#SWAAYthenarrative

​Conflicted In Conflict: My Fight For BLM As A Black Woman In The Military

6 Min Read
Culture

The heartbreaking deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are sadly nothing new for our country, but they have broken the straw on the proverbial camel's back.

All of their stories are tragic in their own right, but the match that lit this fire around the world was the public lynching of George Floyd. I heard about the murder before I ever got a chance to see it, and when clips were being shown I could only stand to digest a good five seconds of what was being captured.

For me, whatever crime George was being accused of before the video started rolling could not have warranted this treatment. An animal doesn't deserve to be subjected to that, much less a human being. I have yet to watch that video in it's entirety, and I doubt I ever will. I saw just enough to know how that story would end. Based on the history of our country we, unfortunately, have seen this same story play out over and over again, the same players in the same roles with the exact same outcome. At one point, I even began to fear that we would see so many acts of police brutality that we would begin to become numb to the sensation of violence against Black people, numb even to death, so numb that it becomes normalized.

Based on the history of this country we, unfortunately, have seen this same story play out over and over again, the same players in the same roles with the exact same outcome.

Despite all of this, the most discouraging part about George Floyd's death is the silence from those around me. I'm taken back to 2012 when we learned of a Black boy named Trayvon Martin who had been shot and killed at the tender age of 17 by the police. Although there was no video footage of his death, it sparked a lot of outrage. Followed by Eric Garner, a Black gentleman who was recorded while placed in a chokehold by the police uttering the chilling, now infamous words "I can't breathe." We sat and watched in disbelief as this man's life slipped through his murderer's literal fingers.

The conversations amongst my friends and family were ones of worry, anger, and disbelief. The energy shift was seismic; people noticed the people who were open to having certain conversations and those who were not.

Thinking back, I can recall a conversation with a coworker of mine on the topic of Trayvon Martin: a non-Black male serving alongside me who had a lot of police officers in his family. He just could not see the humanity of the young boy who had been slain. "What was he doing at that time of night?" "We weren't there so we can't jump to conclusions" "Let's look at the facts, not emotions." While I agree with the sentiment of basing our beliefs on facts, I couldn't help but feel the defensive, even, cold energy coming from this individual regarding this sensitive topic — as if Trayvon had not been human at all.

The energy shift was seismic; people noticed the people who were open to having certain conversations and those who were not.

Fast forward to now, June 2020, I am an African American woman deployed in Afghanistan and serving in the United States Army. I wondered if I would be better off staying in the war torn country of Afghanistan rather than going back to the country I'm fighting for. As a Soldier, I fight for the American people. But I wonder if some of those same people would fight for me in everyday situations. Internally, it's an extremely confusing space.

I am an African American woman deployed in Afghanistan and serving in the United States Army. I wondered if I would be better off staying in the war torn country of Afghanistan rather than going back to the country I'm fighting for.

I am confused because my leader doesn't seem to fight for Black people in situations like this; his silence and lack of willingness to speak on racial injustices is deafening. I am frustrated because as Black people we have been taught that if you get the degree, find a career, speak eloquently, dress in nicer clothes, straighten your hair, don't bring attention to yourself, remove any ounce of your Blackness then things like this won't happen. If we would just comply and keep our heads down, we would be okay. But that is not the truth, and that is not a way to live.

Most of all, I am disheartened by the men and women who I have right next to me who, once again, just do not want to have this conversation. Like COVID-19, police brutality in America is becoming a worldwide topic of conversation. You cannot scroll through a social media platform or watch a news channel and not see the ripple effect that George Floyd's untimely death has had on the world. From Iran to Japan, there have been marches and protests all around the world. People are standing together as one in a way I haven't seen since our country came together after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.

I am disheartened by the men and women who I have right next to me who, once again, just do not want to have this conversation.

However, on my side, in my military community, the lack of acknowledgment in general conversation hurts me, personally, the most. As the only Black woman here, I feel alienated and unsupported. Don't my fellow battle buddies feel the pain of seeing another American's life being taken? Do they not see the injustice in police brutality? Or is this another day and another problem for someone else?

Are we out here fighting for the same group of people — our whole country no matter what race, ethnicity, or identity — or are we each just fighting for the ones that we can identify with. If it was me being attacked and held down, would the fact that I wear the uniform as a soldier be enough for someone in a position of power to see my value? I am left with so many questions of life, death, and uncertainty. Meanwhile, so many around me are clearly unaffected and walking around without a care in the world. I am not surprised — just disheartened.

However, on my side, in my military community, the lack of acknowledgment in general conversation hurts me, personally, the most.

I can appreciate what that there is now a call to action, and I look forward to the change it will bring. Allies are speaking their mind regardless of their image, Black leaders are on loop 24/7 to help guide on how we can change the future. Voices that were once timid and shy are now finding the courage to speak out loud and share their messages of fairness and equality. Even those who avoid the topic of race are more willing and ready than ever to open their minds and hearts and educate themselves on the structure of systematic racism, which has been embedded in America since its inception.

There is an overall theme of togetherness that will cement itself in the history books of our future, regardless of those around me who are not reacting, and I am so proud to see this. I am hopeful for what this movement means for the future of humanity. We have a long way to go, but the dynamic of love that is shifting our country is already being felt all across the world.

This article was originally published June 8, 2020.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.