for whoever wants to learn from our past and change our future for the better.”
The Air Force takes pride in a diverse force, embracing the unique qualities each Airman has to offer. To Tech. Sgt. Kayode Ojelade, section chief of the Individual Ready Reserve in the 316th Force Support Squadron on JBA, this value is extremely important and one of the reasons he joined the AAHC.
“I joined because I wanted to show people why their individuality is important to and fits in with the mission,” said Ojelade.
Stationed in South Korea for his early years in the Air Force, Ojelade didn’t have an outlet for his struggles and oftentimes felt alone in his experiences. Now stationed at JBA, he said he is proud to be a part of an organization that celebrates who he is, where he comes from, and the trials and tribulations he faced to become the successful Black man and Airman he is.
“I want to continue working in this organization and build off the backs of those from our past,” said Ojelade. “If people can come together who want to learn and get educated on our culture, in the future there will be more success and less struggle.”
In celebration of Black History Month, the AAHC hosted two events, a virtual 5K and a Leadership and Empowerment Panel.
Service members from across the entire National Capital Region came together and honored heritage and fostered partnerships to make this successful African American Heritage Committee into what it is today.
Time spent and distance traveled are no deterrent for many AAHC members who are focused on the movement for education, awareness and inclusion. There are members serving at the Pentagon, JBAB, JBA and Walter Reed who give this committee and strangers their free time to share and celebrate the past, present and future of the Black community.
Martin Luther King, Jr. carried the dream that, “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”