Her integrated opportunity

BY Keisha Bell

African-American women have had a long and well-documented history of being denied opportunity because of the specific combination of her ethnicity and gender. Even today, her presence and the inclusion of her unique experiences are oftentimes missing or negated when assemblies are formed to address collective progress.

Why is it OK to limit her — and little girls like her — even when she has illustrated time and time again how great her contribution to her community, her state, her nation, her world is when she is given an opportunity to succeed?

Meet Hazel Winifred Johnson-Brown, the first black female general in the United States Army and the first black chief of the United States Army Nurse Corps. Johnson, who later became Johnson-Brown was both a nurse and an educator. In addition, she was the director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing. She lived from October 10, 1927, until August 5, 2011.

Interestingly, Johnson-Brown was inspired to become a nurse by a white public health nurse when she was a child. Can you imagine her excitement and then her disappointment once her application to attend the West Chester School of Nursing was rejected because she was black?

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, that stated, “there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” Although not achieved overnight, the desegregation of the armed forces was a major civil rights victory. It also gave Johnson-Brown a greater opportunity for achieving success.

In 1955, Johnson-Brown enlisted in the army. In 1959, she graduated from Villanova University with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. In 1960, she became a first lieutenant and joined the Army’s Nursing Corps. In 1963, she earned a master’s degree in nursing education from Columbia University. Furthermore, in 1978, Johnson-Brown obtained a doctorate in education administration from Catholic University of America.

Note, Johnson-Brown served as director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing in the 1970s. From 1976 thru 1978, she was assistant dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing. When she was selected to head the Army Nurse Corps, she was serving as chief nurse of the army hospital in Seoul, South Korea.

Keisha Bell

Keisha Bell

It was in 1979 when Johnson-Brown was promoted to Brigadier General as head of the Army Nurse Corps, but think of what would have been lost had she not gotten the opportunity to reach her fullest potential — if she did not have integrated opportunity.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant. www.emergingfree.com

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