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JBA hosts Unity Festival

By Airman 1st Class Spencer Slocum 316th Wing Public Affairs

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Joint Base Andrews hosted a Unity Festival at the Community Commons here to enhance both cross-cultural and cross-gender awareness and promote harmony amongst military members, their families and the civilian workforce, Sept. 3.

This event was intended to unify and educate the JBA community through the sharing of stories and experiences regarding inequity, racism and unconscious bias.

The morning kicked off with opening remarks from Col. Tyler R. Schaff, 316th Wing and JBA commander, and a 1.3-mile unity walk through a JBA neighborhood.

Groups of walkers had staggered departure times in an effort to abide by social distancing guidelines. Anytime a 6-foot distance could not be maintained, walkers were required to wear masks. Water stations were set up along the route to keep walkers hydrated.

“People who lived in the neighborhood that the walk went through were made aware that if they would like to come out and support the walkers as they go by, they were encouraged to do so,” said Capt. Nicole Candelaria, 316th Wing Commander’s Action Group director.

Upon reaching the end of walk, attendees were greeted with the music of the Air Force Band ensemble SuperSonic, followed by an invocation from Lt. Col. Christian Williams, 316th Wing chaplain, and remarks from Col. Stephen P. Snelson, 89th Airlift Wing commander.

The chapel provided 400 lunches, free of charge, for attendees. Two food trucks were also at the event with meals available for purchase. Water bottles were available, courtesy of the event organizers with free refills at a water tank where hand washing was enforced before use.

Following lunch, speakers were invited up onto a stage to speak about their experiences with inequities and racial disparities along with where they would like to see change. They could also share positive experiences they’ve had. This is where the conversation started.

“We’re allowing the hard questions to start being asked,” said Candelaria. “We are open to hearing everybody’s perspective so that we can focus on how to address these issues and make positive changes.”

Leaders continue to promote a diverse and inclusive culture while reaching out to listen to the experiences and recommendations of their unit personnel through open dialogue discussions.

“I think it is important to have events like this,” said Vincent Eure, 316th Wing community support coordinator. “With all the diversity and division in the world right now, I think it is a great thing for the military to take a stand and recognize that there is a problem.”

Eure continued, explaining that he knows problems aren’t going to be fixed right away, but at least the conversation allows people to talk through things and learn more about one another.

“We put people in individual buckets based on religion, race, political views or other things and if one person in that bucket misbehaves, then people think everyone in that bucket acts the same way, which is not true,” said Eure. “There needs to be a better understanding that we’re all different, groups of people may be in the same bucket, but they don’t all think the same, so I think that’s why we just need to have that conversation.”

Eure also stated that starting the conversation about something that needs to be changed is a step towards progress, but discussions need to recur and be remembered in order to insight real, valuable change.   

“You have to reflect because if you do something and there was no change, what was the point?” said Eure. “You have to go back, talk to your team, take a look around and see what’s wrong and how we can enact change.”

Candelaria mentioned another goal of the event was showing that if this kind of discussion can happen at a base-wide level, then it can also happen in smaller group settings, such as the workplace, to execute change on a daily basis.

“What we’re hoping is by focusing on listening and trying to understand the experiences of others in a friendly environment where people can speak openly without being judged, that it will allow conversations to continue in smaller settings,” said Candelaria.

Candelaria added that she made it known to all organizations, no matter how small of a setting they have, were welcome to participate. This allowed for private organizations and helping agencies on the installation to showcase their groups.

“Problems and solutions can be in or come from any agency or any group,” said Eure. “Having these conversations, even though they may be hard, is how we learn. So, let’s take the time to get to know people for who they are, not just how they look.”