FORT SILL, Okla. – Dancing, a dramatic interpretation, music and a guest speaker informed and entertained almost 600 people at the Fort Sill Black History Month luncheon Feb. 11 at the Patriot Club.
The annual event honored the history and contributions of black Americans and this year’s theme was “The History of Black Economic Empowerment.” The luncheon was hosted by the 434th Field Artillery Brigade on behalf of the installation Equal Opportunity Office.
The program included dance routines by the Lawton High School Stomp Team; a dialogue and singing from a slave’s perspective by Cathie Garner, of the Fires Center of Excellence protocol office; a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by retired Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Matheney of the Christian Center; and posting of the colors by a historical group – the Army 9th and 10th Cavalry “Buffalo Soldiers” Association.
Keynote speaker Billy Taylor, plant manager of Goodyear-Lawton, spoke about investing in yourself, motivation, discipline and dreaming big.
“Investing in you is kind of like banking,” Taylor said. “If you don’t deposit anything in, it’s tough to get anything out.”
Holding two identical balloons close to his clenched fist, Taylor released them. One fell to the ground while the other rose to the ceiling.
“One of those balloons is like some people full of nothingness, no hope, no passion, no pride, but it looks good on the outside,” Taylor said. “The other is full of a wealth of ambition, pride and possesses a can-do attitude and is ready to rise above any barrier.
“The difference is about what I invested on the inside,” said Taylor, to a round of applause.
Taylor said that even as plant manager, his only title is ‘Billy.’
“I don’t get caught up in the glory, but I sure do remember the story,” Taylor said, as he recalled his boyhood in inner city Fort Worth.
Taylor marveled at his great aunt who had a third-grade education and made $35 a day, but who was able to invest so much in him.
She would tell him that she was not the victim, but that she was the opportunity, said Taylor, a graduate of Prairie View (Texas) A&M University.
“That was powerful. She gave me all the things that a well-to-do child has today,” Taylor said.
He said that he had a ‘Wii’ and a ‘PlayStation.’
When the electricity recently went out in Lawton, Taylor recalled how as a child how ‘we’ all went outside to the ‘play station,’ which drew laughter from the packed ballroom.
“We learned about real life, adversity and challenges, not from a simulator,” he said.
Taylor also talked about achievement.
When you wake up in the morning who is the first person you speak to’, Taylor asked the audience.
“It is you and that is the most important conversation you will have every single day,” he said.
Don’t look in the mirror and tear yourself down and then wait for people to validate you, Taylor said.
“When you wake up in the morning you’ve got to be positive,” Taylor said and gave an example. “You know, I may not be the man that Rachel (his wife) married, but I’m almost twice the man that I used to be,” said Taylor, showing off his waistline. “And, I’m OK with that.”
With that, Taylor challenged the audience: “What would you do if you were not afraid'”
Taylor told the story when he was coach of the “Fighting Pretzels” a suburban high school girl’s track team, who went to a state meet in Chicago.
Watching the other girls team practice the 4 X 100-meter relay, the ‘Pretzels didn’t think they had a chance, Taylor said.
“Coach, them black girls too fast. We can’t run with them,” the runners said to Taylor.
“I told them you cannot let this,” said Taylor, rubbing the color on top of his hand, “determine what’s in here,” he said patting his heart.
Taylor sent them to their rooms and told them to dig down deep. The girls asked for a copy of the rule book.
Before the start of their race the girls asked Taylor if they could change the order of runners, with Katy, who was normally the anchor, instead run the first leg, and the second fastest runner in the second leg and so on. Taylor knew something was up, but he acquiesced.
After the starting gun sounded the Fighting Pretzels took a lead, but it was slowly lost with each subsequent leg.
All the runners were about dead even at the final hand-off when all of a sudden the ‘Pretzel runner yelled “Stop!” during the exchanges. All the sprinters froze except her. By the time they realized what had happened she had a 15-meter lead and the ‘Pretzels won the race.
Taylor said that he learned something that day.
“The dream and the passion over-rode the facts,” he said.
During the ceremony, Sgt. Jonathan Nelson, human resources sergeant at the 95th Adjutant General reception battalion, was recognized as the winner of the 434th FA Brigade’s Black History Month poetry contest.
His poem, “I am …,” recognized the accomplishments of nine notable black Americans ranging from Crispus Attucks of the Revolutionary War to President Obama.
Closing the program, FCoE and Fort Sill Commander Maj. Gen. David Halverson remarked that Black History Month is about reflection.
“This reflection of seeing the past of what the struggles were, seeing the future of how well our kids will perform and seeing the now what we can do now, shows us why reflection of black history is so important to us all,” he said.