Last week, I had the honor of interviewing Terrance McWilliams of El Pomar as part of the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s COS CEO leadership lesson speaker series. (CSBJ is a sister paper to the Indy.)
I was humbled by the retired master sergeant’s candor, his grace under pressure throughout both his military and civilian careers.
I was also amazed at the man’s accomplishments. We’re fortunate he decided to make the Springs his home. Did you know he achieved the rank of master sergeant after a mere 16 years in service? That, my friends, is almost unheard of.
A 31-year veteran of the United States Army, McWilliams has deployed overseas, moved around the country and retired with honors. He has been a leader at El Pomar, a member of the board at Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center, a part of the state’s community college board and has assisted a host of other associations and nonprofits.
And some of his fellow citizens, while benefiting from his service, have not treated him nearly as well as he deserves. McWilliams talked about growing up Black in Florida, where he and his mother lived with his grandparents because his dad was in the Army at a time when Black families didn’t get military quarters or allowances for housing. He remembers when the schools were integrated. He remembers the hate, the name-calling and the lack of opportunity in his small town.
He didn’t want to pick oranges or ferns, so when the Army called and McWilliams answered.
And I wish that had been the end of his experience with ignorance and racism. But it wasn’t. McWilliams was frank: The conversations he has with his grandsons are about how to look, dress and act for their personal safety.
And then there was the conversation he had with a stranger on the grounds of the stately PenroseHouse two weeks ago.
As he was standing by his car, a Jaguar, a woman walking the grounds asked him: “Nice Car! Are you the chauffeur? Perceptions, he says. And it’s not unfamiliar terrain for McWilliams. For all his success, he says: “I always had to be the best. I had to be better than anyone in the room. That’s just the way it was. Every success.
”Racism, he says, is part of life. And it’s not going to go away.“It’s always been this way,” he says. “It will always be this way. All we can do is educate, inform and change perspectives.”Terrance McWilliams is a gracious man, a man full of strength. Let’s join him in his efforts: Educate. Inform. Change perspectives. Change lives.
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