By Kathy Eastwood (USMA West Point, Public Affairs)March 1, 2016
WEST POINT, N.Y. (March 1, 2016) - The United States Military Academy at West Point observed Black History Month with an annual luncheon at the West Point Club, Feb. 17.
The guest speaker was Pat (Priscilla) Locke, West Point Leadership and Ethics Conference leader and a USMA Class of 1980 graduate. Included in the event were two Cadets who performed powerful readings of two poems about the Black experience.
The event began with a reading of University of Connecticut alumni Shantel Honeyghan's poem 'Speak' by Class of 2019 Cadet Isabella Minter.
"Speak, speak up, speak out, speak loud, speak now, for too long now we have seen ourselves as victims … Cherish your words, open your mouths as an instrument to become instrumental."
Class of 2018 Cadet Christopher Bingham recited a poem from Smokey Robinson.
"Everybody in Europe is an African European; everybody in the Orient is an African Asian and so on and so on. That is, if the origin of man is what we are going on. And if one drop of Black blood makes you Black like they say, then everybody's Black anyway."
"So quit trying to change my identity, I'm already who I was meant to be. I'm a Black American, born and raised. And brother James Brown wrote a wonderful phase. 'Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud. Say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud.'"
Locke followed with her speech about growing up in Detroit. Locke, by Order of Merit, was the first black woman who graduated from West Point and was among the first women who graduated from the USMA.
Locke has a Master's in Education from Loyola in Baltimore and a Master's of Science in Administration from Central Michigan University. She also received her certification in Montessori instruction by the Association Montessori International in Washington D.C. Her stated passion has been the study of the human condition and leadership.
Locke was commissioned in Air Defense Artillery and is now the president of Life Plan Services, LLC and Seeds of Humanity Foundation, Inc., which addresses developmental needs in underserved areas.
She began her speech with addressing her humble and sometimes terrifying beginnings. "My grandmother was the one that raised me," Locke began. "It's a familiar story. My mother was 14 when she was pregnant with me. My grandmother raised me and they ran the numbers, if you know what that is. We lived in a basement of an apartment building that looked like a cave."
"She brought home a tootsie roll for dinner once and she cut them into 14 little pieces," Locke added. "We moved every 12 months. I, from the age of five (saw all this) and this is amazing, because now this is called child abuse. We walked everywhere and there were drive by shootings that everybody thought was cool. I had a cousin that had her throat slit."
This was the life Locke had before she decided on enlisting into the Army right after high school and it changed her life and attitude in ways she never expected.
"I joined the Army and I absolutely loved it," Locke explained. "I had a bed to myself, I had food every day and I had a weapon. I'm never ever going back to Detroit. I was a communication specialist. I learned about living in open bay barracks and taking open bay showers and spit shine boots."
"One day, my first sergeant asked me how I would like to go to West Point," Locke added. "I said, what is West Point? I didn't know anything about West Point. I wanted to be a Sergeant Major and I wanted to go to college."
The first sergeant said it is a college and explained what West Point is, and that it is free.
"Well, everything I had, everything I owned went into my duffle bag and I was on my way to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, to the United States Military Academy Preparatory School," Locke said. "When I came to the prep school on R-Day, I had white walls because they were cool and I had a huge afro when I came. I thought I was something. By the time we got to the R-Day parade, I had no hair. I know that is cool today, but it wasn't cool 40 years ago. We marched and we marched and I loved it. I thought I was something. I was the only cadet that loved to march."
The honor code confused Locke at first, because growing up in Detroit, that's what you did, lie, cheat and steal.
Although that was the way to survive in Detroit in the '70s, she soon learned that nobody was trying to trick her and she began to learn the true meaning of those words.
Locke said she went to West Point without knowing all the things that went on, or how it would change her life.
"Who I was before I went to West Point is not who I am now," she said. "Many people take a step up in West Point and others take a step down. I decided to take the step up. I think I'm the type of leader that West Point is making."
"I'm not ashamed of being a West Point graduate. I would never be able to repay them. The transformation that goes on here at West Point is why this is hallowed ground," she concluded.