JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Brooke Army Medical Center celebrated Black History Month Feb. 20 with a cultural observance in the hospital’s Medical Mall at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. The theme for this year’s observance was “Black Migrations.”
“I don’t believe it’s about a month,” said BAMC Commanding General Brig. Gen. George Appenzeller in welcoming attendees for the ceremony said. “This is about our country and about who we are. The strength of our nation is in our diversity. All elements of national power are rooted in our people. Our diversity – diversity of heritage, culture, religion, thought – that is really what drives all of our nation’s innovations, our greatness.”
The general said the same is true about the military.
“I see it every day at BAMC and I see it all across JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. Our diversity brings us strength and when that is combined with our love of country, freedom and each other, that brings us power.
“You are all part of the one percent,” Appenzeller said to the military members in the audience. “That one percent that has written a blank check payable to the American people in the amount of everything. That is something special. It is no one group. It is no one religion. It is no one thought process. It is no one culture. It is the American people.”
Guest speaker, retired Army Lt. Col. Otis Mitchell, said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to share information and encourage people to feel good about our nation.
“Before you feel good, I have to remind you about some things that aren’t so good,” Mitchell said, reminding the audience that “2019 is exactly 400 years since African Americans were taken from their homeland and brought forcibly as slaves to what would become the United States of America.
“How do you sum up 400 years of slavery?” he asked, noting that people of many different ethnic backgrounds have faced discrimination throughout history.
“This is still, has been and always will be, the greatest country the world has ever seen or has ever known,” he said. “I believe the commanding general has it right, diversity is our key.”
Mitchell, a reverend, spoke about growing up in Alabama in the 1960s. He said he remembered there were two sections of town, the black section and the white section.
“We knew growing up there were certain places you didn’t go,” he said. “Certain things you didn’t do.”
As a child, Mitchell attended all-white schools. He said it wasn’t until he went to college that he realized there were gaps in history that were not taught in the schools he had attended.
“Those gaps included not mentioning what African Americans had done to help build our great country,” he said.
Mitchell went on to highlight several black Americans who made significant contributions to our history, including Thomas L. Jennings, the first black man to receive a patent for what is now known as the dry-cleaning process; and Dr. Charles Drew who invented the process of saving and preserving blood products during World War II, as well as several other business entrepreneurs.
The reverend closed his remarks by reciting part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech, emulating King’s voice.
Students from Robert G. Cole Middle School also participated in the observance, reading papers about what Black History Month means for them.
BAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Oates concluded the ceremony by talking about Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson is known as the “Father of Black History.”
Oates quoted Woodson, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
“The African American race is rich in history,” Oates said. “We are here today knowing from whence we came is not where we are traveling. We are traveling to higher heights. We are traveling through social injustices, we are traveling so we all may be viewed as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”