On June 1, then U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. David Goldfein, acknowledged in a written message to all commanders that the Air Force is not immune to the spectrum of racial prejudice, systemic discrimination and unconscious bias.
“We must work together to create a culture that values diversity and builds trust,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander in a letter to USAFE-AFAFRICA Airmen. “This is the time to listen, share perspectives, and learn from each other.”
With those marching orders in mind, the 86th Airlift Wing Equal Opportunity office created the “Power of Facilitation: Talk About Race,” curriculum and course. Within a week, the course was implemented across USAFE-AFAFRICA bases.
“Members guide the discussion, but the overall topic is race,” said Tech. Sgt. Kinesha Greenlee, 52nd Fighter Wing EO specialist. “Every class is a learning experience. I always hear a different perspective and a light bulb comes on for me. I want people to walk away knowing it is okay to disagree but have an open mind. We want everyone to continue having these difficult discussions and the course is the first step.”
The class is a train-a-trainer course that helps leaders at all levels to understand why these conversations are important while learning how to create effective and meaningful dialogue within small groups.
“While discussions about social injustices may be considered controversial, they are essential to our Airmen who may not have always felt included or connected because of their demographics,” said Chief Master Sgt. Maritza Mueller, USAFE-AFAFRICA A1Z Chief Enlisted Manager of Integrated Resilience and EO functional manager. “The feedback we have received from students that have attended the training has been nothing short of positive and supports the need to continue.”
The 31st Fighter Wing EO team helped organize and participated in a “Unity in Diversity Day,” on July 17. It was the first of the USAFE-AFAFRICA bases to have a standdown day that consisted of group discussions and exercises targeting biases and perceptions.
More than 3,000 Airmen, spouses and dependents participated in the event. Overall, more than 154 facilitators were trained from the 31st FW to help facilitate the day.
“The group discussions will not be stopping anytime soon,” said Master Sgt. Shiantee Walton, 31st FW/EO noncommissioned officer in charge. “We will continue to use the discussions to bring awareness, dialogue, compassion, education and support. We will continue to build unity and reconcile trust.”
In addition to continuing the dialogue on race discussions, USAFE-AFAFRICA A1Z is working to provide relevant training to Airmen at all levels over the next year to help combat unconscious bias.
“Leaders who are not involved in the conversation may not feel they are equipped to facilitate these discussions, but I guarantee every leader can be provided the tools and resources to connect with their Airmen, create a safe environment, and just listen,” said Mueller.
“The solution right now is for leaders to engage, listen, and learn how these events are triggering raw emotion affecting their Airmen,” said Mueller.
Bases across USAFE-AFAFRICA will continue the conversation as they continue to host and plan events to normalize dialogue on race within the Air Force.