Blue Star Families, a national nonprofit, has launched a racial equity initiative aimed at proactively addressing inequities in the experiences of military families of color. 27% of today’s active-duty military families have a multiracial background. This includes families of color and white service members with multiracial family members. The research, conducted through extensive surveys, revealed that military families of color are more likely to experience financial struggles, a higher spouse unemployment rate and less access to resources and support.
In response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Blue Star Families began interviewing 100 government, nonprofit and community stakeholders to address issues facing military families of color. “When you think about it, it is a readiness issue for our service members,” shares Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, a trailblazer for women of color in uniform and the Vice Chair of the Blue Star Families Board of Directors. “I couldn’t have been the ready soldier I was for 38 years unless I knew my family was taken care of.”
Leading efforts to improve the service experiences of military families of color is Lt. Gen. Bingham’s former staffer and mentee, retired 1st Sgt. Carlandra “CT” Moss, who served in the Army for 24 years. Now, she continues to serve her military community as Director of Blue Star Families’ Racial Equity & Inclusion Initiative.
Moss has experienced military life from every branch in the family tree. She grew up a military child, married a service member, proudly served herself and is now an even prouder mother to two service members. Like many Veterans, Moss recently experienced the abrupt lifestyle and mentality flip of transitioning from active duty to civilian life. “While I was serving, it was service members first and family second,” she says. “Now it’s family first.” At Blue Star Families, she and her team are lighting the way to improve the lives of military families of color.
The initiative is founded on the data gathered from the 2021 Understanding the Diverse Experiences of Military Families of Color Survey, which examined Community & Social Context, Neighborhood & Built Environment, Economic Stability, Healthcare Access, Education Access & Quality, and Identity & Current Environment. Of particular concern, notes Moss, is that in addition to experiencing disproportionate financial and employment challenges, 33% of active duty families of color are discussing whether or not to continue their service because of racial discrimination and disparities, and 30% turned down orders, knowing it might negatively impact the service member’s career.
“Many families,” Moss elaborates, “are having conversations like: I don’t know if this next duty assignment will be safe for you. So because of that, we’re making a decision to have you stay put, and I move alone. Or if that’s not an option, maybe I’ll just bow out gracefully and no longer continue my service to the country.”
These concerns are not unfounded. The data from the survey reports that “46% of active-duty family respondents of color report they have been the subject of slurs or jokes at least once in their military community since January 2020.” History has proven that the military uniform does not protect Black service members from discrimination or police violence outside of the military, either. “Respondents of color report experiencing harassment and police profiling across the US,” Moss continues. “Our report shows that was most prevalent in Black respondents.” Last June, police officers in Virginia pepper-sprayed an Army officer in uniform during an invalid traffic stop.
When Moss’ own son was a teenager, police in their Mississippi neighborhood racially profiled him twice. “It was a neighborhood that I was very fortunate to be able to live in, and we were one of the only families of color,” she remembers. “He was 13 years old at the time, almost six feet tall. So you can imagine.”
This was just months after police killed Trayvon Martin, and Moss made the impossible decision to send her son to live with his father until he graduated from high school. “It was the one and only time that I did not feel welcome in the community in which I served, and [my son] did not live in my home for four years. It’s tough.”
“The research that we’re doing is groundbreaking,” Moss emphasizes. “This is the first time ever anyone is asking military families of color for their lived experience.” How will Blue Star Families leverage this research to lead change for the military community? The next steps of the Racial Equity and Inclusion Initiative features five action steps: Advocacy, Training, Leadership, Collaboration, and Community Impact. “This call to action was established to boost our family’s racial equity and inclusion initiative,” says Moss. Her team has published an extensive series of videos and infographics on the Blue Star Families website and strives to inspire change at the local and national levels through policy and community engagement.