I deleted the first article that I wrote about this. It was too much, a bit unnecessary ,and I am tired.
I will do my best to focus on solutions rather than problems. I will only mention problems as a means to lead to solutions and nothing more. I will admit that I do hold a bit of resentment from my West Point Experience. I was hurt deeply by it and am still healing from it. I will try to not let my pain bleed into this situation. So are ya'll ready? Here we go.
Here's what I know:
We are witnessing change. West Point is innovating. Its policies are changing, and it is actively working to change its demographic to produce officers who are as diverse as their soldiers.
Change is uncomfortable, hard, and people will fight it.
West Point's Class of 2016 is scheduled to graduate in approximately two weeks. Some cadets and faculty are doing their best to prevent all but one of the black women in this class from graduating. 16 out of the 17 Black Women in a class of approx 1200 cadets are under investigation and may be kicked out of the army over a picture of themselves holding the "army strong" pose. This pose requires one to raise their fist and is commonly done by the cadet corps during football games and army victories.
Some cadets and faculty members are resisting this necessary change. In an act of rebellion and fear, cadets who are rumored to have been influenced by LTC Daniel Gade, a current professor and member of the chain of command to some of the women under investigation, used a gullible , patriotic, vulnerable veteran by the name ofJohn Burk as a tool to promote their bigoted agenda to prevent a more inclusive , empathetic, innovative, and culturally aware army from forming.
Fear of retaliation? Yea, because his credible sources are liars, who have also broken multiple UCMJ codes and disrespected their chain of commands.
This gesture of a fist is done during every football game, during march on, and during the army strong song. It symbolizes strength and unity, nothing more, and nothing less.
"The problem is not with our strong 16 ladies. No, the problem is instead with the cowards who go behind the backs of their peers , don't follow the rules, and don't show their face. Once they gain the courage to stop hiding, they will see that the people who they are really afraid of is themselves."
Why would members of the West Point community turn on their own?
I would like to believe that all are given a fair shot at life. I would like to say that when our founding fathers wrote "all men are created equal" in our constitution, they meant it. I really would want to fall in love with this inclusive rhetoric of equal worth. But the truth and the sad reality is that in 2016, even after the life and death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. , and after electing our first black president, there is still much work to do here in America. I am saddened that these strong 16 black women who have turned down top colleges to instead join the army, some deploying before even becoming a cadet at West Point, accepted an abnormal and regimented college experience in an effort to become the best leaders that they can for America's sons and daughter, are treated this way.
Why single these amazing women out? Accept that they are not white, nor male. These women cannot change that, and were not recruited to West Point because of those qualities. Instead, I urge every member of the West Point community to embrace one another. You share the common bond of being army strong and making it through a tough institution , while overcoming struggles that are unique to your identities. Our identities and individual culture are what we should collectively embrace and celebrate. Innovation comes from having diverse talent. This competitiveness is what makes America great. Let's continue to improve our army by getting rid of the bigotry and attachment to tradition. I have full faith in these women. They, despite the hate, will make our army great, again.
To gain more insight into what it is like to attend West Point as a black woman. Read these personal narratives from West Point graduates, Mary Tobin, and Lela Victora. For Mary's note, click here. For Lela's perspective, click here.
As Michael Jackson would say, it's time to look at that man in the mirror.
Change is here. Embrace it , or leave
For those who do not know,
Second Lieutenant Emily Perez was a major factor as to why I chose to go to West Point.
Emily's life and legacy is so big that she manages to inspire and empower people to believe in themselves, most with out ever having a personal encounter.
She is the epitome of a leader.
While a cadet, she rose to the rank of Command Sergeant Major, which is second in charge of the Cadet Corps. Emily became the first African American and Hispanic Woman to hold this position. She was also Captain of the Track Team, and a Sociology major.
Her legacy was my motivation when times became tough. It also was a reason for why I stayed as long as I did.
While at the Academy, Cadets are frequently encouraged to research and model one's self after a successful leader.
