LaShondra Jones will proudly tell you she served in the United States Marine Corps. “But I’m a woman of color first,” she added.
The liaison for the Mayor’s Office of Veterans and Military Affairs said she is particularly pleased her division is collaborating with the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum to sponsor “The Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen” grand opening on June 10 as part of Texas Women Veterans Day.
For Jones, June 12 (officially recognized as Women Veterans Day) is like Christmas for her for a few reasons. She was a part of a group of women that pushed for this legislation to be passed here in the state of Texas.
“We knocked on a lot of doors, made a lot of phone calls and testified at numerous legislative hearings in Austin to get this bill passed. There was opposition, but we kept fighting until it passed and signed by Governor Abbott in 2017,” she said.
“Of course, many of the naysayers question why we feel the need to have a separate day. Our response is we need a day where we can celebrate and validate the sacrifices of women who served. They are our grandmothers, our mothers, sisters and daughters.”
The exhibit was created by the Military Women’s Memorial. It is a 40-foot traveling exhibition that seeks to shed light on the sacrifices and contribution of women service members of color who served in the U.S. armed forces.
It includes a historical timeline of the selfless sacrifices women of color have made to this country, sometimes dealing with both racism and sexism while serving.
“It’s important that these faces and many other faces of women of color are recognized and appreciated. If you look at many of the old military recruitment posters, you will notice that our faces were often not included. We served too, and our stories matter,” Jones said.
Jones said U.S. Air Force veteran Dr. Chaunte Hall suggested to the staff members of the Women in Military Memorial Staff they should come here to display their exhibit since they were already scheduled to display the exhibit at the San Antonio Airport in July.
“Once our office was contacted, we all felt that Houston’s veteran population and supporters of veterans would definitely enjoy this wonderful exhibit,” she explained.
They began brainstorming on location and dates that would attract the most people, Jones said. “We eventually decided on the Buffalo Soldiers Museum and because Texas Women Veterans Day is June 12, we decided this weekend would be perfect for the unveiling,” she said.
Hall, who is the founder of the Airman Heritage Group, said she knew what the city of Houston needed after she received a call from Lachrisha Parker of the Military Women’s Memorial about the traveling exhibit.
“When they talked about this traveling exhibit going to San Antonio, Texas, I said you’re not to negate the powerful women in this room right now in the city of Houston,” Hall told the group of women veterans who attended the opening.
“Knowing the what the color of freedom stands for, knowing what the women’s memorial stands for, knowing that June 12 exists because of individuals in this room, and knowing what Mayor Sylvester Turner has done for all of us … we recognize all our service members, but we put a special emphasis on our women veterans and what they have faced,” Hall added.
This year marks the 74th anniversary of President Harris S. Truman signing the Armed Service Integration Act on June 12, 1948, allowing women to be a permanent part of the armed forces.
Approximately 3 million women have served in the U.S. armed forces, according to Parker, who serves as the community engagement manager for the Military Women’s Memorial. However, the organization has only 300,000 of those veterans registered in their books.
“There’s something wrong with that. You were part of that group that said ‘yes.’ You must remember good, bad or indifferent about your service. You said, ‘I do.’ We need your piece of the puzzle. You hold the puzzle that someone else needs to be motivated to say, ‘ok, I did it,’” Parker said.
Parker said the “Color of Freedom” exhibit opened last year to tell the stories of women who have paved the way for all the women of color who paved the way.
“You made a difference. You built this nation. You could have been mothers or soldiers or sailors, or marines. You did it all,” she said. “When you experience the exhibit, I want you to think that could be your story. Without your story, the stories are not finished, and the puzzle is not done. So complete that.”
The exhibit received a lot of support from local women service members. “The response to the exhibit was phenomenal. Because this was the kickoff to our annual Women Veterans Day celebration, women veterans were excited to have this exhibit be a part of the festivities,” Jones said.
The exhibit also features a segment on U.S. Army Veteran Vanessa Guillen, who was murdered in April 2020 inside an armory at Fort Hood, Texas. Guillen’s sister, Mayra, was present to receive a U.S. flag that was flown in front of the MWM headquarters at Arlington National Cemetery on behalf of the MWM honoring Guillen’s service to her country.
“There is a special section dedicated to the life of this female soldier that was taken away from this earth too soon,” Jones said.
Jones said it is important that to honor the legacy of all women in military service because they are often overlooked or dismissed simply because of their gender.
“Ironically, much like the fight that we had here in Texas in 2017, it took a few years for Congress to finally pass the legislation in 1948 as a result of a group of female service members pushing for this legislation to be passed,” she said.
“America must honor the legacy so that we will never forget that women service members also serve on the frontline in combat and in many other roles in each military branch alongside our male counterparts.”
The exhibit opening also saw Mayor Sylvester Turner present the 2022 Texas Women Veterans Day Trailblazer Award to Marine veteran Lupita Hernandez, who is the founder of Run for Their Lives, a 200-mile run in which she plants a small U.S. flag for each mile even honoring lost veterans. The event has raised more than $3,000.
He sweetened the moment by also issuing a city proclamation decreeing June 12 as “Lupita Hernandez Day” for her efforts to bring awareness to service members struggling with depression and PTSD.
She is also part of ASICS Running Shoe “Live Uplifted” as a brand ambassador.