African American Heritage Committee hosts annual commemoration

by Airman 1st Class Desiree Esposito
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” — Marcus Garvey Jr.

The Kaiserslautern African American Heritage Committee hosted its annual banquet for African-American history month Feb. 26 at the Ramstein Officers’ Club.

The event, themed “African-Americans and the Civil War,” paid homage to the efforts accomplished by citizens of African descent, who set in motion the abolition of slavery, launching their freedom in the U.S.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called “The Negro National Hymn,” was the spiritual anthem for the evening.

The banquet opened with a performance depicting the story of the Union soldiers as they were transformed from freed slaves into soldiers of the 54th Glory Regiment that lead Union troops into the battle of Ft. Wagoner, S.C., during the American Civil War.

“I really enjoyed the Civil War skit. It made you want to learn even more about our history,” said Lt. Col. Kristen Benford, 86th Medical Group chief nurse.

Being selected to be the guest speaker for an annual event might make anyone nervous, but not Lt. Col. Uduak Udoaka, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron commander, who rose to the occasion with grace.

At age 10, Colonel Udoaka was selected to attend a Nigerian air force military school, and he accepted. This decision would cement the foundation and initiate a life in the military he wouldn’t regret.

Leaving his family back in Africa, he embarked on his journey to North Carolina to attend an esteemed university on an ROTC scholarship.

“The rest is history,” Colonel Udoaka said. “I am the son of two Nigerians who left the shores of West Africa in the ’60s during a civil war that saw over 1 million people killed.”

And his speech was well received by those in attendance.
“I thought the message given by the speaker was very relevant to the theme of this year and very inspiring,” said Master Sgt. Constance Dangerfield, 86th Aerospace Medical optometry flight noncommissioned officer in charge.
The message of the occasion is appropriate, even today

“I am an American, born of Africa, discussing the story of what could truly be my very own ancestors’ role in American history,” Colonel Udoaka said during his speech.

The KAAHC also sponsored an essay writing competition for KMC high school students. The winners were each presented $500 scholarships intended for use toward education. All three winners, Nicolas Nixon, Jessica Kafer and Rachel Kersey, hailed from Ramstein High School. The teens were given the honor of reading their winning essays during the banquet.

“The goal of the banquet was to bring harmony and educate the attendees on our African-American culture,” said the committee’s president Master Sgt. Jan Patterson, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe command policy procedure manager.

Brig. Gen. Mark Dillon, 86th Airlift Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Vernon Butler, 86th AW command chief, were also present for the celebration.

“As an African-American, I always thirst for more culture,” Chief Butler said. “Attending the banquet gave me the opportunity to celebrate it.”

The hope of those who brought together this successful occasion is that the desire to learn and the acceptance of all cultures are carried on throughout the year.