article and photo by Matthew O. Stephens
August 5, 2022 brought the first celebration of Unity and Diversity to Fairchild Air Force Base in over 20 years, and the turnout was better than expected according to event organizer Salor Johnson.
Dozens of volunteers helped serve food representing the seven continents to hundreds of hungry visitors, and kids could enjoy many field games and inflatables. Music and dance performances kept the crowd entertained, and kept people moving to the cultural beats of various nations.
Members of the Spokane Tribe of Indians played a communal drum and chanted along to the rhythmic drumming. The Fairchild Spirit Crew was also on hand to show off their athleticism and keep the crowd full of energy. A regional dance team recreated dances that are performed in other countries.
Johnson, Equal Opportunity Practitioner for the Wing Staff Agency, organized the event and explained the motivation behind putting Unity Day together.
“It’s very important to have these events in the region we live in to showcase the diversity and culture,” Johnson said. “I wanted to show the minorities in the area that even though it may not seem like it sometimes, there is a lot of diversity here.”
Master Sergeant Trae Clark welcomed guests of all ages to dance and sing to the music as the show went along. Clark also expressed his gratitude in being able to participate in this event
“We are so thankful that our leadership supports this,” Clark said. “Being in the military events like this give us all the chance to meet with people from all over because we have to work with people from different places so we can be the world’s greatest Air Force.”
The event displayed 24 booths from different regional groups promoting unity according to Johnson, and this was in large part to help educate people about some of the cultural outlets available.
“Today we have 24 booths that all represent something within the realm of diversity,” Johnson said. “We have a disability booth to help showcase disability awareness, we have a booth for military children that help educate about the struggles of being a military child, and we have our special observance booths as well such as the African American heritage booth, Hispanic Heritage booth and more.”
According to Liz Guinn it is important to educate other and learn about others at the same event, and she was running the Hispanic heritage booth for Unity Day.
“The importance in these events lies in the fact that celebrations like this make it easy and accessible for people to not only learn about, but begin to understand other cultures and lifestyles,” Guinn said. “So we have our booth set up with different decorations to highlight historic and notable Hispanic figures and the traditions that have helped shape Hispanic culture in general.”
Some people were providing information about local non-profits as well such as Erica Cleveland, Outreach Coordinator for The Way to Justice.
According to Cleveland the group is run by two women of color and focuses in criminal law and works to help people regain certain rights that may have been lost. She explained some examples are regaining a drivers license, or regaining gun or voting rights if applicable.
“Basically, we work in criminal law,” Cleveland said. “We help people get their drivers license back, restoration of rights, expungements, gun rights, getting voters rights back.”
“We also do some housing assistance on the side,” she added. “But that is primarily what we do.”
According to Cleveland who has lived in the area for 12 years, these events are important to the growth of the West Plains because diversity is not highlighted much out here as she sees it, but events like the Unity Day celebration can help encourage future celebrations.
Other vendors were on site to promote their art such as Antonio Romero owner and artist at Romero Artwork. Much of the art was culturally themed, including Romero’s works which highlighted a variety of culturally influential people through history.
“I am Mexican American, and both my wife and I love not only studying culture but educating people about ours as well,” Romero said. “It is so important for people to understand other cultures, but it is equally important for people to get to know about their own cultures. We have so many people of Hispanic heritage that have never been to Mexico and only know their cultur through growing up in America.”
“There are some significant differences in how culture is presented from country to country,” Romero added.
According to Johnson this event is the first of its kind for Fairchild in over 20 years, but he has hopes to make this an annual event for the community to take part in.
“Fairchild has not had a Unity Day or celebration of diversity of this kind in over two decades,” said Johnson. “I wanted to do this one because I’m on base now and I’ve organized a cultural event before, and now our wing leadership wants to make this an annual event.”
“This is the first one we put together at Fairchild but we certainly have plans for future events,” Johnson concluded.