More To The 4th of July Than Barbecues
(CEDAR HILL, TX) Tateum Richardson appreciates the Fourth of July holiday, but he understands the complexity behind it. He knows there’s far more to it than the standard traditions of barbecues, flag waving and fireworks.
Richardson, a Cedar Hill High School Class of 2017 Graduate, currently serves in the United States Air Force. He’s stationed at Minot Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota.
“I love this country and I love that I can protect this country, so that we can speak out about racial injustice,” said Richardson, a Class of 2017 Cedar Hill High School Graduate. “Yes, African-Americans weren’t free when the flag was flown on the original Fourth of July in 1776. We were still slaves. Now, the Fourth of July means something different to me – independence. It means we can walk on the street and protest, and do all of these things that we are doing in this country.”
Richardson was recently asked to be one of the discussion leaders at a forum on race relations. The discussion took place at Minot Air Force Base, in front of a diverse group of approximately 200 Air Force personnel.
Speaking Out About Systemic Racism
“We are bringing to light systemic racism and things that people may not see,” Richardson said. “We want to enlighten them and teach them. How is it OK to for us to go fight against injustices thousands of miles away if we can’t even do it in our own backyard?”
Richardson said it was emotional to see some of his fellow airmen approach him after the forum, to personally thank him for sharing his perspective and informing them.
“I believe the military is moving in the right direction,” said Richardson, with regards to discussions and efforts to address racial injustice.
For society in general, Richardson is optimistic about the opportunity for meaningful change.
“There hasn’t been this much momentum – this generation has the chance for change,” Richardson said.
USAF and His Future
Richardson, who is 21 years old, earned his Associate’s Degree in Communications from Tyler Junior College. He joined the Air Force in April 2019.
“I was always fascinated with the Air Force, and I had served as a Kitty Hawk Commander in the Cedar Hill Air Force JROTC,” said Richardson, who served in San Antonio and California, prior to his current assignment in North Dakota. “I come from a military family, and I’m glad I made the decision to join.”
Richardson was honored to have met then-Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, who was the second African-American to become the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, which is the highest enlisted level of leadership in the USAF.
Richardson is also an entrepreneur who sells shoes, clothes and jerseys – a career he hopes to pursue full-time someday.
COLONEL WALKER’S IMPACT
Richardson, who grew up in Dallas and Arlington, moved to Cedar Hill in the summer of 2012, enrolling at Permenter Middle School as an eighth grader.
The following year, he joined the Cedar Hill High School Air Force Junior ROTC. It was led by Retired Air Force Colonel Gregory Walker, who served in the USAF from 1979-2003. Walker taught AFJROTC at Cedar Hill from 2003-2020, retiring last month.
“He was a father figure for me,” Richardson said. “He literally was my guidance and really turned my life around. He taught me things that I carry to this day, such as values, communications and how to value myself as a black man. Col. Walker spoke to me as a mentor, not just as a teacher. The first time I met him, we spoke for 45 minutes about my life, family and goals.”
The purpose of JROTC is to develop character, not to recruit scholars to join the military. Walker regularly makes that purpose clear, yet he is very proud of the scholars who choose to pursue a military career.
JROTC Develops Character
“Tateum has always had a good heart – he’s very truthful and honest with a lot of good character,” Walker said.
Walker selected some AFJROTC cadets to represent the program at the superintendent’s meetings and Board of Trustees meetings. Richardson was often among those cadets.
“We picked cadets that would represent the program well,” Walker said. “Our program is a cadet-led program. We give the cadets a lot of responsibility to take control of the programs, and in some cases, to teach the class.”
Richardson experienced a deeply painful personal tragedy during his high school years. Colonel Walker, along with Chief Keith Pinkert (another AJROTC instructor), helped him cope with it.
“I was able to go into his office, sat there and spoke with him the whole day,” Richardson said.
“Colonel Walker and Chief Pinkert taught me so much that I use to this day, to this moment. They made me proud to be who I was, and they built up my confidence. I really had to work for everything I earned in AFJROTC. I had to work for every ribbon, every award, every rank.”