LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. – Soldiers and civilians of the 79th Sustainment Support Command celebrated the hardships, actions and achievements of black women in American culture and history at an African American Heritage Month observance on Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos, Calif., Feb 6.
Scherry E. Douglas was the guest speaker of the event and spoke to the audience with pride and appreciation during her tribute to those who have championed for all Americans. In a way not often experienced, Douglas’ words viscerally reached the audience leaving them with a renewed sense of understanding, appreciation and commitment to the equality of all.
A champion for change in her own right, Douglas was born in Montgomery, Alabama, July 4th, 1960. She shared her first-hand experiences and perspective of growing up during the midst of the civil rights movement and her nearly 30 years of service to our country. Douglas is currently the Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security in Mobile, Alabama. Douglas has also achieved the rank of Colonel in the Air Force and is currently serving as the Mobilization Augmentee to the Director of the National Security Emergency Preparedness, 1st Air Force, Tyndall AFB, FL.
Douglas, an African American woman who grew up in the segregated south, opened her remarks by eloquently reciting Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son.”
“Well, son, I’ll tell you: Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, and splinters, and boards torn up, and places with no carpet on the floor— Bare. But all the time I’se been a-climbin’ on, and reachin’ landin’s, and turnin’ corners, and sometimes goin’ in the dark where there ain’t been no light. So boy, don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps ’cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don’t you fall now— for I’se still goin’ honey, I’se still climbin’, and life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
The power and emotion of her narration left the room silent as she went on to recount stories from her youth.
“I was with my parents and grandparents and older siblings and we had gone to church and decided to go Dairy Queen. As a 6 or 7 year old I remember us driving in a car. I don’t remember what kind of car it was. It was white and had a black top – it was a convertible. And I heard my grandfather yell ‘get down!’– so we all got to the floor. And I felt something hit the car - bump the car from the rear and bump it again - then I felt the car swerve and heard screeching sounds of a car with the engine revved coming around us ---. Then the car began to push against our car and someone yelled ‘Niggers!’ And I thought what manner of a man, what character of a person could do such a thing. In the segregated south incidents such as this left indelible marks, especially on impressionable young children.”
Again, the inflection and content of her words left the audience speechless as she continued on by describing her experiences attending all black schools up until 1976 when her high school, George Washington Carver High, was integrated.
“They created a council called the bi-racial council, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of it,” said Douglas. “It was our responsibility to ensure that all the activities in that school were evenly pared out. In other words, if we had 10 cheerleaders, five would be white and five would be black and that was the way it worked - but it worked.”
Douglas was a member of many school activities to include band and student council, but she said she found her calling through the school’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“The best thing I could have done for me was join the Army ROTC program,” said Douglas. “I was in it from the ninth grade to the 12th grade. No one could tell me that anything was better. I remember that we gathered in the basement of a building and they had the words on top of the stairs that read Duty – Honor - Country. The people that wore that uniform and saw that every day just acted differently. I learned that there was something more than me and the woes of my life. It gave me an opportunity to think about my country and service.”
After College, Douglas was commissioned in the Air Force and remained on active duty for 10 years, which was followed by serving in the Reserves for almost 30 years, She said these times were not without their challenges, but because of the struggles and contributions of the trailblazers before her – they have been the best times of her life.
“What propelled me was doing my best -excellence, and doing what is right -integrity,” said Douglas.
Douglas continued by detailing the numerous trailblazers who bettered the Nation through their actions and example. From Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Tubman and Marian Anderson to Condoleezza Rice– all had laid the way for great social change.
“The success and progress of all these women that I mentioned have made major contributions to the American culture and American history, but not without challenges,” said Douglas. “That is why observances like these are so important. So we don’t forget all the great leaders that came before us and so we don’t repeat history.”
Douglas said women and all minorities have significantly contributed to this great nation, but unfortunately there is still work to be done. Contrary to our values as a nation, racism and sexism have not been eradicated, they are now just more subtle and behind the scenes.
“Racism, sexism, nepotism and cronyism- these all go directly against the principles of this Nation and what this Nation was founded upon: Freedom - and Justice -for all,” said Douglas. “Let a sense of duty, honor, country, excellence and integrity propel you despite any challenges set before you.”
At the completion of Douglas’ oration, all those present sprang to their feet and applauded beyond the normal protocols of such events. Her words resonated with every listener and left them invigorated to continue onward with the same values and purpose as those who have paved the way for change before us.
For more information on African American History month as well as the special observances please visit the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute at http://www.deomi.org/