February 26, 2011 –
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — As service members joined together to celebrate Black History Month, they were greeted by an individual appearing to be former boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali at the Black History Month celebration at the East Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility Feb. 26 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
As if he was walking toward the ring to box, he wore red boxing gloves and black trunks with red stripes down the side, bouncing on his tip toes, swinging his gloves in an upper cutting motion, chanting, “ I’m the greatest and I’m so pretty. I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”
Even though it wasn’t really Ali, service members listened to every word and laughed, as if Ali had said it in the late 60’s (in his prime).
Instead, however, it was Staff Sgt. Jamian Slade, a Newport News, Va., native and a personnel non-commissioned officer, with the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), simply casting as Ali in a part of the celebration called, “Who am I.”
“Who am I,” was a part of the celebration set to educate and test service members’ knowledge by matching eight impersonations of icons in black history with the icon being impersonated.
Along with Slade imitating Ali, seven other performers personified historical icons including: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the first African American physician to perform the first successful open heart surgery operation; judge Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman to serve as a federal judge; and Althea Gibson, the 1950s female tennis player who broke color barriers in national and international tennis competitions; and entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker, the first female African American millionaire in America. Walker invented the Walker System, a successful line of hair products specifically for African American women.
Other impersonations included pilot Eugene Bullard, an American volunteer with the French Army and the first and only black military pilot in World War I; President Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States and the first African American elected to that position; Rosa Parks, the civil rights activists known for her refusal to surrender her seat to a white bus passenger in Alabama in 1955.
Many service members said it’s important to celebrate Black History Month or any culture’s history together because it helps educate and inform one another of other cultures and beliefs.
“I think it’s an awesome opportunity to bring everybody together to educate and inform,” said Lt. Col. Lucila Ibarra, the equal opportunity advisor and deployed sexual assault response coordinator with the 103rd ESC, and a Waukegan, Ill., native. “Also, everyone is on the same level. No one is higher or better. We are on the same level.”
In 1955, the thought of blacks and whites sitting next to each other enjoying each other’s company was unperceivable. Many laws in the South prevented such a friendship, but many say now, due to history and the Civil Rights Movement, Americans welcome the idea of a more diverse future.
“We must embrace diversity rather than merely tolerating it,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Corson, commander of the 103rd ESC, and a Maryville, Mo., native. “I could argue that ultimately the Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King [Jr.], may have changed the nature of our country, and ultimately may have set the conditions that will save the future of our nation.”
Fifty-seven years later, the embracement of diversity in America was displayed at the celebration as a diverse group of service members joined together to celebrate and learn more about black history.
“I think it’s wonderful that we had such a big turn out,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Limari Williams, an information systems division chief with the 103rd ESC, and an Atlanta native. “We had to pull out more chairs, and that’s a wonderful thing. I think as we continue to integrate the races and merge the nationalities, down the line, we won’t call Americans by whatever their nationality is.”
The underlying theme of this Black History Month event is that America should not only learn about black history but about all American’s ethnic background.
“Italian Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, we are all really just Americans,” said Williams. “We pledge allegiance to the same flag, and I am an American first.”
Rosa Parks was arrested for standing up against racial segregation by remaining seated at the front of a bus. Martin Luther King, Jr., devoted his life to leading the Civil Rights Movement toward equal opportunity. So many more black history icons fought like Muhammad Ali, and fought to help the state of diversity in America. Learning about their accomplishments is still helping to create a more multi-cultural future for all races.
“As an African American, I think that it is important that we understand our history,” said Williams. “I think if it had not been for the contributions of African Americans throughout the history of our nation, we would not be the nation we are today.”