Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
Walter Blackman, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program manager for the Combined Arms Center, was the guest speaker for the annual African-American History Month luncheon Feb. 16 at Frontier Conference Center.
Blackman served in the Army for 22 years as an armor crewman and upon retirement founded a consulting firm that works with business owners and civic groups through diversity and inclusion training.
“Success Always Leaves Footprints” was the 2017 observance theme.
“Where there is no struggle, there is no progress,” Blackman said. “We as African-Americans choose to see obstacles and challenges as stepping stones; opportunities to achieve more and further our goals.”
Blackman said that among the many challenges that face both Americans and African-Americans is race relations. He asked and answered several rhetorical questions that spoke to unity among all ethnicities toward common civic goals and responsibilities.
“Martin Luther King (Jr.) said, ‘Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step’,” Blackman quoted. “My great, great grandfather, Patrick Blackman, was in a situation where he did just that. He was in bondage.”
Blackman told of the stories passed down in his family over generations about how Patrick was separated from members of his family, endured physical pain and ultimately escaped to the north, joining the Union Army.
“He kept the faith the entire time,” Blackman said. “Fighting during the Civil War to preserve a Union that had taken his basic rights. He fought to protect those same rights even for those who had kept him in bondage.”
Blackman said that after the war, Patrick returned to Mississippi, found his wife and was reunited with his children.
“You see his obstacle was that of slavery and separation from his family,” Blackman said. “His stepping stone was to escape and join the Union Army, to earn enough money to buy his family’s freedom.”
Quoting Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and others within the context of his remaining remarks, Blackman encouraged listeners to use obstacles as opportunities for positive action.
Blackman told the story of working on his grandfather’s ranch in Texas as a youth and concurrently learning many useful lessons by example. He said his grandfather challenged each child to excel.
“My grandfather decided that the only way for him to escape poverty was through education. He went on to graduate from Prairie View A&M University with a degree in engineering,” Blackman said. “And, when the nation called young men to arms during World War II, he answered by applying and being accepted into the Army Air Corps. He learned to fly and became a fighter pilot. Yes, my grandfather was a Red Tail.”
Page 2 of 2 - Blackman was referring to the nickname given the Tuskegee Airmen — the first black U.S. military pilots — for the markings on the fighters they flew in World War II.
Recognized annually, National African-American History Month recognizes the heritage and achievements of African-Americans. Each year a presidential proclamation highlights the fact that the contributions African-Americans have made and continue to make are an integral part of our society, and the history of African-Americans exemplifies the resilience and innovative spirit that continues to make this nation great.