Celebrating Black History Month: Inspiring a better, more inclusive America

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Christina Royal

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- I attribute much of my success to my family. If not for God and family, I would not be where I am today. My single mother, who lived through desegregation in West Virginia, raised my six siblings and me in Northern Virginia. She always wanted better for us. She put her career aspirations aside for her children’s chances for a successful future. The fortitude that I embody is a direct result of my upbringing.

Although I do not come from a military family, it is my chosen path. My military journey began in high school. I participated in Army Junior ROTC, where I served as the battalion commander my senior year. I had aspirations of going to the U.S. Military Academy but, considering my love of family, when I learned of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, I jumped at the opportunity to have the best of both worlds. At Virginia Tech, I could have that everyday-military lifestyle by way of the Virginia Tech corps of cadets and be close to family. Through the years, I made several trips home and my family traveled to Virginia Tech, as well. I believe my younger brother, a highly recruited athlete, ultimately decided upon Virginia Tech due to that same love of family.

At Virginia Tech, I was the regimental commander, the highest rank a cadet there can achieve. I was the first African-American woman to serve in that role. I was asked about that experience once and how I made it to that position. I will say again, leading the cadet corps, period, was an experience unlike any other. Making it to that position, as not only a woman, but as a woman from an under served, underrepresented and disenfranchised history was nothing short of a blessing.

In my case, my blessing came by way of hard work meeting opportunity and, most importantly, the sacrifices made by my mother. A select few played major roles in my success by believing in me and affording me the opportunity to succeed. They reached back, and mentored me during my time at Virginia Tech and continue to do so today. To them, I am also forever grateful.

One person in particular, retired Maj. Gen. Jerrold Allen, Air Force Academy Class of ‘66 and a former Virginia Tech commandant of cadets, continues to mentor me. Before becoming an air officer commanding at the Academy, I reached out to General Allen, who gave invaluable advice.

He said, “You have proven that you know what it takes to excel as a cadet and an Air Force officer. By teaching the lessons you learned, you will be very successful in developing future Air Force leaders. I will always be impressed by your remarkable achievements. You knew what you wanted to accomplish, you learned what you had to do, you got help when you needed it and you did the work.”

I did the work because I recognize the struggle and sacrifice of pillars such as my mother, and strive to do my part in inspiring a better, more inclusive and representative America for all.