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Joint Base Andrews News

NEWS | Feb. 29, 2024

Celebrating Black History Month with arts and honor

By Airman 1st Class Martha Moore | 316th Wing Public Affairs

The Community Commons was abuzz with expressions of culture as it hosted a special Black History Month event Thursday, themed "African American and the Arts." Attendees experienced music, fashion, poetry, and provisions, in a celebration aimed at both Department of Defense members and the base community.

“Each February, the Department of Defense takes a moment to pause and reflect on the pivotal roads that African American and Black service members have played through times of peace and conflict,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Todd E. Randolph, 316th Wing and installation commander. “This month-long recognition is not only an act of remembrance but also an opportunity for engagement and learning.”

Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Franklin Killebrew, a Maryland Veteran Commissioner and 2nd Vice President of the East Coast Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., joined U.S. Army Capt. Matthew Manning, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade aviator, and an advocate for connecting the military with the black community, shared their insights on the contributions and challenges of African Americans in the armed forces.

Manning shared a few stories of experiencing discrimination, such as the time when he was prior enlisted and told an officer that he wanted to become a pilot. He said the officer looked him up and down and was told, ‘You don’t look like a pilot.’

“The first thing that I communicate to the youth out there is, ‘Don't let your race be an excuse. Don't be a victim. Let your race be your strength because it is,’” Manning said. “Black History Month is beautiful, and I assure you it extends far beyond February.”

Killebrew, who led a local high school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program for more than 25 years, added “I always ask young people to have a goal. A goal is like a roadmap. You can be anything you want to be. You just have to keep trying and keep your motivation to stay on that roadmap to reach that goal,” Killebrew said.

The event also included a song by Senior Airman Aaron Glass with the 1st Airlift Squadron, an American Sign Language performance by Riverdale Baptist Church youth, and art by members of The Black Artists of D.C., all of which showcased the profound impact of African Americans on the arts.

"It kind of goes back to storytelling,” said Tiara McKnight, a showcased artist. “I believe that you create art, you put yourself on the canvas, and it is an opportunity to show our community who we are. It could be dark, it could be beautiful, it can be anything, but it’s our way of expressing who we are and contributing our stories to the world.”

This year’s Black History Month event served as a poignant reminder of the journey toward equality and the ongoing effort to ensure Black and African Americans are recognized and celebrated.

“By attending events like today, we have the opportunity to learn where disparities may exist and how those disparities can be addressed, mitigated and ultimately removed,” Randolph said. “It is an opportunity for us to build trust, foster relationships, and collaborate more effectively to defend our nation.”