Base leaders hold Black Health and Wellness panel

  • Published
  • By Kevin Gaddie

A Black Health and Wellness discussion panel convened here Feb. 24 in conjunction with Black History Month.

This year’s theme was “Black Health and Wellness,” which focused on the well-being of the African-American community.

“The African-American community has experienced violent crimes, encountered social and economic inequities and other stressors, which eventually take a toll on our health and wellness,” said Tech. Sgt. Radrecia Singleton, 96th Logistics Readiness Squadron, project officer.

Singleton said the Department of Defense aims to create a brighter environment with leaders, who understand “our current and future success is connected to creating equitable opportunities for all.”   

The panelists were: Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, 96th Test Wing commander; Col. Gregory Coleman, 96th Medical Group commander; Senior Master Sgt. Mario White, 96th Mission Support Group command chief; and Lula Coleman, civilian personnel officer.

The first question to the base leaders was “what would you tell yourself about life now that you didn’t know before?”

Cain gave the first answer.

“The world changes and you have to change with it, or else you become irrelevant,” he said.  “As the world changes, it’s not just how you lead, but how you adapt to societal values and culture changes.  I would tell my younger self to adapt to those changes and don’t be afraid to drive change when the time comes.”

The second question was “if you had to choose an African-American to model, who would it be and why?”

Coleman said his father, who despite growing up in the South and dealing with the many indignities of his day, passed on good values and strength of character to his son.

“He has continued to challenge me and help me grow as a man, a father and a leader,” said the medical group commander.

For White, it was old school discipline from a now-retired master sergeant.

“Master Sgt. Killian Anderson saw that I was not on a good path, early in my career,” he said.  “He confronted me, asking ‘what are you doing with your life?’”  I replied “you’re not my Dad.”  He said “I’m you Dad in the Air Force and I believe in you.”

It was a powerful, life-changing moment for the young Airman.

“After those words from him, someone I admired and respected, the light switch came on,” he said.  “He included me in every opportunity available, to succeed.  It forever changed me as a man, a leader and a father.”

An audience member asked the panel “who was an African-American who opened doors for you, in your career?”

Lula Coleman pointed to Ruby Irvin, a civilian personnel officer she worked for at Edwards Air Force Base, California, as a junior civil servant.

“She saw something in me and encouraged me to apply for higher positions,” said Coleman, who is now a civilian personnel officer.  “I’m still in contact with her to this day and I’m thankful for her belief in me.”

The final question was “since the death of George Floyd, what change, if any, have you observed in the workforce, and how have they impacted you?

All of the panelists agreed the tragic event ignited a worldwide conversation and opened a dialogue within the Eglin community.

“It allowed individuals to talk about hard issues and experiences,” Lula Coleman said.  “It allowed base leadership to hear feedback from unit and squadron personnel from all walks of life.” 

She said the sometimes difficult conversations on the subject are needed and necessary.

“Hopefully, we come out of them with a new level of understanding, come to resolutions, solutions and a way forward to make things better for all.”

Cain said he hopes the conversations within the base community will continue.

“Our workforce is more willing to talk about these issues,” he said.  “Whether it’s race, discrimination or sexism issues, these issues are being more recognized.  I hope for more evidence those behaviors are decreasing or going away.  I want to see evidence that the fact we are all talking about those subjects more, leads to change.”