Published: August 11, 2023
Last month, untold stories played the starring role in Blue Star Families’ Freedom to Serve: Integrating the Armed Services event to honor the 75th anniversary of racial desegregation in the military. The event was hosted in partnership with Howard University and The Chamberlain Project and gathered a unique symposium featuring distinguished guests and history makers.
“I love stories,” said Academy Award winner and Air Force Veteran Morgan Freeman, as he addressed the audience of over 150 attendees at Howard University in his keynote remarks. “And there are some powerful stories here of how ‘we the people’ of this country form ‘a more perfect Union.’”
Working in Tandem
Dozens of federal and state department representatives, as well as military and Veteran service organizations, were present to share in the evolution of advocacy and work toward a diverse Force. Guest speakers also took the opportunity to shed light on the tenacity exemplified by our service members over the course of years of reform. “Even when our country did not assure their rights, they smashed ceilings,” said Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough, who spoke of the immense contribution of diverse service members in his speech. “It is a hope that we can all continue your trailblazing work.”
The symposium illuminated the expertise, data, and action of Blue Star Families’ Campaign for Inclusion, Howard University’s historic military service and civil rights activism, and The Chamberlain Project’s contemporary work to connect our military and civilian populations with higher education. Blue Star Families’ Campaign for Inclusion advocates for the unique needs of diverse military and Veteran families to build military readiness and retention, making the Freedom to Serve symposium the perfect event to drive home that mission.
“This celebration brings together an incredible group of people, civic leaders, distinguished historians, academics, men and women whose lives serve as an inspirational example of resilient determination,” said Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy. Addressing these leaders directly, he said, “Your collective experience and expertise in civil rights, military diversity and the history of integration of the armed forces cannot be surpassed.”
Shows of Support
While many key leaders could not attend the event in person, they found other ways to convey their support. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s video remarks provided a window into how the current administration continues to build on the foundational work started 75 years ago. Blue Star Families also received a letter of support from Vice President, and Howard University alumna, Kamala Harris, writing, “We stand on the shoulders of the incredible leaders and service members who came before us, who understood that true patriotism means fighting for a Nation that will be better for each generation to come.”
The past, present, and future of Executive Order 9981, which integrated the U.S. Armed Forces, was the focus of two key panels where service members across generations shared experiences and reflections. The first panel, Hidden History: The Interlaced Stories of Military Integration & Civil Rights, was led by Dr. Kay Wright Lewis, Howard University Interim History Department Chair, sharing lesser-known stories embedded in our military history. The final panel, Free to Serve: Continuing the Mission, was hosted by Blue Star Families’ very own Campaign for Inclusion Director Carlandra “CT” Moss in which panelists across generations discussed how the military’s history would impact its future.
Continuing a Legacy
As the symposium drew to a close, Blue Star Families’ CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet’s reflections served as a script for continuing to increase diversity and inclusion within the military, “Recognizing, honoring, and ensuring belonging for all of those who serve and all of their diversity is key to supporting service.”
Blue Star Families will continue its efforts to expand understanding of diverse military families, bolster recruitment and retention efforts of the armed services, and bridge divides that still exist. Visit the Campaign for Inclusion to learn more about some of these efforts or watch the replay of the 75th Anniversary event at Howard University.