Celebrating Black History Month: Shaping the path for a better future Published Feb. 12, 2021 By Maj. Monica Mason U.S. Air Force Academy U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- I am an Air Force officer, teammate, daughter, sister, friend, coach, mentor, entrepreneur, change advocate, encourager and Black woman who loves and embraces diversity. I have always been curious, competitive, driven and willing to help others. This combination makes for a busy life, as most of my time outside work is spent becoming a lifetime learner through self-help, education, training, competing in sports to quench my competitive thirst, and serving others through mentoring, personal and professional development. I was raised in a military family whose faith charged us to embrace, value and love everyone, and I have always found security in diverse environments. However, it wasn’t until I transferred to a historically black university in 2003 – Fayetteville State University, North Carolina – that I began to see through a lens of color and appreciate the unique experiences, background, traits and gifts of African Americans, specifically, which I found fascinating. As a Black woman, my story and challenges, whether day-to-day or during my lifespan are unique. I’m reminded of a phrase I often see on T-shirts and other venues, “I am black history” and I embrace that proudly. Our stories are like fingerprints, making up our very identity and linking us to many places, people and things. Like fingerprints, no story is exactly alike and I find beauty in that fact. I have six brothers and sisters, I am a third generation military member and my family has served in every branch of the military. Both my grandfathers served in the military with one serving in the Army Air Corp and the other serving and retiring as a Marine Corps officer. My father was a Marine as well. My grandmothers were homemakers and teachers and each had nine children. One of my grandmothers graduated from the renowned Black college -- Howard University -- with a master’s degree, and raised nine kids while serving in academia as a dean of students and assistant principal. Both my parents found passion and joy in helping young people pursue educational paths, and dedicated themselves to teaching and social service. I find joy in similar endeavors of education, development and human service, which is how I ended up as the air officer commanding of Cadet Squadron 35 at the Air Force Academy. I came to Academy because I wanted to help develop, shape and inspire young minds. Little did I know at the time that I would be inspired, as well, by leaders I would interact with and cadets I would lead. At the Academy, I have an amazing opportunity to lead the “Wild Weasels” of CS-35, one of the best squadrons at the Academy, with the most resilient cadets I know. I’ve been able to work and build professional relationships with the Academy’s prep school, women’s basketball program players and staff, and serve as an officer representative. As a former collegiate athlete and competitor in all Air Force and armed forces Sports, I am a huge supporter of the athletic programs. Sports and athletes have a special place in my heart. I’ve had the pleasure of leading the Way of Life Committee, one of Academy’s largest affinity groups comprised of more than 220 officer candidates who are mostly cadets of color. These young future officers inspire me the most through their efforts, initiative, hard work, and community service. Most recently, they developed a community of support for cadets, leading critical conversations on race, diversity and inclusion, and mentoring disadvantaged high school students at Air Force Academy High School in Chicago and in the local community. They established a diversity and inclusion campaign and action team called “Triple Threat” to identify areas for improvement and solutions to make lives better for minority cadets. I’m blessed to be a part of their team and provide mentoring and support. I’ve seen them learn through their experiences, share their experiences with others and strive to be the change they want to see in our world. Their stories of resiliency and dedication inspire me to be my best and take advantage of every opportunity to invest my time, energy, and effort to leaving things better than I found them and inspiring others to do the same. As we celebrate Black History Month, we celebrate the legacy of those who came before us. We challenge each other to shape a better future for all. The late, great poet and writer, Maya Angelou, said, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” There is so much past history and history in the making to be inspired by. I am inspired by work of Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I have a dream speech”; Amanda Gorman’s memorable 2021 inauguration poem; the innovations of Garret Morgan, inventor of the three-light traffic light; and Sarah Boone, inventor of the improved ironing board. I’m also inspired by the accomplishments of military leaders such Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Brown; retired Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, the first African-American woman to be promoted to three-star general in the Air Force; Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, first African American to become superintendent of the Academy; and countless other military trailblazers. Black history and legacy lives through their sacrifice, dedication, service and through each of us. This Black History Month and after, my hope is that acknowledging our past, celebrating our present, and anticipating a better future inspires us all.