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    The power of change through non-violence: Army leaders study key lessons in Greensboro for Black History Month

    The power of change through non-violence: Army leaders study key lessons in Greensboro for Black History Month

    Photo By Maj. Stephen Von Jett | Roy “Spaceman” Thompson, Jr. lectured and led discussion about his experiences as...... read more read more

    GREENSBORO, NC, UNITED STATES

    03.02.2017

    Story by Capt. Stephen Von Jett 

    4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne)

    GREENSBORO, N.C. - Company and battalion leadership from 7th Military Information Support Battalion, 4th Military information Support Group, Fort Bragg, visited the city in honor of Black History Month, Feb. 15, 2017.

    The leadership professional development event examined societal change through non-violence. Participants viewed the film, Selma, attended a civil rights museum and completed their day with a group discussion led and moderated by guest lecturer Roy “Spaceman” Thompson, Jr. at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

    Thompson, a retired nationally recognized track and field coach for NC A&T, spoke to the group about his experiences both as a young black man during the rise and height of the civil rights movement, but also of his remarkable service during the Vietnam conflict.

    Thompson’s first exposure to the military was when the National Guard swept through the campus during the Greensboro Uprising in 1969. When asked about whether he had been a member of any civil rights groups during that time Thompson was forthright.

    “I was the one holding a Molotov cocktail,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t part of any organizations. I was a rabble rouser.”

    All that changed however, when Thompson was drafted and landed himself in Vietnam. Having grown up with little contact with whites, Thompson found that the military forced dialog and he began to see similarities between the races. There were still racial divisions - he described seeing jeeps on the battlefield with confederate or Rastafarian flags - but the experience was broadening.

    After redeploying from Vietnam, Thompson attended the Defense Race Relations Institute, the progenitor of today’s Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute. During the last two years of his enlistment, Thompson taught more than a 1,000 classes in race relations. Classes were taught by a black Soldier and a white Soldier together, usually one enlisted and one officer.

    “Sometimes entire classes of white Soldiers would turn and face the wall rather than receive a class from me,” Thompson said, describing the difficulties he faced in his role as an instructor during the early years of the program.

    Thompson, who received the Army Accommodation medal for his accomplishments in race relations, persevered and saw change happening around him. They key, Thompson said, was having leadership at every level supporting the work he was doing to improve race relations. That support, and the pride he developed in himself as a black man, served him well after his service.

    “Before the military I was a confused, hostile militant,” Thompson said. “The military made me a better person. Thank God for the draft.”

    The 7th MISB, in rapt attention to Thompson’s bombastic style, found parallels to his experiences in both their work as Psychological Operations professionals but also on a personal level. For example, Thompson shared how his mother had taken him aside to explain how to behave around whites following Emmett Till’s brutal killing in 1955. A Soldier in the audience joined the discussion, saying he had the same conversation with his son about how to behave around police in the past year.

    Change through non-violence was hotly debated during the lecture. The Soldiers, many of whom have worked with foreign nations to spark societal change, understand the push-pull dynamic between the two sides, and bridged their discussion between current events and the challenges faced by Thompson and the likes of Malcom X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Early in the day, the group also visited the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Located in the former F.W. Woolworth store in downtown Greensboro, the center promotes an understating of the struggles for equality, justice and freedom.

    Guides provided historical context and challenging conversation at the museum, which is built on the grounds where four black NC A&T freshman sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter, February 1, 1960. Known as the Greensboro Four, their peaceful protest sparked a movement throughout the Southern states and directly contributed to societal change against institutional segregation in America.

    Examples provided by both the museum exhibits and the living history of Thompson framed 7th MISB’s Black History Month observance, but also the work the unit does in Africa. 7th MISB is working and learning to understand the dynamics and tactics of effective non-violent protest to forge programs that can spark lasting change.
    #4MISG#

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 03.02.2017
    Date Posted: 03.02.2017 13:45
    Story ID: 225461
    Location: GREENSBORO, NC, US 

    Web Views: 86
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    The power of change through non-violence: Army leaders study key lessons in Greensboro for Black History Month