KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
African American History Month is a time to celebrate influential African Americans who have made a positive impact on United States history. This month exemplifies the country’s desire to celebrate and appreciate its diverse heritage. This attitude of reflection and an appreciation of history has made Senior Airman Martin Githui, 81st Contracting Squadron contracting specialist, grateful to have become a citizen and Airman for our nation.
Born in Naivasha, Kenya, Githui came from a quiet but close-knit community. He lived on a farm with his parents and two sisters, and his family and friends made up his world.
“My neighbors were more like cousins and because of the small size of my home, I knew nearly everybody in my village,” Githui said.
At a young age, his family made the move from Naivasha, a quiet rural village, to Nairobi, the capitol of Kenya, which was bustling with activity and was the catalyst for a huge change in Githui’s life.
“Nairobi is a very busy city,” he said. “I eventually made the adjustment and I really enjoyed my new home. The people were vastly different from what I was used to, but they were different in a good way; they were lively and excited.”
The general atmosphere in Africa enabled Githui to adapt to his surroundings and find joy in this new environment.
“I was able to easily make friends in our new home,” he said. “There is a saying we use quite often in Africa, ‘No man is an island,’ which means a person is never alone. In Africa, one day you could have it all, and then the next day it could all be gone. We understand this and it’s why we stick together no matter the circumstances.”
Even though comradery is embedded in Africa’s culture, school wasn’t always easy for Githui; throughout high school he was two years younger than his peers.
“I was the youngest in my class and I knew my place,” Githui said. “All the guys were bigger than me and I was quiet. I didn’t always push my way like the other kids did, I waited my turn.”
Githui graduated high school at 16, and two years later moved to the U.S., with his family. After making the big move, he didn’t waste any time in pursuing a new career in engineering.
“My family and I moved to Massachusetts in the spring of 2009,” he said. “I began the process of earning a four-year degree in engineering while working at a grocery store. It was not until our neighbor, who happened to be retired from the Air Force, spoke with my father and I that I began to consider the service.”
After looking at the advantages of joining the Air Force, Githui decided to enlist and his time in high school seemed to pay off in basic military training.
“The boarding school I went to was similar to the BMT dynamic,” he said. “The seniors ran the school just as the military training instructors ran BMT and, as a freshman, you followed every single demand the seniors placed on you. I learned early on to keep my head down and follow what was expected of me. I also grew up with the discipline of knowing which lines to never cross and it helped me tremendously.
“The Air Force in general has (taught) me so many good life lessons and it has changed my life,” Githui said. “Personal growth is constant and I have been given responsibilities that I never imagined would be placed on me which has helped me mature quite a bit.”
The move to the U.S. ended up being very enlightening for Githui as well. Being born in Africa, holds a unique perspective when it comes to America’s celebration of African American History Month.
“I only knew a little of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when I first moved to the states,” Githui recalled. “I began to research him avidly because of the comparisons I drew with the racial tensions in his time as well as the tribal tensions we still experience in Kenya. I realized how much this country has overcome since Dr. King first fought for equal rights and it filled me with hope.”
Githui used the hope Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave him and joined the African American Heritage Committee, which helped him share his passion for Dr. King and the meaning of African American History Month.
“People ask me if African American History Month is special for me because I am from Africa,” Githui said. “While it’s a small part of the reason why this month is so meaningful, it is mostly because, to me, African American History Month means that people can come together intellectually and understand that beneath the skin we are all the same. It is about the progress the U.S. has made bringing the whole nation together.”
Githui is filled with optimism for the future. Even when struggles present themselves, he finds a reason why things can get better.
“I see parallels between the struggles this country faced and what Kenya faces now with the tribal tensions,” he said. “However, I see how the U.S. came together and combated the negativity and I believe Kenya is capable of the same success. I love African American History Month because of the message it presents overall. When I notice something, I want to tell everyone about it. It’s like a fire burning. I want to let people know there is always a way to overcome.”
With his career in the Air Force and his U.S. citizenship, Githui looks to one day help the people of Kenya.
“If the military gives me an opportunity, I would love to go back to my childhood home,” Githui said. “When Barack Obama made an appearance last year, it made a huge impact. For the people of Kenya to see a man of color, who was once not able to sit on certain parts of the bus, be in such a position of political influence spoke volumes of hope. I would love to be able to go to Kenya and tell them we could accomplish more if we put aside all the tribal differences and worked together.”
Those who know him best notice his empathy and optimism for humankind most. Margaret Githui, Martin’s sister, remembers when her brother’s character helped her out of a slippery situation.
“He was doing homework and I had been cleaning the floor,” Margret said. “I used too much soap and when I went to rinse the floor I slipped. I ran and told my mom it was his fault I used extra soap and he got in trouble for it. Instead of defending himself, he took the blame. He is the kind of person who doesn’t like to see people hurt and would rather bear the responsibility for others.”
Githui’s past, his family and the Air Force family are a constant source of inspiration for him and he credits them for all he has been able to learn.
“I have really enjoyed my time in the Air Force,” Githui said. “In the military, it is very clear that no matter where you are from, everyone is equal. The phrase from my country, ‘No man is an island’ carries on in the Air Force. We are all wingmen and it is our mutual responsibility to look out for the Airman next to us. We look for shifts in behavior and reach out when we notice a change. I feel so blessed to be a part of the Air Force family and hope I can use my blessings to show others that truly, ‘No man is an island.’”
A young mind fathoms not,
How to remain calm as they
Snatch away all you’ve got,
Who taught you to be that way?
Meekness that turns the other cheek
All in quest for the poor and weak to,
Lavish in the pool of equality & access to resources?
How do I carry my enemies’ burdens
Whereas they show no remorse to;
Their hearts constantly darken,
As they sit on my back, and watch me suffer
Actions that rashly burn the soul like sulfur
Shall I, show them that I have fists too?
Shall I, show them that I am no fool?
No tool to be messed around with
And that I can fight back?
As for me, I shall opt to defy
Being like my adversary and deny
Being a consensus person
Because I’m a man of conscience.
I shall stand and uphold the,
Contagious philosophy of peace, love and liberty that
Spreads like hot coal; One igniting the next!
Your dream resonates in our ears
Reverberates in our hearts
Because you moulded the foundation
Of this great nation.
And today, we look back at a
Great masterpiece of social reform as we,
Celebrate your Birthday!
-By Senior Airman Martin Githui