Schuette, The Real McCoy
and learning about your history and talking about it reveals
opportunities you have to seek social justice and make things better
for everybody, said Thomas Harris.
Thomas Harris, the assistant
director of the Multicultural Student Services at UW-La Crosse,
speaks during Fort McCoy’s observance of Black History Month. (Photo
by Allan Harding)
the guest speaker at Fort McCoy’s observance of Black History Month
Feb. 19, told the audience what an honor it was to be at Fort McCoy
and be the guest speaker for the event. He currently is the assistant
director of Multicultural Student Services for the University of
Army played an important formative role in his life as he served as a
medic for three years, from 1980-83, in Colorado Springs, Colo., and
that time, I didn’t know what direction I was going in," said
Harris. "The Army was pivotal as to where I went as an individual
and as a leader."
always thought I had leadership qualities, but didn’t always use
them right and to the best of my abilities," he said. "The
experience in the Army redirected and helped me focus on where I was
talked about Black history, leadership and social justice during his
presentation. He began by talking about his aunt who lives in Baton
Rouge, La., by herself despite the fact she is 106-years-old.
five years ago, Harris was in the room with his mother, sister and
other relatives and asked his aunt "to tell me something about
our history that we don’t know." The aunt talked about their
lineage, which included a white ancestor — a slave master who
produced offspring with one of their Black ancestors.
thought ‘why didn’t I know about this’ and asked her,"
Harris said. "She said, ‘Both Blacks and whites were trained
not to tell people and not to talk about it."
of the main issues for everyone is they don’t talk about their
history. Harris said part of his history includes a kidney transplant
from a white woman, who worked together with him several years ago on
the mayor’s anti-racism task force in La Crosse.
said the experience encouraged him to examine what other people had
done over the years to ensure their survival. He looked at the
leadership qualities/tendencies that famous people used to achieve
fought and made sacrifices to ensure he had a better life, Harris
him, it was amazing to think about what some of the people went
through — dying, families being broken up and the courage it took to
face life and to take action — and it led him to ask questions of
himself about what he could do to eliminate or confront racism and
seek social justice during his life.
firmly believe that my Black ancestors were not only fighting for our
own justice and freedom, they were fighting for everyone," Harris
said. "The key is when things happen for the first time the
ultimate historical moments occur. Although many courageous
individuals have made the crucial decisions to act, more individuals
are needed to stand up, say something and take action to help our
institutions and systems create more positive influence and operate
have come a long way since they weren’t recognized as people in the
U.S. Constitution and later only as three-fifths of a person in an
amendment to the Constitution, he said. The United States experienced
the recent election of a black president but still has a long way to
go, he said.
and every institution has positive and negative things in their
history, but the key is to take those experiences and make all
positives out of them, he said.
need to gather and share their experiences while being respectful and
understanding and hearing other people’s opinions and perceptions,
Col. Annie Jackson, Fort McCoy garrison deputy commander, said the
country has come a long way. In her personal case, she is the first
African-American garrison deputy commander in Fort McCoy’s 100-year
said she is proud to be serving in such a leadership position for a
more information about Black History Month or other special ethnic
observances, call the Equal Opportunity Adviser at 608-388-3246.
(See related story)