Saturday, July 16, 2016

Continuing to March

The sharing of stories is powerful and helpful. Each one of us has a story. The recent stories of racial struggle have sparked many more that I am thankful are now being shared. I find some commonality in many of the stories I hear, but like every human experience, I find that some elements are unique to my own journey. I am prompted to share more of my own, as I have encountered hurting friends who need to know they are not walking alone.

I am a Brat. The son of a career Airborne NCO who was a 1SG in the 82nd when I entered West Point and promoted to CSM shortly thereafter. 
I was surrounded by positive Black role models and positive examples of humanity from numerous backgrounds during my growing up years. While being a Brat and the son of an Old School English teacher saddled me with the "California, standard, unremarkable English" dialect, I was very well connected to my blackness through Mississippi-born parents, lots of Black friends and numerous challenging encounters borne of being at the leading edge of full-fledged integration.  Nevertheless,  there were enough positive experiences in my life to lull me to the sleep of the naive in my awareness of the pervasiveness of racism in the nation and its systems.

My time at West Point was racially a blend of experiences, ranging from warm acceptance by many to jarring rejections and rude interruptions of reality by a few. The extremes of my experience are best illustrated in two incidents.  As a Plebe, I  was invited to a champagne brunch at the Hotel Thayer by a family friend and general officer whose son was a very close high school friend and a yearling at that time. The brunch was a Plebe's dream and I attempted to engorge myself using the absolute best manners within my powers to display. All was well, until my friend asked a few of his classmates who were also present about a group date the night before. One particularly chatty individual chimed in right away, "Can you believe they stuck me with a Nigger?"  I was beyond stunned. I was the only Plebe at the table and I  am sure that the forces holding me in my chair were years of Army protocol and Jesus. Nevertheless, I could not hide my face. My friend instantly and physically collared his classmate and excused them both. Upon their return, the apologies were plentiful, but the damage was done. My sentiments were best expressed years later by Denzel in the movie Glory when he confronted Andre Brougher's Freeman character about how whites viewed them as soldiers,

"You can speak the white man's English, wear his clothes and sing his songs. But no matter what you say or do, you ain't never gonna  be nothing more to him than an ugly ass a blue suit!"

That sentiment clings to my soul to this day. Nevertheless,  I  press on. Why? There are paths to be cleared forn those who follow. During my Yearling year,  our company,  the F-2 Zoo, was detailed to represent West Point at the last official bicentennial event the nation would hold. As we marched in parade of that upstate town, the crowds were absolutely white. No issues.  As we marched back to the buses, still in our parade configuration and still on the streets there was an eerie silence that surrounded us.- kind of like the artificial town of Rockridge in Blazing Saddles - people seemed to be present, but not moving and totally silent. I had to look.  I glanced over and just at that moment my eyes met those of a young brother and I smiled. We were in the black part of town.  He yelled, "Hey! There's a BROTHER in there!" Someone else yelled, "I see him and there's two more! (Plebes Gaddis and Isom.) The streets erupted into cheering! It was one of my proudest West Point moments. I understood that for my people, my presence matters.

Therefore, we soldier on. We continue to fight the good fight because it matters for all who follow. Our Rockbound Highland Home has issues. We will process those issues differently according to our own personal experiences, but we must walk together as well process. I stand with those who return frequently and with those who choose not to. My love abounds for all and my support is as undying as the long Gray line that has such a powerful grip on us all.

Let us continue to march together as we grip hands through this amazing and challenging journey we call life.

Sam Jackson
USMA 1985

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

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