Altus Airmen inspire change during BHM luncheon

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Miyah Gray
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

From art to food to history, for many, February is a time to celebrate black culture. Airmen at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma celebrated by holding a luncheon on Feb. 27, 2023.

This year the DoD's theme, "Inspiring Change," celebrates the contributions of African Americans to overcoming racial inequities and promotes opportunities for equal advancement. During the luncheon, three black Airmen from different walks of life shared their common experiences.

Lt. Col. Velma Gay, 97th Air Mobility Wing staff judge advocate, recalled one reason she wanted to become a lawyer.

“I think that Mr. Isaac Woodard is the reason I am standing here today,” she said. “On February 12, 1943, Woodard, a black Army sergeant, was on his way home to South Carolina after being honorably discharged after the war. Mr. Woodard was pulled aside for arguing with the bus driver. The police chief beat him unconsciously, and he was permanently blinded. This attack happened while Sergeant Woodard was still wearing his military uniform.”

The police chief was put on trial and later fully acquitted by an all-white jury. Cases like these inspired Gay to pursue a law degree and promote diverse representation in her career field.

U.S. Air Force Col. Patrick Brady-Lee, 97th Air Mobility Wing vice commander, also reflected on his time in service. He said from his early days as a young cadet in the Air Force Academy, he was often the only black individual in the room.

“Within my career, in almost every room I’ve been in, I’ve been a unicorn,” he said. “I look at it as an opportunity to show the representation of hard work, dedication and an unwillingness to give up on your hopes, dreams and your passion. It’s so much more than being a unicorn.”

As his career progressed, Brady-Lee saw that he was even more of an anomaly, as only about 2% of pilots in the Air Force are black. Despite not having peers who looked like him and facing discrimination during his life, Brady-Lee was determined to succeed. He recalled an opportunity to hear one of the Tuskegee Airmen speak, and one story in particular resonated with him.

“Those who were pushing [the Tuskegee Airmen] to fail didn’t realize that they were making them better,” he said. “These are the experiences that I am facing to make me better…every trial, every tribulation, every hurdle, every slip up, every time I fell down and had to get back up was not by accident.”

Senior Airman Keith Paschall, 97th Force Support Squadron installation personnel readiness technician, reflected on the struggles he’s had and how he has overcome those challenges.

“For me, life started on the south side of Chicago, and going from there to where I am now was truly a challenge,” he said. “Despite my mom’s efforts to keep me out of trouble, I started going down a bad path. In 2016, I decided to join the Air Force. I used to be the Airman that would try to fly under the radar, and I may not be picture perfect, but it’s thanks to my mentors that I’m the Airman I am today.”