I adopted 2LT Emily Perez's leadership model as I hoped to be the rock-star cadet and later officer that she was. What I took from her philosophy can be summed up in a quote by Maya Angelou that explains that
"People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget how you made them feel."
It was also echoed by one of the greatest Soldiers that I have ever encountered . His name is Command Sergeant Major (Ret.) Burnett and his philosophy was simple,
" You have to care that much".
True leaders care. True leaders love to serve. They sacrifice. They endure. They overcome, and in doing so they inspire.
Below is a poetry tribute that was created by my friend, fellow poet, and Marine, Latino A2J.
"Love the life you live, and live the life that you have."- Poetic Change
The Story of Michelle Tatom- Logistics Specialist in the US Navy :
As I got to my hotel room I took a glance in the mirror and this realization came over me that I've gone off course of myself by going along with others definition of my life.
I've let myself bullied into silence.
There I was, with every breath suffocating and not understanding WTF was going on.
There I was, gasping for air battling my inner self to control anger, pain, anxiety, love, tears, wickedness that I've lost sight of the teachings of my upbringing.
I was raised to believe in the greatness of one's individuality, that I shall bow to no one but God and to not let anyone control my own destiny. So those words of Eleanor Roosevelt resonate in my mind, " You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself I've lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along".
So there I was, still looking in the mirror, emotional and I felt embraced by this energy that I can't explain, but like a new found comfort and drive, I slowly felt that knot around my throat dissolve.
All of the things that didn't make sense, now do. I've lost sight of what I've accomplished and lost faith in myself, the Lord and my dreams.
Now ,that girl within me is singing to God again and asking for forgiveness that I've lost faith in him and given power to my life to mortals.
There, [In my hotel room] I was thinking how the hell did I let my life not be my own? How is it that the written chapters of [my life] that I haven't even lived is being publicized as verified facts?
This I blame to absurdity and the waste of the mind.
For the first time I laughed and realized that if I was of no significance ( to others) then why all the trouble?
So, I shall channel the energy of my ancestors and all those who have fought, died, been beaten, and have been humiliated so I can have the liberties I have today. With reaffirmation I've come to find in myself, I will never give up.
Some days I wonder, who am I supposed to be?
To answer this question, I used to reflect frequently on my past, as I was taught at an early age that one's previous experiences are meant to provide a gateway to one's future.
I have also realized that looking back too often, can prevent one from moving forward.
This photo was taken during the last months that I was a Cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I have chosen to make this photo my first post because , to me it represents my inner dilemma while I was there , and the current transition that I am making now. To explain, my inner dilemma was an issue of identity. While I was there, I had many people out of good intention, try to mold me into who they thought I should be. I felt many times, that my voice was silenced. My role required me to dim my light in order to conform to everyone else's idea of a leader. In this submission, I learned a great deal about myself. I learned how to be humble, how to observe, and how to love. I realized that in order to change any situation you must change yourself. Everything is dictated by a reaction. Find the "right" way to react and you will receive the "right" response. It was necessary for my light to be dimmed in order for this invaluable lesson to be learned.
The other side of the inner dilemma was a yearning to be free. If you know anything about Author Toni Morrison, you would know that she writes frequently on the freedom of owning your own identity. In order to utilize all of the gifts that God has given me, I had to learn patience and timing. It just so happened that the timing to explore all of my talents began with my dismissal from the Academy. This was the gateway to my current transition. Diamonds are only formed in an environment with unbearable pressure and extreme heat.
I am extremely grateful for all of my experiences, but I am most grateful for freedom. The freedom to explore, encourage, change , to tell our stories, and to most importantly be myself. I am allowed to shine through struggle, so that you may find the strength to do the same.
Commited to innovative leadership and institutional change
My name is Kylila (Ka-lee-la) which means beloved. I am one who loves, or at least tries to. I have had many titles, Poet, Photographer, Videographer, Writer, Cadet, Private, Athlete, Leader, Director, etc. I have learned that the greatest successes are born from the most tremendous trials. Everyone has beauty in their life story.