“Getting rid of the distance between us.”
That’s how a black flight attendant described her chance encounter with a white passenger, who happened to be reading an interesting book on how white people really suck at talking about racism.
The topic of the book was no mere coincidence, and neither was the fact that American Airlines CEO, Doug Parker, got bumped from a sold-out flight on his own carrier.
Fate forced him to hop onto a rival Southwest Airlines plane to reach Panama City, Florida, and boy was she was playing a marvelous hand that day! Fate was also the reason why he was seated in a row all by himself in the cattle section at the back of the plane.
It gave flight attendant JacqueRae Hill, who had just prayed to God about the recent racial tensions on her way to work, a chance to sit down and have a raw conversation with a white person.
And the emotional discussion that followed really needed to happen…for all of us!
Even though you can’t see it through her face mask, this normally happy flight attendant is always sporting a beautiful smile.
One could say it’s part of the job, but for JacqueRae, her smile is something that she’s proud to show off even when she’s not working.
However, due to recent events surrounding George Floyd’s death, she’s been in a sort of funk. Smiling at passengers, or anyone else for that matter, was getting harder by the day.
And who can blame her?
Just hours before the fateful flight, JacqueRae found herself on social media, getting sucked into the horrors of the riots, fires, and looting.
Like many of us, she just couldn’t help herself. As she told to WFAA:
“I was watching TV and I would switch to each channel. So it was just a lot that I was doing to myself, just inundating myself with all that negative energy.”
The fear and negativity that’s pervasive in major news media outlets have a way of repeatedly stabbing our hearts with hopelessness, despair, and misery. Oddly enough, it’s something that we’ve become addicted to.
JacqueRae tried to explain to her friends how she was feeling, but some of them just weren’t getting it.
“I’m honestly angry because it’s hard telling people over and over again what’s happening and that we need to change it. It’s not a color thing, it’s a right or wrong thing.”
JacqueRae is mad that racism even exists, but she’s even angrier that people aren’t actively talking about it. As in, really talking about it!
But that all changed the day she met Doug Parker.
In a now-viral Facebook post (which deserves to be read in its entirety), JacqueRae explained how she sat down next to American Airlines CEO and asked him about the book he was reading.
“I said, ‘Hey How are you? I see you are reading that book. So how is it?’ He replies, ‘Oh I’m halfway through it’s really good. It really points out how important these conversations on race are.'”
Tears started rolling down her cheeks as she responded to him:
“I have been so sad every day and I just want to understand and be understood so we can begin to fix it.”
Reading a book, news article, or watching a video on topics of racism isn’t talking about it. It’s just passing along information, which doesn’t even begin to explain what BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) experience every single day.
For JacqueRae, the book that Doug was reading, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, was just the conversation starter that she needed to unburden her heavy heart.
The mere fact that this man even had the book told her that he was willing and open to talking about race with her.
The flight attendant and CEO only chatted for about 10 minutes, but what was expressed that day was enough to last a lifetime.
The two hugged, and as Doug disembarked from the plane, he handed JacqueRae a handwritten letter.
“Thank you so much for coming back to speak with me. It was a gift from God and an inspiration to me.”
Doug also said that what JacqueRae did took courage:
“I am saddened that we as a society have progressed so slowly on an issue that has such a clear right versus wrong. Much of the problem is we don’t talk about it enough. Thank you for talking to me and sharing your emotion. I really appreciate you”
The CEO wrote down his personal email address so they could continue the conversation anytime she wanted to talk.
On a smaller scale, JacqueRae and Doug’s encounter helped bring some much-needed healing to both of their hearts.
But on a larger scale, and in the greater context that can make social media a vehicle for massive change, their conversation helped bridge what has gone unspoken between people of all colors for far too long.
Be sure to watch the video for more on this story, and to find out why the world isn’t as gloomy as the newsmongers want us to believe!
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