Published: July 20, 2021
The past year has opened the eyes of many Americans across the nation and inspired important, while sometimes difficult, conversations about the issues of systemic racism that have long corroded our republic and its values. Our military community is certainly familiar with these issues. In fact, according to Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, 26% of active-duty service members of color reported experiencing racial discrimination in their unit or command. Communities of color—especially African Americans—are chronically under-represented throughout the veteran and military family support space.
We know, however, that belonging forms the foundation for mental well-being for military families. According to Blue Star Families’ 2020 Resilience Under Stress Study (RUSS), conducted May – June 2020, military families who feel a sense of belonging to the local community are less stressed, have more social support, and have less social isolation. If families feel like they are part of the community, they feel happier and more fulfilled. And when military families are happy at home, mission readiness improves.
Jamilah, a Naval Captain spouse and mom of three, has seen the struggles military families of color, specifically Black families, face. “We don’t always feel seen or heard in the military community,” Jamilah said. “When we [black women] seek support in Facebook Groups geared toward helping ALL military spouses, we don’t get a lot of feedback. Military spouses are constantly reaching out for advice — which housing is best, where to go shopping, which doctors to see — but these questions seem to be overlooked depending on WHO is asking the question.”
While Jamilah has specifically mentioned social media, the inequities that exist are much larger than that. According to Blue Star Families’ RUSS, military families of color may be less likely to hear about support and resources. The leadership teams and organizations who aim to serve them— Military Service Organizations and Veteran Service Organizations—are disproportionately White.
“People share information among their peers—within their social groups,” Jamilah shared. “If we’re not in “your circle,” it’s difficult to be aware of the opportunities.” Jamilah saw this happening so often that she decided to do something about it. She created the “Black Military Wives” website and Facebook Group to bring families together. “I wanted to actually get ANSWERS to my questions—especially culturally related questions,” Jamilah said. “I desired to connect with women who shared similar challenges as ‘Black Military Wives’ and could therefore, possibly be a part of my support system while I was away from my loved ones. I craved having a sense of family, and that’s what we are!”
That family is now 9,000 members strong and counting; all searching for support and connection. While most topics and questions are light-hearted—like the best barber shop in town—these spouses also talk about real, unique concerns. For Jamilah, that includes opening up about worries about the lack of diversity for her children in the communities they’ve moved to, as well as her husband’s safety. She shared, “For anyone married to a Black person, there may possibly be a false sense of security with believing that when our spouses wear military uniforms, they are given a little more respect—that they might be safe from racial profiling. However, when the uniforms come off, so does the ‘armor.’ What’s worrisome to me is not so much of how the military treats Black families, but how those same people would treat them [service members] when they look like civilians—Black civilians.”
For those reasons, Jamilah has big goals for her “Black Military Wives” support network. She believes no one should travel through the journey of being a military spouse without a loving tribe. She’s doing her part to help all military families thrive. Over the next hour, we’ll talk about the change needed within the larger military community and those who have stepped forward to help.
The Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative and DEPLOY Fellows Program were created after hearing from and listening to military families like yours. We’re listening to families like Jamilah’s and we want to hear from you, too. With your input, we’re taking action to create meaningful programs like the DEPLOY Fellow Program. And we don’t want to stop there! Take the survey to share your diverse experience as a military family of color. Tell us what challenges your family continues to face and opportunities you are looking for to enrich life as a military family. Together we can impact change.