I Was One of the First Black Women to Attend the Virginia Military Institute. This Is What I Know About Patriotism
Jennifer Carroll Foy has served in the Virginia House of Representatives since 2018. In April 2020, she announced her decision to apply to be a governor. If elected, she will be the first black female governor in the United States.
In 1999 I took my first steps on the Virginia Military Institute campus. Weeks earlier, I packed my bedroom in Petersburg, Virginia. Cars drive through Petersburg to do business in Richmond, study in Charlottesville, or play on the shores of Virginia Beach. It's a town where little black girls like me weren't told they would mind at all. My grandmother, who raised me, had different plans than the naysayers - she thought I had a lot to give. After a Supreme Court case forced VMI to open its doors to women, I applied. When I saw my application drop into the mailbox, I was consumed by the thought that black girls shouldn't leave Petersburg. We shouldn't make it out of our circumstances and certainly not the chance to go to one of the best military universities in this country. But my grandmother taught me, "If you have it, you have to give it," and VMI was certainly an institution where I could sharpen my ability to serve others. Weeks later another envelope arrived by mail: I was accepted. When I was 17, I zipped my suitcase, loaded it into the trunk of our Cadillac, drove west on I-64, and moved into barracks at the Virginia Military Institute.
Jennifer Carroll Foy at the Virginia Military Institute in 1999.
Courtesy of Jennifer Carroll Foy
I will never forget my first year at VMI. The feeling of buttoning the men's uniform up to my neck, the rat line, and watching my hair fall to the floor, while my head was shaved completely bald in the tradition of the Cadets of the first year before me. Since today's protesters in my state are demanding the removal of the Confederate statues from Virginia, I can't help but remember the first year at VMI when the school delivered a greeting to General Confederate Stonewall Jackson every morning. But right next to Stonewall Jackson's memorial was an American flag that represented democracy, equality, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice to the country they loved. So every morning I raised my hand, put my fingers on my forehead and instead turned my eyes to the flag. I would welcome the principles of this nation and commit to serving again. A country founded in the spirit of freedom and justice for all.
The fear of the murder of George Floyd and countless other black men and women is something I deeply felt as an African American. It is something I deeply felt as a wife and mother of two little boys. And I deeply felt it as a VMI graduate who was trained to defend our country's core values and then acted as a judicial officer, public defender and member of the House of Representatives in the former capital of the Confederation. But the pain in my heart and in the hearts of thousands across the country protesting peacefully is so much more than the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey or Breonna Taylor. It's about the cooking of systemic racism, discrimination and oppression that has existed in this country for hundreds of years. And this pain is now bubbling across our streets.
Jennifer Carroll Foy with her classmates at VMI in 1999.
Courtesy of Jennifer Carroll Foy
Donald Trump's response to the legitimate pain of hundreds of years of racial inequality mocks his position and contradicts the definition of leadership that I was taught at the VMI, where service is always about itself - and certainly above a photo op. By threatening and updating a militarized response, he and other supporters of the campaign are sending a message that our country's protectors are against the American people - people who exercise their constitutional right to freedom of expression. The introduction of tanks and assault rifles, the act of knocking people down and using tear gas exacerbates the problem and detracts the military's duty from the constitution that it is trained to defend and towards a person who speaks out against racial injustices.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that protests are the language of people who are not heard. And so we have to ask ourselves why they feel that way. These feelings arise because many Virginians go to Richmond and still see separate and poorly funded schools. They open their mailboxes in Pulaski as frontline workers, who are told they are essential just to open a paycheck that says they are expendable. They go to communities like Petersburg and still see the lack of economic opportunities. You see during COVID-19 emergency rooms in Fairfax full of black and brown patients who have fallen victim to the virus due to inequalities in our health system and in food deserts in minority communities. They turn on the news and see black children being shot on our streets while playing in playgrounds.
A leader listens and updates with solutions, not horror strategies. My protest will be to pass laws based on eliminating inequality that put protesters at the fore. My protest is to push for a dedicated law enforcement team in the Commonwealth of Virginia. So when there is a murder of officials, there is an independent, thorough, and immediate investigation. My protest is to set up a commission to review all police policies, procedures, and practices across the Virginia Commonwealth, and to establish civilian police oversight bodies across Virginia. And my protest is also in the struggle to raise the minimum wage, to combat the under-schooling of black students, to reduce black maternal mortality and to reform our criminal justice system, all of which is essential to the struggle for a more inclusive America. People spoke - it's time we listen.
The delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy is running for the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Originally released on glamor
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