HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. – Earl had to run. Fast.
The middle-schooler sprinted, rocks and snowballs hailing down on him, to the bus that provided sanctuary for the black students attending the all-white school in Brooklyn, New York.
"We had a special bus that took us there and picked us up after school," said Air National Guard (ANG) Master Sgt. Earl Scott, 111th Attack Wing Religious Support Team chaplain assistant. "If we didn't catch that bus, we were in trouble."
Sometimes, artillery was more nefarious than objects the assailants found on the ground around them.
"They would fire BB guns at us and we'd have to hit the deck," Scott said, sharing his experience with racism in the 1970's. "It shattered the windows…there were a lot of hostile caucasians and they made it known that they did not want us there."
Scott, now a middle school teacher in his civilian career, wasn't angry, but saddened by actions of his white classmates.
"We weren't perfect. We just wanted to go to school and couldn't understand why this was happening to us - it was disheartening"
Fast forward to 1985, when Scott joined the active-duty Navy. During that time, he said that while he was one of the few African Americans in his unit, his experience with racism was limited. In fact, Scott noted that his dedication to the military, not his skin color, was what defined him. His race dictated neither his ability to climb rank from a seaman to a petty officer, nor did it determine his circle of friends.
After leaving active service, Scott entered reserve components before eventually making his way to the 111th Attack Wing here.
While a member of the 111th Force Support Squadron, he'd eagerly await weekends spent with fellow Guard members, "… to get down to cooking up a good meal, cleaning up, working long hours, coming in early, leaving late. And we were okay with that because we worked together – we bonded."
While Scott acknowledges that there will always be room for increased understanding and empathy between races and cultures, his story with the ANG is one of family.
"We are truly one big family in the Guard," Scott said. "We're all colors, races, cultures and faiths here. It's who we are and what we do, not what we look like, that is our strength and our connection. I'm not sure if it's like that everywhere else, but that's what we have here."
ANG Tech. Sgt. Danita Jones, 111th Force Support Squadron human resources remote, sends her son to an Afrocentric school.
"It's about strengthening the black community and how we can help remain strong together," she said.
But Jones walks the line between pride in culture and the relationships forged from military service. When speaking about the ANG community, "Sometimes it's a struggle knowing that I'm bringing my son into an atmosphere where it's not like [his school] – it's not an all-black Air Force."
Jones reminds her son that, while having a strong cultural base is important to personal growth, communities can constitute all races. This is especially true in the 111th Attack Wing, where her friends – with whom she is very close – encompass a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds.
"While his school stresses the ideals of Black Power, I've told him that if he's going anywhere with me and my friends, he's going to be walking with a mixed group of people."
Since joining the Air Force, work colleagues have been her close friends outside the confines of the job. In contrast, she's lived in predominately single-race neighborhoods in Philadelphia. It's the stability supplied by a strong cultural base, supplemented by diversity in her daily life that serves as a defining element for her.
For Jones, her story is one of balance.
Pennsylvania National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jovan Tate, 111th FSS personalist, knows that patience can help reverse misconceptions.
"I've had people assume things about me; it is a stereotype that black women come off as angry," Tate said quietly and with slight hesitation. "And they don't realize that I'm the opposite of that. Once people realize who I am, they know that's not me."
Tate, who comes from a mixed-race family, has spent a lifetime exposed to various cultural norms and races.
"I come from a very diverse family," she said. "But, I guess that it's important to remember that not everyone has had that experience."
Tate said she feels lucky that despite a handful of instances in her lifetime, she's been able to remain tolerant to those who are not. She recognizes that a positive change of attitude cannot be fostered in an environment of aggravation. That positive outlook has been part of her military experience since day one.
"I honestly can't recall a time in the Air Force when I felt that I was treated differently because of my race," said Tate. "Maybe it's the way that I look at things, but I always had a group of friends that were of all different races – in active duty Air Force and the Air National Guard."
Tate's story includes patience and understanding.
Many have a story about race in the military, which may be similar or conflict with the experiences of Air National Guard members here. The 111th Attack Wing vision statement of loyalty and trust in maintaining readiness and resiliency applies to Air Guard members of all skin colors and ethnicities. The above accounts craft a story that by maintaining a family-orientated mindset, personal balance and empathetic understanding, the Wing's Airmen – all Airmen – can contribute to that goal.
(Editor's note: We understand the sensitivities of race in both the military and civilian environments. We also recognize that each member of the Air National Guard has their own experience, which may differ from those presented in this piece. We are hoping this article with help generate discussion about race. No military entity is implying that the stories below represent the sentiments of all military members.)