Washington Salute celebrated Salute to Service Month and the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II on Oct. 29 with a virtual Connecting Generations Discussion that featured 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman Brigade General Charles McGee, Washington Football Team President Jason Wright and Super Bowl champion and Senior Vice President of Player Development Doug Williams.
The hour-long discussion was hosted by Washington personality GeNienne Samuels, who kicked things off by explaining what connected the three panelists. Yes, the event was set up to celebrate Salute to Service Month and the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II. Yes, Doug Williams' father served in World War II and Jason Wright's grandfather-in-law served as a strike navigator in the Korean and Vietnamese wars. And yes, they were both in the presence of one of the greatest American heroes in history (both in war and in the civil rights movement).
However, Samuels made sure to acknowledge that Gen. McGee was not the only "trailblazer" for people of color on the panel. All three men share one gleaming trait: they have opened doors for people of color with their professional accomplishments, leaving legacies that will extend much longer than they could ever imagine.
"We're here to celebrate three men representing different generations, different experiences, bravery of different breeds in a year that has consisted of milestones in the fight for racial equality, addressing adversity, and progression for African Americans," Samuels said. "So, today we're happy to talk about our connections, our adversities, and continued progress."
Jason Wright -- the NFL's first African American team president – was honored and privileged to be on a panel with men who have paved the way for him as an executive leader. It was difficult for Wright to talk about the adversity men faced to give him the opportunities he has today.
Doug Williams -- the first African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl with Washington in 1992 – was excited to participate being the son of a World War II veteran. Williams' adversities extend back to growing up in southern Louisiana -- about 35 miles from the birth location of the KKK -- where he regularly saw burning crosses on each end of his all-black neighborhood. He emphasized how grateful he was to have seen progress with the organization and NFL, as well as public perspective. Bobby Mitchell became the first African American to play for the franchise in 1962, and about 25 years later, Williams was preparing for Super Bowl XXII with Mitchell, then a team executive. Super Bowl coverage questioned if Washington had the best team in the NFL because its quarterback was black, but now the league celebrates social justice. It even kicked off the 2020 season with a battle between the two highest-paid black quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
Brigade General Charles McGee -- one of the last living members of the Tuskegee Airmen -- understood the importance of talking about the mistreatment of him and his fellow Tuskegee aviators, but his 12-minute opening remarks detailed a career and life full of hope, perseverance, and meaning. With no sincere anger or contempt about the treatment he experienced, Gen. McGee was more interested in discussing the importance of the golden rule -- teaching the youth and the next generation about hope and civility -- and his lifelong mantra, "the four P's": perceive, prepare, perform, and persevere. With a life dedicated to teaching the youth, Gen. McGee was proud he and fellow airmen were able to disprove the military study suggesting African Americans were not capable of operating airfare and change the perception about the capabilities of black people.
"Perceive: Understand yourself, know what you want, do what you love, and follow your dreams. Prepare: Get a good education. Far too often our education system is failing our youth, so it's all of our responsibility to teach, set examples, boost those that need it. Perform: No matter what you decide to do, be the best at whatever you decide to pursue. Freedom comes in the form of being the best version of who you'd like to be. Persevere: Don't ever let anyone tell you you can't do something. Those are four good starting points in teaching and mentoring our youth."
Question & Answer Session
Wright and Williams took notes every time Gen. McGee spoke. Wright was amazed by Gen. McGee's steady and consistent sense of purpose and mission despite how others treated him, so he asked where it came from. That's when Gen. McGee discussed losing his mother as an infant and how despite not having motherly guidance, he understood that life is a blessing and that those blessings come in so many different forms. It all comes down to how you react to the blessings that come your way.
Fostering Change Today
When the group was asked about what people can do to continue fostering change around the country and in their communities. Williams, who is responsible for helping develop young players, honed in on sharing his experiences, telling his own stories and standing tall in the face of adversity.
Wright, taking everything he had learned from the discussion, identified two characteristics in Gen. McGee and Williams that made them impactful. They both were committed to being the best at what they loved to do, and their hard work and commitment put them in position to open doors for the people behind them. Then they took the opportunity to mentor younger generations coming up and talking about their experiences. "Seemingly, it's the recipe for impact, change, and perspective," Wright said.
As the event came to a close, the group was asked to provide 1-2-sentence answers about how our youth can stand tall and continue to progress today. Williams lives by the mantra he's always followed: be resilient. It's easy to throw in the towel, but possibilities will be endless if our country's youth refrain from quitting. Wright urged people to understand that the "deep love for our country and our military and the desire to see our nation evolve into a greater state of justice are not at odds with one another. They're all a part of the same vision for the American idea." Gen. McGee emphasized the importance of being prepared and understanding that the steps it takes to get to where you want will never be easy, but they're accessible if we help our youth reach them.
Washington Salute would like to extend a warm thank you to Friends of the World War II Memorial for allowing us to sit down and talk with Gen. McGee. It was a pleasure, and we hope to host him at a game very soon!