Across our nation, between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, which includes Flag Day, Father’s Day, and Juneteenth, there will be countless celebrations where the word “hero” will be applied. The word will be the centerpiece of speeches and the supposed purpose for parades, barbeques, and sales throughout America.
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “hero” as “a person who has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.” In classic mythology, a hero was someone who is thought to be godlike—a talented warrior—a chieftain with special strength, or an immortal being.
Today, we tend to think of our heroes in a more down-to-earth way—still very noble, but a mortal among us who makes a difference in our lives. Everyday heroes: the Little League coach. The neighbor who saved a child in a burning building. Your dad.
Several celebrities have weighed in about being a hero—among them, Whoopie Goldberg, who once asked, “Who amongst us doesn’t want to be a hero?” Mariah Carey suggested, “If you look inside yourself and you believe, you can be your own hero,” while Maya Angelou defined a hero as “any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” Perhaps it was Arthur Ashe who summed it up best. “True heroism is remarkably sober and very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
And a hero doesn’t need a specific classification or category to qualify. In fact, that could actually limit the accomplishments. Morgan Freeman reminds us that “Martin Luther King Jr. was not a Black hero. He is an American hero.”
So, whether it’s the countless men and women who brought dignity and valor to the uniform they wear in defense of our freedom, or the school safety agents who provide free prom gowns, we take special pride in the many Local 237 members who selflessly helped others.
Among them was the late Tuskegee Airman Dabney Montgomery. He was a housing assistant with NYCHA for 14 years who had distinguished himself as an exemplary soldier in World War II, known for his bravery, yet was denied the right to vote when he got home. Although he was among the security detail for Dr. King on the historic march from Selma to Memphis, it took nearly 60 years after World War II ended for him to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Now, the heels of his shoes from that march are on display in the first-of-its-kind National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and a street sign in Harlem bears his name.
Wow! How many unions can boast of having a Tuskegee Airman among its members?
Clearly, the word hero applies to the highly acclaimed and the virtually unknown. Men and women who rise to the situation, might not get a parade to honor their accomplishments, but who, nonetheless, made a difference. Gregory Floyd is president of Teamsters Local 237 and vice president at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.