NEWS | June 10, 2020

Viral video gives DC Guard member platform for change

By Capt. Melissa Heintz District of Columbia Air National Guard

WASHINGTON – A video of a member of the District of Columbia National Guard chanting, “I’m black and I’m proud,” while supporting the civil unrest mission in Washington has spread rapidly online and been viewed by millions of people.

Spc. Khaled Abdelghany is a member of the 273rd Military Police Company. In his civilian job, he manages valet service at a hotel across the street from the White House. On May 30, he found himself in the same neighborhood, in a different uniform and a different role.

He was one of the Soldiers who stood guard in front of the White House during protests in response to the death of George Floyd.

Armed with only a shield and protective gear, and with orders to hold the line, he stood face-to-face with his community members during a painful moment in our nation’s history.

Abdelghany interacted with the protesters and let them know the Guard was there to keep them safe so they could peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.

“As a black African American member of the community, and also as a black African American member of the military, D.C. Guard, it has been like hard, heavy, especially with what’s been going on with George Floyd’s death on camera,” said Abdelghany. “It’s been hard for all of us. It’s not just me; there’s a lot of other of my peers that feel heavy, feel hurt, feel aching pain and they also want change. It’s just really hard to find a way to kind of deal with both given the fact that you’ve signed a contract with the military.”

In times of conflict, he reminds himself to “follow what you believe in, follow your heart, and just try to do the right thing as much as possible.”

During one of his shifts, he was captured on video chanting along with protesters, “I’m black and I’m proud,” which was soon shared online and received more than 15 million views on Twitter.

“I felt that my heart was speaking out emotionally and it really just happened that way,” said Abdelghany. “It was in the moment, and I saw truth in everybody that was standing out there. And I understood exactly what they were going through.”

Abdelghany joined the D.C. National Guard in 2015 to serve his community, take advantage of the education benefits and further his career. As a member of the Military Police, he is trained to help in national emergencies in D.C. or overseas.

“It matters more for me being in the D.C. district as a Guardsman, obviously because I’m a part of the community,” said Abdelghany. “I know the community, I went to school with a lot of people that live in this community. I’m heavy in the gym, so I play basketball with a lot of people that are in this community still, and it just matters, it’s home.”

The D.C. National Guard has been protecting and defending the nation’s capital since 1802. Residents see Guard members in uniform during large events like the Fourth of July or presidential inaugurations, helping direct traffic, providing medical assistance and crowd control.

Before working on the civil unrest mission, Abdelghany had been activated to support the District’s COVID-19 response.

“We support our people. I support my people. I want them to know that. All our missions, especially now since COVID-19 has been happening,” he said. “We were out there previously, before this protest mission started. We were out there helping at testing sites, at supply sites. We were helping out, passing out boxes of hand sanitizers, gloves, masks. It’s all been for help and to keep the city safe.”

During the civil unrest mission, Abdelghany had many interactions with protesters, all of them positive. Since the video went viral, he has connected online with people from D.C., Germany, Dubai, Australia and Egypt.

One protester who gave Abdelghany a bottle of water later found him on Facebook, where they discussed ways they can come together to help the black community in D.C.

They connected over their love of basketball and are planning a community event, once COVID-19 regulations allow them to safely do so, that includes a basketball game, black vendors and getting black youth groups involved.

With his newfound platform, he wants to use his voice for positive change. “It’s overwhelming, but we have to find strength. We have to find unity together to bring change. Immediate change,” said Abdelgheny.

“I’m on this uniform side to make a change inside as well. As well as do everything I can for my community. And I want all of us to do our part and just to support and go out and do the right thing,” he said. “I just want you all to just make sure to remember that and just move forward and start your day with peace and love.”