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Rising through the Ranks
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....."The Navy’s performance evaluation system, which plays a significant role in a Sailor’s promotion and retention in the service, is designed to rate a Sailor’s performance in specific categories -- professional knowledge, quality of work, command or organizational climate/equal employment opportunity, military bearing, personal job accomplishment and initiative. Sailors must uphold and honor the Navy’s core values, their integrity being an important consideration in the evaluation process. During the mid-year performance review cycle, as the administrative assistant for the Communications Department, I was tasked with making administrative corrections to forty or more personnel evaluations. When I came across my friend’s eval, the first line read, “CTO3 XXXX needs to develop a better command of the English language. Her use of the English language is construed as being disrespectful and abrasive.”
As I continued to read down the page, chills went up my spine. Was I back in the Old South, where young African-Americans were routinely reminded by their elders (and occasionally by Caucasians) to “know their place?” The experience was a sad reminder of when I was a child growing up in Buford. To give us insight into what it had been like to grow up during the Southern “Apartheid,” the elders would tell stories about the town of Cumming, in neighboring Forsyth County. Cumming was well known for its deep-rooted history of violent racial hatred towards Native Americans and African-Americans -- dating as far back as the mid-1800s, during Georgia’s Gold Rush. Since that time, black families forbade their children to travel through the small town, especially at night. We were warned about a bronze sign posted along a wooded stretch of highway at the borderline of Forsyth and Gwinnett County; it read, “Nigger don’t let the sun set on you.”
In 1987, racial tension had resurfaced in Cumming when local Atlanta civil rights leaders and demonstrators led a march through Cumming’s downtown district, in celebration of Dr. King’s federal holiday. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) gathered in full dress to protest against the march. The event stirred enough national media attention that a second march was later held, this time with more than 20,000 demonstrators. Amongst the marchers were Mrs. Coretta Scott King and other high profile civil rights leaders from Atlanta. It was even televised on the Oprah Winfrey show.
As I sat at my desk, lost in thought, the evaluation still in my hand, I started to question my own level of commitment to the Civil Rights Movement, especially while serving in an integrated Navy. I was a prominent member of the Black Heritage Committee, which was charged with promoting racial diversity and awareness of significant achievements of African-Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces, but was that enough? What more could I do to follow in the footsteps of African-American military pioneers like the first black commissioned WAVES, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Golden Thirteen (the first 12 African-American male commissioned Navy officers and one Warrant officer)?
Race issues aside, I also asked myself what more could I do to support the advancement of women in the military. I knew that there was both race and gender discrimination involved in my friend’s performance review – but how could I help her to fight it? I’d assumed that the Navy’s 1991, Tailhook “sex” scandal would provoke strides towards gender and racial equality, but who was I kidding? I knew I couldn’t ignore what I had just read in my friend’s eval, I would have to take action".......