Let’s Talk! As an African American Air Force military chaplain, I am not one to quickly speak publicly regarding race, racial tensions, or racial relations. Facing the courage to facilitate open discussions with our teams regarding experiences others face that are racially motivated will unlock the door for understanding, healing, and reconciliation as needed, and demonstrates our strength as a team. Idiosyncrasies people have surrounding current events may surface and questions will be asked. Someone will muster up the courage to speak out and to either ask questions or make statements regarding their disdain, fear, or anger of what is happening in our world.
As we are in the midst of current tensions regarding race, racial tensions, and racial relations, our nation and many of our military members and people in general are hurting. This is a time to do “internal engagement,” of ourselves, as Chaplain (Maj.) Meoshia Wilson has exhorted us in the Air Force Chaplain Corps to do. Internal engagement is the self-reflective part of us we may not necessarily want to see in the mirror. It is the part of us that causes us to “check ourselves,” our conscience, our motives toward people.
As we check ourselves as leaders, we must lead and facilitate the tough conversations, which in turn take tremendous courage. For the team to open up, it takes all to be willing to share their personal experiences regarding race, racial tensions, or racial relations.
Let’s talk leaders. We should be willing to share our personal experiences while asking for feedback within a group. Trust me, it will not be comfortable for many, but the end result will yield understanding and healing over time.
Let’s talk team. Share your experiences and be willing to listen to the experiences of others. As we show our willingness to listen, learn, soul search and lay aside our pre-conceived notions, we can grow. For those willing to embrace a change of heart and behavior, it may take time as it will not come overnight. As leaders, we must be willing to confront “the elephant in the room,” when it comes to race, racial tensions, and racial relations. For leaders to ignore these sends a strong message to our teams of subordinates that it is acceptable for some to conduct themselves disrespectfully to others regarding race, racial tensions or racial relations.
Let’s talk leader. As you prepare yourself, for those whom you lead, to tear up, cry, express regret, to speak angrily, and for those who question why. Let’s talk and allow our teams, during our tactical pauses, to vent and heal. When a team demonstrates, more than one time, the willingness to have the tough conversations that involve race, racial tensions, and racial relations, it facilitates a balm of healing and understanding. These topics matter to all of us. In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”