Last summer, a flight attendant boarded her plane with a heavy, broken heart. She, like us, had just watched a man named George die under the knee of a police officer named Derek. Knowing her job was to put a smile on her masked-face and make passengers feel welcome, safe and secure while on a plane during a worldwide pandemic — a smile that passengers would need to see shining through her eyes — she prayed to God for help.
As passengers boarded their Southwest flight, she noticed one in particular; the book he carried happened to be a book about racism in America that she had heard of but hadn’t read yet.
After she finished her duty of conveying passenger safety instructions and completing safety and baggage checks, when their flight was on its way and she had a moment, she walked back to the passenger with the book. He was seated next to the window typing on his laptop, an empty seat beside him, so she sat down and introduced herself.
“Hey, how are you? So that book, how is it?”
They began talking, and at one point, she remembers him saying, “We have to start these conversations. It’s our fault.”
Moved with emotion at hearing his words, she began to cry. They talked, shared and listened some more. At the end of their conversation, which lasted at least another 10 minutes, she hugged him and thanked him for his interest and for caring.
Then they introduced themselves to one another.
“I’m JacqueRae Hill.”
“I’m Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines.”
As it turns out, her mother was one of his employees.
Before getting off the plane, Doug wrote a note to give to JacqueRae:
Thank you so much for coming back to speak with me. It was a gift from God ….
I am saddened that we as a society have progressed so slowly on an issue that has such a clear right vs wrong.
Much of the problem is we don’t talk about it enough. Thank you for talking to me and showing your emotion. That took courage. The book, White Fragility, is great. But it is more for people like me than you. (A black friend recommended it to me.) I really appreciate you. If you’d like to continue the conversation, my email is ….
P.S. Say hello to your mother for me.
This past Memorial Day, JacqueRae got married and Doug was in attendance. On Instagram this past week, he thanked her and her family for including him and his family in their celebration and reflected on their friendship: “She started a courageous conversation with me about race in America and it’s one I will never forget.”
On this Thursday before Juneteenth, our oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, let us commit to one another, to continue having these courageous conversations. With God’s help. Amen.