Celebrating Black History Month: Appreciating differences, celebrating similarities

  • Published
  • By Cadet 1st Class Aryemis Brown
  • U.S. Air Force Academy

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Awe, purpose, wonder and gratitude.  These are the feelings that came over me as I stood with four Tuskegee Airmen and my brother, Alex, to unveil the newly named Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Airfield in late 2019. This remains one of the fondest memories and greatest honors of my life.

Beyond an incredible opportunity to celebrate the heroic service of a Tuskegee Airman, World War II pilot and patriotic American, I marveled at the sense of duty connecting generations past and present in that crucial moment.

Having endured the ugly truth of racism, where a Black Airman on U.S. property was treated with less dignity than his German prisoner, a prospective cadet in the crowd at the unveiling asked Tuskegee Airmen, retired Lt. Col. George Hardy, “Why give so much to a country that did not give the same for you?” Hardy’s simple but powerful answer: “Because I believed in the values my country stands for.”

A few years removed from this memory, two Tuskegee Airmen, Lt. Frank Macon and Lt. Col. Ted Lumpkin, have crossed the great divide, but their eternal wisdom will stay with me. They paved the way and cleared the skies for people like me to thrive: a Black man enabled by this profession and energized by public service; to grow up in a country that has seen a Black president, vice president, secretary of defense, Air Force chief of staff, and Air Force Academy superintendent.

Each of these leaders earned their position not by their race or gender, but by their ability, humility, grace and sacrifice. That simple circumstance enhances the unique voice and perspective ushered by the power of our diversity in an inclusive community.

I decided to attend the Academy to follow the footsteps of my father, retired Maj. Chris Brown; my brother, 2nd Lt. Alexander Brown; and mother, Navy Capt. Claudia Brown, U.S. Public Health Service Corps.

My father graduated from this fine institution in 1979 with the last all-male class, and he cheerfully reminds me that he was a part of something special: the first class to welcome the “eighties ladies,” -- the first class of women -- to the Academy. During his time as an Academy cadet, he experienced the strengthening of a strategic and national imperative. With an open mind and heart, he listened as new voices from new backgrounds and new upbringings championed innovative and bold solutions to our toughest problems, with the fiercest sense of patriotism. I share his love of diversity and inclusion, for the amazing story of each individual person makes us a stronger and brighter Academy, Air Force, and Space Force.

I have witnessed the fabric of our nation, in all of its many colors, during my own time here. Our classrooms, squadrons and people come from all walks of life: faith groups, political ideology, gender, race, sexual orientation, and most importantly, perspective. Our community makes me a better person enabling me to step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes. They have helped me make sense of the horrific death of George Floyd and the tremendous light of American poet and activist Amanda Gorman. They have illuminated my view of the melting pot that is the American dream. Equipped with their lessons, I look forward to a life of service in the U.S. Space Force, and to deepening my respect for the collective diversity that makes our “ordinary extraordinary.”

I am conscious of the important role this diverse community has played in my life. Today I am a Rhodes scholar-elect, a scholarship once unavailable to people of color. I recently completed my tenure as cadet wing commander during a global pandemic, and any success I might have enjoyed was in part due to my intercollegiate-athlete roommate from the east coast, or my history buff friend from a different part of town, and in whole, to the genuine care and compassion shared by every member of our Academy community. As I prepare to receive my commission as a second lieutenant with a bachelor of science in legal studies and humanities with minors in religion studies and philosophy, I know my reverence for the human condition is the gift of the teachers, students and friends who share their own little piece of history with me. I dream that my little brother, Cadet 4th Class Austin Brown, enjoys the friendship of this inclusive community in his own time as a cadet.

This Black History Month, I am thinking about the many giants who left me life’s blueprint. They strengthen my resolve to become a leader of character and a decent person. They remind me of the inherent value of all people; and that every person deserves a standing ovation in their life. As I close my amazing journey at this institution, I am certain of this: our greatest strength is our people. This awesome and noble privilege of service starts with appreciating our differences and celebrating the many similarities that connect us. This I am sure, every cadet to my left and right, young and old, shares my sense of service and patriotism. All of us, no matter our origin, look up to people like General Davis as shining heroes of our profession.

It is an honor to celebrate Black History Month with you.

[Each February, the Defense Department celebrates Black History Month]