Airman’s dream comes to life in D. C. conference
Simpson County friends who remember Russell Lewis of Mendenhall may not have known of the dream that carried the young Mendenhall High School Class of 2008 graduate into the Air Force and beyond, but that dream was there all along.
Lewis, who says he always had a dream to “make a change one person at a time,”says his mother, Susan Lewis, “was instrumental in making sure I understood the importance of education.”
During his senior year of high school, Lewis worked as a cashier at Walmart in Magee, which he says also taught him “A LOT” about interacting with people.
Taking that desire to learn about and help people with him to college, he graduated from Jackson State University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in public service (social work), commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps, also becoming a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He then earned a master’s degree in public service (social work) through Jackson State University’s Advanced Standing Social Work Program.
1st Lt. Lewis, 81st Force Support Squadron military personnel flight commander, is currently a Personnel Officer in the Air Force, but says, “I recently found that I’ve been selected to become a rated officer in the USAF!”
He and a fellow officer, 1st. Lt. Jared Hines, recently designed and hosted a conference held in Washington, D. C., with the purpose of creating a community of leaders for the personal and professional development of minorities around the country.
The following article was submitted by the Air Force about that February conference.
By Senior Airman Holly Mansfield
81st Training Wing Public Affairs
When we are little we usually have dreams or goals for what we want to be when we grow up. Some people want to be firefighters or maybe doctors.
Few times do you hear kids say they want to change the world for the better. . . more rare than that do you see that child grow up and succeed in their goal.
Earlier this month, 1st Lt. Russell Lewis, 81st Force Support Squadron military personnel flight commander, and 1st Lt. Jared Hines, 81st Contracting Squadron contract specialist, hosted the Higher Level Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., in an effort to not only bring leaders from around the Defense Department and civilian sector together to learn new leadership techniques but also give minorities a platform for their voices to be heard.
“The conference was designed to bring people together for networking, mentoring and professional development opportunities,” said Hines. “Since it’s African American History Month it was targeted to get minority officers out and involved around the Washington, D.C. area as well as surrounding military bases. It was also open to civilians of all ages. The conference allowed people to have a platform to have their voices heard and to have any concerns as minorities expressed.”
Using the drive to inspire change dating back from when they were kids, Lewis and Hines developed general and breakout sessions within the conference to give attendees a better perspective into becoming a better minority leader.
“We had general sessions which were open to everyone and then breakout sessions which were in more of a classroom setting,” said Hines. “Those sessions ranged from topics like the psychology of a minority leader to conducting yourself in an era of social tension.”
Different leaders from around the Air Force, like Maj. Gen. Bob LaBrutta, Director of Military Force Management Policy and Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, and Maj. Gen. Mark Brown, vice commander of Air Education and Training Command, were invited to attend as keynote speakers.
“We had a session that was originally called ‘It takes a village’ which was renamed ‘Brown’s bag’ because it was led by Maj. Gen. Brown,” said Lewis. “He went through the different things he has learned over the years of being a leader in the Air Force and taking responsibility for your culture and surroundings. It was all people-focused so it helped others learn to gauge people, meet them where they are in life and take them to a higher level of leadership.”
After planning the conference over three months from more than a thousand miles away, after being told it would take six, the pair was able to prove they have what it takes to keep their dream moving. While it’s still in the planning stages, Lewis and Hines are developing their own non-profit organization aimed at bringing the objectives taught during the conference to a wider audience.
“We will be trying to have the organization up and running in the next six months and will be looking into pushing it nationwide,” said Lewis. “We are looking into having summer camps for kids and more conferences for those who are adults. I feel like if we aren’t putting these leadership skills we are learning in the military back in the community we are wasting the potential of people we can influence to make the outside community greater.”
All officers in the Air Force go through some form of leadership training and therefore have the qualities to lead, said Hines. There is a pocket of the American population who is yearning for that leadership and the officer corps can do better at developing that on the civilian side, primarily in the minority community.
After receiving feedback from Air Force officers who attended the conference, they realized just how effective their message of progress and developing leaders was.
“We had quite a few officers who told us they were ready to get out of the military,” said Lewis. “This conference made them want to stay in. They said that what they learned during the conference and what we are doing makes them want to stay in and each year they will make it a point to come to our conferences. There were people who have been in the military for years who showed up never having a mentor and left with more than one mentor. That changed our perspective on this conference and what we are trying to do.”
Lewis and Hines were able to take their goal of bettering the world and created an avenue for military and civilian minorities to grow as leaders in their communities. Using teamwork, dedication and the passion of a childhood dream, the duo is laying the foundation for a better future for minorities in America.
“This whole thing came from our dream to make a change one person at a time,” said Hines. “That’s been our dream since we were young. In order to do that, we made a video, put it on social media and then it grew from there. The big thing is that you have to have courage to be a leader. This couldn’t have happened without teamwork, dedication and our Air Force leadership who were willing to be followers to let us build this dream to help others.”