It is impossible to know how many of the Baltimore protesters fall into the general statistics for the black community, where less than 30 percent of children grow up in two-parent households. Many believe this breakdown in the black family has contributed to a breakdown in the community as a whole. We shall save the hows and whys for another article.
But in this particular instance, we wish to share the message and legacy of a one man who managed to succeed and excel in spite of his lot in life and whatever prejudices others might see in the color his skin — who did not allow himself to be trapped in despair and anger.
A.J. Stewart was raised by a single mother in Baltimore. He was born before passage of the Civil Rights Act on March 6, 1959 in rural Dinwiddie County, Virginia, but said his mother checked his homework each night, kept books in the house and attended parent-teacher meetings.
Growing up with a working mother and three sisters, he found male role models through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
His life changed at age 16 when an Air Force Academy recruiting team visited his high school. He knew from that day forward, he wanted to serve his country as an Airman.
Stewart began his military career as an Air Force Academy cadet, graduating in 1981 and going on to become a mobility pilot, flying the KC-135 Stratotanker and the C-17 Globemaster, among others. He logged more than 3,000 flying hours.
Later, Stewart commanded an air refueling squadron, an operations group and a flying training wing. He flew air refueling missions in support of the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada in 1983 and deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Saudi Arabia during the Iran and Iraq war in 1985. He also deployed as Combined Air Operations Center director of Mobility Forces in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In June 2008, Stewart came to JBSA-Randolph and took command of Air Force Recruiting Service, Air Education and Training Command, where he was responsible for more than 2,600 Airmen and civilians in more than 1,200 recruiting offices across the United States and abroad.
He had achieved the rank of Major General.
General Stewart embodied everything that is great and exceptional about our nation. He came from extremely humble beginnings, with only the “affirmative action” of his mother and his family to inspire him.
He once said of the Air Force, “If you want to be a part of something special, if you want to go as far as you can possibly go in an unconstrained environment, there’s nothing else like it.”
But he might as well have been speaking of our nation – or at least the nation our Founders intended.
Sadly, General Stewart succumbed to brain cancer in March of last year. He was only 55.
But his message of excellence and perseverance shall live on. His passion for military service, integrity and excellence was reflected in his daily actions. He often remarked that his steadfast commitment to serve was ignited every time he looked at the American flag.
At what moment did our country change? At what moment did young men, raised by single mothers no longer feel that steadfast commitment to excellence?
If only those protestors in Baltimore could feel the same…
But for that matter, if only our president could feel the same…
(Much of this article comes from this obituary).