Fort Sill Celebrates Black History Month
February 23, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Attitude and expectations. Cassandra Chandler credits those two things with how she went from being a girl from Louisiana to an FBI special agent, to the FBI's assistant director over the training division. This made her the highest-ranking African American at the Bureau and the first African-American woman to preside over the training division in the academy's existence.
Chandler spoke at the Fort Sill Black History Month Luncheon at the Patriot Club Feb. 17, and said it is those two things that all black American woman have used to make history.
"You see everyone dreams, everyone does. Everyone makes plans by those dreams and we all try to live pursuant to the dreams which we are having our hopes built upon, right? But have you ever wondered why some of us go that step further and others do not? When you look back at the history of black women in the United States, all of those female trailblazers had a certain kind of attitude. That attitude was one that was absolute, unquestionable, without doubt. And they always had an expectance of more in their life," said Chandler.
She said Harriet Tubman's courage had always inspired her, and it was her bravery that she modeled her life after.
"You know she had to make tough choices, this didn't come easy to her. Her husband said to her, 'Harriett, I am not leaving here and running off with you to some willy nilly notion you have that you're going to go out there and find freedom. We're going to stay right here we're going to do our job.' Harriett left that husband," Chandler said. "She left her husband and she left her brother behind on that plantation initially as she went out to pursue her dream."
Chandler reminded the audience that the top levels of anything cannot be reached without first facing adversity. And she would know after holding numerous top positions in her 23 years with the FBI. Chandler left a legacy behind that opened doors for other women and people of color in the bureau.
Chandler said when she started with the FBI in 1985 there weren't a lot of African Americans or women. She said at that time when she went out in the community people didn't even believe she was an agent. She told the Fort Sill audience there was a question of women being able to demand the authority needed to be a special agent.
"I remember once while a new agent in New Orleans, I was working on huge financial institution fraud cases. Well, I needed help carrying boxes to the office. I asked a couple of guys in the office for help. The senior officer looked at me and said, 'Can you carry those boxes up?' I said yes. He then asked if I was a special agent and I said yes. Finally he said, 'Do you carry a badge and gun like the rest of us?' I said yes. So he told me that I was capable of bringing the boxes up myself. At first I was mad. He later took me aside and said, 'You don't want to develop a reputation that shows others you can't do the job because you're a woman.' From that day forward, I carried myself like a special agent. I walked in being like everybody else and people respected that," she told Inside Business in an interview in 2007.
Chandler continues to be a mover and shaker as she is now the senior vice president for Global Investigative Services, Senior Executive working with Bank of America to oversee the investigative programs, which include internal criminal activities by employees of the bank and external organized crimes. She said she continues to fight complacency and fights for something new.
"Harriet Tubman could see new beginnings, new opportunity beyond slavery. She imagined freedom not just for herself but many others and then welcomed the opportunity to be a part of great change. That's what drives us, the one common thread you will find among black women who have reached greatness is they all expect to find something new. They are the dreamers whose attitude pushes them to reach beyond their circumstances."
Like Tubman, Chandler said black women in history such as Rosa Parks, who challenged segregation in America; former Lt. Col. Charity Adams, who served as a major during World War II; Ursula Burns, who became the first African American woman to be president of a Fortune 500 company; and Wilma Rudolph, who won three Olympic gold medals despite childhood polio, did not wait for the Webster's Dictionary definition of opportunities to come knocking on their door. Instead they took their adversity and made it into what they wanted.
"Take dreamers like Cathay Williams. Cathay Williams wanted to join the Army, did you know that? And when she tried they denied her, but what did she do? Cut her hair, switched her name around and became William Cathay and she joined the Buffalo Soldiers. The first and only known female Buffalo Soldier. That was something that she wanted to do, and she didn't wait for the opportunity, she created the opportunity for herself," said Chandler.
Chandler then challenged the attendees with their own individual dream. She asked everyone to determine what they wanted out of life and go for it with a bodacious attitude and expectancy.
"It is not that the country is stopping you, it's not that a business is stopping you, it's that you've stopped yourself. You've stopped dreaming, you've stopped pushing, you've stopped pursuing as aggressively as you can, so that's the answer. You've got to have the right attitude that's going to make you keep pushing forward. You've got to have that right attitude that's going to make you expect and want more and then pursue," said Chandler.