KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Black History Month is a time to reflect and honor those who have come before us, but also those who are making an impact and marking the stamp in life.
The Air Force has always been a melting pot of diversity. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and have different stories. Like every Airman, Lt. Col. Daphne Jackson has a story.
Growing up in South Louisiana, Daphne Jackson was the daughter of the president of the school board and chief of police. With well-known successful parents, it wasn’t a surprise that she was caught in the spotlight – all eyes on her.
“Aside from my parents being public figures in our town, our community was also very divisive,” said Daphne. “We were a melting pot of a town and I found myself in another dilemma. I was too white for the black people and too black for the white people.”
Jackson found herself caught in the middle of unfair assumptions. Instead of trying to fit in, she turned to her academics and athletics and succeeded immensely. As the captain of the cheerleading team, running track and becoming salutatorian of her class, she kept the “LaSalle” mindset her father instilled in her.
As a collegiate student, Daphne developed a passion for diversity, inclusion and minority recruitment.
“One of my mentors was a fellow student two years ahead of me,” said Jackson. “Her name was Tia Gibson, and she was president of the Black Student Union at LSU, which was the second or third largest student organization on campus. She kind of took me under her wing and brought me into the planning and discussions. It was eye opening and brought me back to what I feel was where I was understood, appreciated, and valued.”
Jackson expressed how the Black Student Union became her passion and gave her a greater purpose. Finding a safe place where people can be heard and feel like their voices matter is very important, and Daphne found just that – working at the Office of Multicultural Affairs in the Black Student Union.
“Before I graduated, I became the president of the Black Student Union, again, furthering those endeavors that I had started while I was there,” reminisced Jackson. “And I was the actually the first African American female corps commander of the Corps of Cadets for the LSU Flying Tigers ROTC detachment.”
As one of two black women in ROTC at the time, Daphne knew she would stand out regardless, so she used it to her advantage.
“I received many accolades in ROTC and I couldn’t help but to think people took notice to me more,” said Daphne.
But that was not always the case for Jackson. She recalls the individual who solidified her time in ROTC and ultimately kept her on path to joining the Air Force. It was an upperclassman in RTOC.
“She was one of the upperclassmen who would come in and yell as a part of our flight leaders,” said Jackson. “I was so miserable because I would have to get up early and workout. They made me change a lot of my ways and I didn’t understand the ‘why’ behind it, as I do now. I was frustrated and ready to quit until [my superior] told me to finish the semester and stick it out. She saw something in me I didn’t see in myself yet.”
This turning point in her ROTC days changed the trajectory of Daphne’s life. After she reevaluated her commitment to the program, she was set for many more accomplishments, such as becoming number one in her class and being offered a scholarship.
Another major accomplishment Daphne noted was being a part of a historically black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. This sorority was the first time Daphne experienced “sisterhood”.
“When you’re an undergrad, it is your younger years, the time when you are trying to figure out who you are as a person,” said Daphne,” and that was the first time I was deliberately choosing to be in those circles.”
Jackson found a sense of purpose and fulfillment within her sisterhood.
“There’s a lot of confidence that comes in that “sharpening of the iron” in some of those organizations,” said Daphne. “Being surround by a lot of very strong black women that you want to emulate because you see what they’re doing in the community. That influence. That poise.”
Jackson went on to graduate law school and become a lawyer I the United States Air Force.
Now, Lt. Col. Daphne Jackson has become the 377th Air Base Wing staff judge advocate; however, she is continuing to make her mark in marginalized communities.
“You can’t be, what you can’t see” These words, spoken by former first lady Michelle Obama, resonated deeply with Jackson.
“I see now,” exclaimed Jackson. “I remember programs my mother would put me in when I was a child and I would be around strong women who looked just like me and would help me. I wasn’t appreciating it or seeing what was happening then, as I do now.”
Jackson has used those influential words to put her own “Daphne Jackson” stamp on underrepresented communities and showcase opportunities.
“My goal is to show kids what their potential is,” said Jackson. “I go to answer their questions to maybe show them that someone who looks like them has stepped out of their comfort zone and achieved so much. They ask ‘can I be a doctor?’ and I say yes. I will always take the time out for these kids because they won’t know their full potential unless ‘we’ as a community come out and show them all the possibilities.”
As a black woman, sometimes expectations can be set that are unrealistic or unattainable. However, her presence in the community as well as her dedication to racial disparities, demographics and unconscious bias makes her a true force. She is a daughter, a wife, a mother and one of the very few women of color officers in the United States Air Force.
Daphne overcame and continues to make her mark and be that representation for ALL women of color.
“I believe that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be at this stage of my life,” said Daphne proudly, “with my family, at this stage of my career, with this particular team, with where we are in society. This is exactly where I'm supposed to be. I am, as you can tell, a woman of faith. God brings us to situations, and he places us to teach and love his people, which is all people. To help show people how to love one another as people, irrespective of their demographics. I love being part of these conversations and furthering diversity and inclusion efforts. I know that's why he placed us here for such time as this.”