MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. –– Difficult conversations build trust in teams so they can better support each other.
Team McConnell is actively taking part in vital racial conversations by facilitating small group discussions across the installation throughout 2020. The Air Force has also included training through various leadership courses to increase awareness and diminish unconscious bias.
To continue these conversations, both in and out of these organized discussions, Airmen must listen to each other's stories and recognize the experiences that have shaped their wingmen. The Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown and former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright have shared their experiences. While these men are not the voice for all black men, they are black men with a voice — just like McConnell’s own Master Sgt. Curtis Nailor.
From an early age, Nailor, 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron customer support section chief, was forced to take on a parent role without being afforded a childhood for himself.
“I had to deal with raising my nine siblings as a child,” said Nailor. “I was changing Pampers in the fourth grade because my mom was on drugs and my dad was in prison.”
Nailor grew up in a black community on the west side of Chicago, where underfunded schools sent ill-equipped young adults to compete for jobs and higher education opportunities. Incarceration and conviction rates were higher than the surrounding districts that were afforded better opportunities.
“We would cross the street and you can literally see the divide,” said Nailor. “The schools were better. The homes were kept up a little better. Even the street lights shined a little brighter.”
He felt powerless to change his neighborhood, but after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Nailor felt empowered to join the U.S. Air Force to help make a difference and protect Americans, even those who had discriminated against him his whole life due to the color of his skin.
Nailor takes action where he can. Throughout his 14 years of service, Nailor has dedicated his life to protecting our country and affording opportunities he didn’t have in his childhood to the Airmen beneath him.
“I feel like I’m important here,” said Nailor. “My young Airmen have something to aspire to and they know we promote team and equality here.”
Unlike some communities, the Air Force is comprised of teammates from across the country who come from diverse backgrounds and environments.
“When I come to work, I can let my guard down,” said Nailor. “Our people are cultured and well-traveled and well-educated.”
But when Nailor and other servicemembers leave the gates, it’s not always the same story.
“I have to face the reality that I might be a master sergeant in the Air Force, but when I leave the base, some may see me as some type of criminal,” said Nailor. “Every time I turn on the TV, I have to see the destruction of my people … I feel helpless as a black man that I have to see this and feel like I can’t do anything about it.”
As racial disparities continue to plague the nation, Nailor asks that Americans come together and take action to combat racism.
“Understand that this is me,” said Nailor. “I’m not a thug, I’m not a criminal, and I’m not an aggressive person. I’m a human being. I bleed just like you. I have children just like you. Treat me with some respect. My life matters.”
In order to overcome racial disparities, Nailor encourages Airmen to confront difficult situations head-on.
“Confrontation is inevitable if you want to inflict change,” said Nailor. “Nothing is going to change if you’re scared of the problem.”
While the momentum is still high and conversations to end racial disparity are actively happening, Nailor says it’s time to make this the largest civil rights movement in the history of this country.
Nailor challenges those around him to continue to make an impact for generations to come. Brothers and sisters in arms participating in racial conversations can begin to conquer such disparities in the military.
The Air Force has launched a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force devoted to finding and changing unjust policies. The task force has increased ROTC scholarship opportunities for minorities, modified hairstyle and grooming guidance and directed equal opportunity policy changes.
McConnell has a toolkit available on the Violence Prevention SharePoint to facilitate conversations and provide resources for unconscious bias training.
If you believe you are witnessing racism or unlawful discrimination, the Equal Opportunity office, as well as your first sergeants and commanders, are here to help you address your concerns. You have the right to file complaints without fear of reprisal or retaliation. The Inspector General is available to address concerns of reprisal or retaliation.