EL PASO, Texas – February is Black History Month. Many organizations hold celebrations throughout the month commemorating the achievements of African-Americans throughout history.
Brig. Gen. Stephen M. Twitty, deputy commanding general for operations, 1st Armored Division, and Fort Bliss, Texas, helped El Paso Community College with their celebration, Feb. 13, at their Transmountain campus.
Twitty was the guest speaker on the final night of EPCC’s celebration, speaking on topics such as race in the military, the recently released movie “Red Tails,” the historic 9th and 10th Cavalry’s “Buffalo Soldiers,” and the achievements of African- Americans from El Paso.
“The military is a place where Americans of all races can now serve together, where we depend on each other, and where we all have the opportunity to climb the ladder of success,” said Twitty. “Imagine, knowing that your life depends on the actions of those around you.”
“That is a raw trust - unlike any other… a trust that can never be questioned because of one’s ethnicity,” he continued.
African-Americans were not always given the opportunity to climb the ladder of success Twitty spoke of. They were not allowed to serve until the authorization of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry by then Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew in 1863.
In 1866, the “Buffalo Soldiers” were formed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
“The all African-American fighting force was known as being ferocious and courageous in battle, even when outnumbered,” said Twitty.
They were fully disbanded during the 1950s, when the military was fully integrated.
Twitty also spoke very highly of the “Tuskegee airmen,” the popular name of a group of African-American Pilots from the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps, who served during World War II.
“They were given substandard planes to fly, but that never stopped them from taking on any mission, no matter what the size or threat level,” said Twitty.
“In fact, they proved how skilled they were – how courageous they were, and how much they wanted to defend their country – even when it appeared they were being set up for failure,” continued Twitty. “They paved the way for the dignity and respect that is due to everyone equally.”
Twitty then spoke of the achievements of many local African-Americans.
“You can look across El Paso and marvel at the achievements of many Black Americans such as El Paso City Councilman Carl Robinson, Dr. Keith Johnson and Dr. Sandra Braham,” said Twitty.
“El Pasoans not only contribute to the communities in which they live, but the entire nation.”
That list includes Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commanding general, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, who returned to his hometown of El Paso to command one of 10 active-duty divisions in the U.S. Army.
The achievements of African-Americans are not just limited to those in the past, but for those who strive and continue to achieve to this day.
Hanks High School junior Keaira Howard, who was recently recognized as one of the mayor of El Paso’s top 100 teens, was recognized by Twitty for her achievements and for those to come.
Howard is a member of both the National Honor Society and the Knights of Christ. She is a member of the Advancement Via Individual Determination club as well as a member of the Hanks High basketball team. She has done all of these things while fighting serious medical issues.
Howard underwent two major surgeries, one in 2007, and the other in 2010. After her first surgery, she had to learn to walk all over again.
“She never let her physical impairments stop her from living her dream and reaching her goals,” said Twitty. “Keaira has taken –probably her biggest challenge in her life – and turned it into her ‘why’…her passion to help others.”
Not only does Howard excel academically, but she is very involved in the community as well. She volunteers with some of her classmates to feed the homeless.
“We go to different shelters to help out,” said Howard. “For Thanksgiving, we feed more than 500 needy families.”
“We delivered the food for Thanksgiving ourselves. Doing things like that just feels good. It’s great to see other people smile,” she continued.
Howard was very appreciative of the recognition from Twitty.
“This is pretty big,” said Howard. “I never expected someone like him to want to recognize a high school student.”
Her mother echoed that sentiment.
“All of this is overwhelming,” said Shawn Howard, Keaira’s mother. “It is a blessing for my daughter to be recognized.”
“Celebrations like this are really beautiful,” continued Shawn. “As a race, for so long we were belittled and told we would never amount to anything because of the color of our skin. To see people such as Maj. Gen. Pittard and Brig. Gen. Twitty reaching the pinnacle of success in the military is huge.”