KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Keesler Air Force Base has recently launched a series of panels titled Courageous Conversation that contain a diverse group of panel members of different ranks and races.
The panels have been established to develop racial consciousness, help uncover bias and identify other actions Keesler can take to create a culture of empowerment, diversity and inclusion.
“Discussions like these are important to have because if we don’t, we’re not laying a good foundation to make better strides for our future,” said 2nd Lt. Martin Butcher, 81st Comptroller Squadron financial management flight commander.
There have been squadron small group discussions before Courageous Conversations started, however, members from Keesler know having one conversation is not enough.
“We were already told to have conversations in the squadron, but being in an office of one didn’t allow me to have any,” said Tania Wiggins, 81st Training Wing director of violence prevention, suicide prevention, diversity and inclusion manager. “If it did, not everyone was brought into the fold. So I wanted to be able to continue it because we can’t have a ‘check the box’ one and done conversation and think things are going to get better because it’s not.”
There are many panels that have been made to accommodate the different members on Keesler such as Airmen, NCOs, senior NCOs, company grade officers, field grade officers and civilians. Attendees were also encouraged to provide input on the changes they want to be made at Keesler.
“Because of COVID, we had to have small panel numbers, but we also didn’t want them doing all the talking,” said Wiggins. “It’s important for the audience to be able to do the talking and have the conversations. We are letting folks express how they feel about the current racial tensions not only in the U.S., but in the Air Force.”
Wiggins hopes the conversations brought from the discussions will continue to travel outside of the room.
“The conversations here should go back to the work place, they should go back home and back to our community,” said Wiggins. “It can’t stop with what we just did today. It has to continue on, otherwise we won’t see real change in the U.S. or in our military.”
Some of the topics that have come up were the racial disparities in the Air Force justice system, member’s stories of when they experienced racism and times where they received unequal treatment.
“The most important thing that I took from today was hope,” said Butcher. “I have hope that my leadership, my commander and wing commander are listening to my Airmen’s concerns and are looking out for their well-being.”
Although this is just another step Keesler is taking to improve the racial disparities that is occurring in society, it will not stop here.
“We have done a lot on this base and I know people will say that there is so much more to do, and there is,” said Wiggins. “We can start where we are now and build off of it, and of course we might not be able to change racism in this world, but we can do things to affect change here. As Col. Blackwell mentioned, we might not be able to change what is going on in the Air Force, but we can affect the grass around our feet and make a change here on Keesler AFB.”