Tech. Sgt. Kirby Addison, a special emphasis program manager for the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, received the 2021 Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Washington DC earlier this year.
Addison, a full-time radio frequency transmission technician and quality assurance NCO assigned to the 158th communications flight, said he stepped into the additional role of special emphasis program manager in the wake of racial and societal tension after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and was invited to D.C. in acknowledgement of the work and dedication he has since put into that role.
“Every year, the [Marine Barracks Washington] have what’s called parade season, so we were invited for the first parade for 2021. In this particular parade, the Marine commandant wanted to invite all the joint chiefs of staff for every branch of the military,” said Addison.
While in D.C., Addison had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Space Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, chief of space operations, U.S. Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard, and U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles Brown, Jr., chief of staff of the Air Force, among other distinguished visitors at this event.
“I had time to talk to General Brown, General Raymond, General Hokanson, and it was a pretty intimate setting,” said Addison. “I thanked General Brown for his candidness when he talked about the discrimination he faced rising in the ranks.”
Reflecting on his decision to first pick up the additional duty of special emphasis program manager, Addison said he was prompted by the recent uptick in civil unrest to begin sessions of open discussion at home in Vermont, with the goal of improving diversity, education and inclusion within the Vermont National Guard as a whole.
To reach that goal, Addison provides opportunities to his fellow Green Mountain Boys for open communication and growth.
“One of my roles as a member of the joint diversity council is to host observances for Department of Defense recognized people groups. One of them is the African American, or Black, people, which I fall under,” said Addison. “I host events, talk with leadership about improvements and changes that can be done in the State of Vermont, and have candid conversations with other people of color in the military.”
Addison has hosted several events in the last four years, including town halls, lean in sessions, and “soul food” lunches, complete with home-cooked meals and guest speakers to address topics pertaining to diversity and inclusion. These events are designed to continue non-judgmental dialogue about topics related to racial justice in a structured, safe environment.
“That’s one of my motivating factors. One of things I try to do is to bring awareness through education, action, awareness, empathy and conversation,” said Addison.
Committed to inclusion and open-minded perspective sharing, Addison emphasizes progress and support from all command levels and all person groups to see lasting change.
“It’s important, firstly, because when I came to Vermont I saw and experienced the lack of diversity, being the one and only Black male in my department at the time,” said Addison. “Personally, what motivates me are my two children who are going to grow up to have slightly the same color of my skin, and I believe in building better relationships with people who may not know about me or people of color in general.”
Addison continues to strive to create a level of understanding in his community, empowering others with education, events and engagement both at the wing and beyond the National Guard gates.
“I think there are a lot of people in Vermont who don’t have the knowledge or the experience of building relationships with people of color, and I’m just one of the people who decided to make it part of my mission,” said Addison.
The 2021 Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award is a nationwide award which annually recognizes a Department of Defense civilian or service member who promotes civil rights, public service and equal opportunity.
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