This year, Black History Month celebrates the many inspiring women whose commitment to society and future generations has proved invaluable to the UK. Our personnel reflect upon the women who inspire them.
Lance Corporal Shanwayne Stephens
“The inspirational woman in my life is my mother. She selflessly left everything behind in Jamaica to move to the UK to give my sister and I a better life.”
The move paid off as 28-year-old Shanwayne is not just a gunner in the RAF Regiment; he is also an Olympic hopeful.
Alongside his duties in the Queen’s Colour Squadron, Shanwayne is on the RAF Bobsleigh Team and hopes to represent Jamaica in the Beijing 2020 Winter Olympics. As part of the RAF’s elite athlete program, he is given time to train with the Jamaican team to realise his dreams.
“My mother has worked hard for her entire life to ensure we were never short of anything we needed. She never stops striving to better herself: at the age of 51 she’s doing a degree in criminology.”
Corporal Tanica Owens
“My inspirational woman is Lilian Bader. In my opinion she opened the door for black women and men to join the RAF.”
Lilian Bader was an aircraft mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during WW2. She was fired from a previous job for being mixed-race, so she enlisted after hearing that the RAF were accepting black recruits. She reached the rank of Acting Corporal before leaving the service to start a family.
“Lilian Bader is inspirational to me as she even though she had a rough lot in her life and a lot of doors had been closed for her, she persevered to join the WAAF and get promoted. Lilian is also my mum’s name!”
Tanica is an RAF medic and has served on numerous tours in the Falklands and Operation Ellamy. She also teaches yoga and spinning.
“To me, Black History Month is a celebration for people of colour. In a world of so much diversity, it’s an opportunity for others to be heard.”
Corporal Elloise Messam
“My inspirational woman is Phillis Wheatley. She proved that slaves, especially female slaves, were able to learn intellectual skills such as reading and writing at a time when black people were considered incapable of learning.”
Despite being a slave, Phillis Wheatley was the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry and went on to become a famous poet in pre-19th century America. At the time, her achievements proved that black slaves could be artistic and intellectual.
Elloise’s grandfather migrated from Jamaica to the UK in the 1960s during the Windrush era. She is proud of her Jamaican heritage and is an active member of the RAF Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network.
The RAF Policewoman will go on her first deployment to the United Arab Emirates next year. Alongside her police duties, the 24-year-old plays rugby for both the RAF and her local club.
“I think it’s very important to get information about Black History Month out there, especially in British schools where you don’t really hear about it.”
Flight Lieutenant Kyle Roachford
“The inspirational woman in my life is my wife, Joseanne. She has a drive to help people: she’s part of the parent-teacher association but she also does counselling for a rehabilitation charity. The fact that she wants to support someone in that situation, in her own time and getting no pay for it, is amazing to me.”
Kyle has worked his way up through the ranks, serving as an RAF Regiment gunner in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now a Personnel Support Officer.
“My wife was my inspiration to go for an RAF commission. She’s very good at motivating me and saying, ‘You can do this’. She initially put her career on hold for mine, and I don’t think I can ask anybody for a greater sacrifice.”
Alongside his core duties, Kyle is Chairman of the RAF Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network, a football coach, a school governor and works with charities to support vulnerable children.
“To me, Black History Month is about recognition of self and understanding your history, your heritage and your progress.”
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