As race remains one of the most difficult topics to discuss in the workplace, Senior Master Sgt. Martin Walker, 926th Force Support Squadron, Mission Personnel Section superintendent, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., has strived to overcome prejudice and become the middle ground voice of reason throughout his Reserve career.
As a military leader and member of the 926th Wing’s Diversity and Inclusion board, Walker uses his unique background to bring diversity of thought and respectful dialogue to every interaction he has.
Growing up in East Oakland, Calif., where he said he had to fight for respect and daily survival, Walker has worked to overcome not only external hardships, but also internal ones as well.
“When you grow up in an economically challenged neighborhood, you start off life with a feeling that there’s no hope,” he said. “There’s no point in me trying to be successful, because it will never be possible.”
With feelings of animosity and anger towards society, Walker said he didn’t even believe he would live to see 21.
With no prospects of college or any professional path, Walker’s father forced him to join the military.
“I came into the military with the mindset I grew up with, that these people don’t care about me,” he said. “Because seeing things through the paradigm I already had, trying to transition into the professional arena was very difficult.”
For Walker, his early days in the Air Force Reserves in the late 80’s only served to solidify his negative view on race.
“There were people in leadership in my early days that were very forthcoming with their feelings about me, without knowing who I was, just seeing the color of my skin,” he said.
Walker said he wasn’t equipped mentally for this type of racism and so he fought back verbally and eventually found himself on the verge of being kicked out of the Reserves.
Even after his career was saved by a Chief who believed in Walker’s value, he said his life wasn’t truly changed until a fellow lodging coworker spoke truth into his life during the first Gulf War.
“I couldn’t get away from him, we were on the night shift, just me and him,” he said. “He kept talking to me about straightening up my attitude and the potential I had if I would just focus my energy constructively.”
He said his coworker’s words gave him the motivation to take the initiative and learn all he could, doing everything those in charge asked of him and more, and to fight back against injustice in a productive way.
“Always learn one more thing, always do one more thing, that is how you put your adversary on the defensive,” Walker said. “Put them in a position where they have to prove to you that they are holding you back for something other than your race.”
As Walker transitioned his mind set from defeat and despair to one of productivity and hope, he has kept his promise to his coworker from long ago.
“I promised him that what he was pouring into me, I would pour into those coming behind me,” said Walker. “I had someone take the time and not give up on me, without that I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Now as a senior enlisted leader, Walker is driven to foster success in all his Airmen, not only those who look like him.
He shares his hardships and triumphs with the hope that he can help others succeed, even through adversity.
“I am a big advocate of the servant leadership mindset,” he said. “I believe that people come first, because if you take care of the people, they will take care of the mission.”
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