The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) held a Black History Month celebration Feb. 26.
The event was held virtually and featured two guest speakers: Staff Sgt. Buddy C. Reynolds, a 100-year-old World War II veteran and the Honorable Randall Johnson Jr., a District Judge in Richmond, Va.
The official theme of this year’s Black History Month is “The Black Family, Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” After introductory remarks, Reynolds opened by talking about his family stories. Being 100 years old, Reynolds was able to share stories he heard first hand from his great grandmother, who was once a slave, such as having to ask her owner for permission to marry.
He also spoke about being in the military while it was segregated and during the transition to desegregation. He felt that he and other Soldiers of color, were treated better in England and France than they were in the United States at the time.
“They really liked us in England, especially those of us from the South because we were so polite. I felt very welcome there. We were treated with respect.”
When asked about the current social climate compared to what he experienced growing up, he started by telling the audience he was born in 1920, the year white women were given the right to vote. He contrasted some of the inequalities going on at the time and pointed out that some of them are still prevalent in some people’s beliefs today. For example, interracial marriages and having to marry someone with darker skin vs. marrying someone with lighter skin.
He concluded by talking about his pride in his military service and especially World War II.
“If I hadn’t been wounded in France, I would have stayed in. I loved my service,” he said.
The next speaker was the Honorable Randall Johnson Jr., a District Court Judge in Richmond, Va.
Johnson commented up front that speaking immediately after a 100-year-old World War II veteran would be a tough act to follow, but he held the audience’s rapt attention, speaking about time as a commodity and how it relates to family.
He opened by sharing a family photo of himself with his father and his son. He said that it was the only photo he knew about with all three of them in it. He was struck by how valuable the time represented in that photo was to him, and how the timing of certain events had impacted his life.
“Time isn’t like other commodities,” he said. “Generations can pass along money or land, but time is limited; you only have so much time. You can invest your time, determining to spend four years in college making an investment in your future, studying hard now to have a better income for your family later on.
“All too often, the Black experience is considered “time lost” because of slavery. It’s time lost when someone is in prison, because people didn’t spend time with their young families while they were there. This is not only true for the Black community, but anyone. If you want to know about bad dynamics, follow the time, in any community.” said Johnson.
He ended by encouraging everyone to consider how they spend their own “most valuable commodity.”
“Time is the only commodity you can never get more of. If you lose all you your money, eventually you can make it back. If you lose all your possessions, if you are robbed blind, you can replace them. Not so with time,” he said.
Following both speakers and a round of loud applause, Master Sgt. Shantae Allen, a contract specialist with TAM and the District’s senior Noncommissioned Officer, recognized Staff Sgt. Reynolds on behalf of the NCO Corps.
“I really just wanted to say how thankful I am to you that I get to follow in your footsteps and let you know what your service means to me,” said Allen. “My career was possible because I stood on your shoulders, and those who served with you.”
TAM’s Commander Col. Philip Secrist concluded the event by acknowledging current racial tensions and how events like this one contribute to strengthening the Army.
“Some of the recent civil unrest has caused us to look inward. Are we truly inclusive? Are we truly doing the things we should? We always want to ask ourselves can we be better. Looking to the past and learning from it is one way that we can be better,” he said.