By Alexis Taylor,
AFRO Managing Editor
Allen Taylor Jr. always knew he belonged in the ranks of the U.S. military.
His commitment to serve was made long before he had to worry about benefits or had a family to provide for– after all, he was only six when he wrote to a U.S. Navy recruitment office, inquiring on how to join up.
While they responded by telling him to come back in 12 years, in jest, they couldn’t have imagined the career that lay ahead for the young Black boy from Chesapeake, Va.
After a brief stint playing football at Chowan College, ultimately, it was the U.S. Army that would forever change his life and those attached to it.
My father joined the military in 1985 and became a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps (surprise, surprise- a communications job). Around the time I was born, he found his true calling: military policing. After serving in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Desert Storm, he was well on his way to a successful military career. But like those who came before him, he learned that sometimes a strong work ethic and sound morals and values weren’t enough.
It was time spent in the racist underbelly of the American south that gave my father’s career new meaning. While serving in Augusta and Savannah, Ga. in 1992, my father came face to face with individuals still living in the shadow of Jim Crow. In turn, he found fuel to push himself to greatness– a common theme for Black veterans.
Looking through the AFRO archives you will come across the most incredible stories of resilience, bravery and perseverance. Within the AFRO archives are the stories of men and women, committed to serve a country hellbent on treating them like second class citizens. Even as far back as the American Civil War, Black Americans refused to be held back by the bondages of poverty, bigotry and racism. Time and time again Black people fought on every front- abroad and at home- for freedom.
Black men fought to do more than just clean latrines and cook food, while Black women fought to be recognized as full members of the military. As a result, Black service members like my father were able to reach their full potential.
After leaving Georgia, my father took a new path. By the year 2003, he had become an equal opportunity advisor, going from camp to camp during Operation Iraqi Freedom to investigate discrimination and harassment of any and every form– whether it be sexual harassment or racial discrimination. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2005 to 2006 and fought in Afghanistan in 2010.
Installation Management Command (IMCOM) Provost Marshal Protection Sgt. Maj. Allen Taylor Jr. retired from the U.S. Army after 30 years and six months on Jan. 1, 2016. At the end of his military career, he was overseeing the operation of all emergency services on U.S Army bases worldwide, to include 75 police stations and 75 fire stations. He also afforded his children– all three of us– an opportunity to call places like Germany, Texas and South Carolina “home.” While I didn’t join the military, watching my father go from drill sergeant and equal opportunity advisor to sergeant major undoubtedly colored my time in the army of the Black Press. Today, like so many veterans, he is a teacher. He spends his days instructing middle schoolers and his evenings coaching and mentoring the next generation.
When I think of my father, I think of the arch of progress for Black service members. I think of the grit it takes to put your life on the line time and time again- knowing that some of the people you’re fighting for don’t even believe you’re worthy of the uniform. In 2023 it is so clear how far we’ve come, but we are eyeing the distance to go.
Today’s veterans are fighting for increased access to medical and mental healthcare, while also rooting out those who still carry biased and outright racist ideologies– sometimes pushed by our own elected officials. Black veterans of today, like those of yesteryear, are proving more and more each day that they are able to withstand the challenges thrown at them and rise above to become top-tier educators, business owners and leaders of the community.
We owe our all to the veterans of yesterday and today. This week, we honor those who dedicated their lives to protecting the country, its people and their freedoms. We say thank you to the AFRO war correspondents who recorded their stories in “This is Our War,” and explore the issues facing the veterans of today. As we celebrate another Veterans Day, take time to thank the veterans in your life– in the Black community, you don’t have to look very far.