Black History Month Panel Discussion at LAAFB

  • Published
  • By Kevin Gonzalez, SBD-3 Public Affairs

Airmen, Guardians and civilians engaged in a meaningful Black History Month event at Los Angeles Air Force Base on Feb 23.

Space Base Delta 3 promoted the “Inspire Change” theme with activities on base throughout the observance month. The Black History Month Panel provided an opportunity for African American leaders to share perspectives from a variety of ranks, positions, and career fields.

Panelists included: Col. John E. Dukes Jr., director of staff, SSC; Maj. Liza M. Flint, deputy commander, 61st FSS; Christal A. Murray, acting executive director, Federal Executive Boards Los Angeles; Master Sgt. Netasha R. Hutto-Harris, flight chief, 61st MDS; Willie J. Allen III, executive support staff, SSC/AC and SSC/S1; panel moderator, Capt. Kenneth R. Bridges II, program manager, SSC/BCT(I).

Bridges welcomed everyone in the Gordon Conference Center, as well as the virtual audience online. He also took a moment to recognize the phenomenal courage and innovation of those who have blazed trails before them.

Personal introductions revealed similar experiences and backgrounds among the panelists. Each shared fond recollections of leaders who challenged, inspired, and shaped them into who they are today.

Dukes set the tone for having a real conversation, by asking the audience if they prefer hearing his prepared notes or his speaking from the heart. The response was unanimous in favor of candor. “I will give you what I learned in my 30 years of service,” said Dukes.

Authenticity is foundational for building trust and having an honest discussion. Furthermore, creating awareness and a space for candid and genuine discussions is vital for understanding and growth.

Hutto-Harris, an action officer for the Black History Month observance, shared insights from her 20 years of military service. “Open dialog conversations help break down barriers, eliminate ambiguity, biases and poor judgement,” she said.

“You owe it to the Air Force to be exactly who you are,” said Flint. “Our personal backgrounds, our upbringings, values, work ethic and skill; mixed with taught military heritage and customs and courtesies are what makes our military so powerful.”

On the topic of base culture, Allen shared his perspective that culture is a bit of a work-in-progress, stemming from the many workplace challenges due to the pandemic and the realignment. “I have seen a massive overhaul from on high; USSF/S1 and USSF HQ senior leadership, all the way down to our own SSC/CC on development, dispensing and honing of ‘culture’ on all levels,” said Allen. “The PEOs have also been working from a bottom-up approach to culture within their portfolios.”

Bridges asked the panel about the importance of representation, and there was an overwhelming appreciation from the audience. “We as a Black community need to see Black leaders at all levels,” said Dukes.

Valerie G. Robinson, core system safety manager, who has worked on base since 2007, shared her feelings with the group. “As a woman of color and an Engineer, I find it important to volunteer for as many STEM events as humanly possible, so that young ladies and minorities are able to see someone that looks like them,” said Robinson. 

The culmination of the panel discussion brought a palpable sense of need for continuing with these types of conversations. Bridges noted the wisdom and experience of the panel and summarized the key points.

“We reinforced some assumptions, provided supporting anecdotes, and strategized how to build a stronger force,” he said. “Much of that strategy leaned heavily upon maintaining ongoing diversity and inclusion programs, providing structured networks for Black professionals, and reminding leadership teams that fortifying an equitable, diverse work culture takes continual effort.”