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An open dialog

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christopher S. Sparks
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force, its leaders and Airmen have taken the initiative to examine and cultivate a new culture on addressing racial issues branch wide following a widespread call-to-action that have inspired civic protests, movements and a global demand for justice for those who have suffered throughout history.

“We need to foster an open and honest dialogue on race,” said former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright. “Share your stories. Talk through your blind spots and biases. The way we are going to fix it relies on taking a hard look at our processes and systems, and truly listening to our people.”

Leaders at the 48th Fighter Wing have taken Wright’s charge to the U.S. Air Force and have engaged in uncomfortable conversations regarding race across the base. In the wake of the events following the tragic incidents that cost the lives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee began hosting the open forum “Finding Comfort in Discomfort,” July 24, 2020, where Airmen of all ranks, their families and civilians of the Liberty Wing community can have these discussions.

“We decided we need to get out there and get people talking about this,” said Master Sgt. Marvin Morris, 48th Medical Group patient advocate and Diversity and Inclusion Committee member. “We not only wanted to talk about this, but we wanted to train people [on how to have these discussions], get them comfortable with the topic and normalize these conversations moving forward.”

The forum serves as a catalyst to allow participants to share their individual truth, giving them an opportunity to explain their personal experiences with racism in and out of the military in a safe, learning environment.

“The biggest thing we really focus on is creating that safe space,” said Senior Master Sgt. Richard Jones, 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron superintendent and Diversity and Inclusion Committee co-chair. “Everyone wants to talk about how they feel inside. If we don’t have that safe space, everyone is going to lock up and not want to have a discussion.”

Morris emphasized personal experiences are two-fold and serve as powerful conversation starters, creating a bond of understanding among people.

“For some people, their truth can be, ‘I’ve never experienced racism. I had no idea,’ and for others it’s, ‘I’ve experienced racism my entire life,’” Morris said. “Knowing that there can be a gap between people’s experiences, which is OK, can allow people to open and be vulnerable.”

One of the main priorities at the 48th Fighter Wing is taking care of its Airmen and community by ensuring every member of the Liberty Wing community is heard and understood.

“I think these conversations, spill over to every facet of every relationship we have and what we are called to do,” Morris said. “I think the bonds that are created through these conversations will enhance morale and mission cohesion. All these things start with uncomfortable conversations and understanding who you’re talking to.”

The Committee’s goal is to normalize these discussions within squadrons, flights and offices at the Liberty Wing and ultimately the U.S. Air Force.

“I would love to see us get to a point the U.S. Air Force where the subject of a person’s race is no longer a taboo conversation,” said Senior Master Sgt. Tara Richardson, 48th Operation Support Squadron Intelligence Flight superintendent and Diversity and Inclusion committee co-chair. “The absence of these conversations are preventing us from getting to know our people.”