The annual Krewe of Bowlegs coverage and photo spreads, especially the photo spreads, reminded me of something that has ebbed and flowed in my consciousness since the mid-90s: Our awareness of, and seemingly paltry efforts to improve, racial diversity in our part of paradise.

If you’re a fan of, or participant in, The Krewe of Bowlegs goings on, please don’t take offense; yours is something I respect, and I’m only citing as a most-recent example.

Also, if you, and your organization, have made efforts to improve the climate, God bless you!

My first exposure to the need, the legitimate need, to make extra efforts with respect to diversity and inclusion occurred while a first sergeant at Hurlburt Field, early 1995. As my first class of Airman Leadership School (ALS) attendees were processing for enrollment, I was asked to provide their racial background. “Say what? I thought we were color-blind!” I said to the commandant.

With ALS divided into flights, he educated me with respect to accidental clustering of certain groups that resulted in adverse consequences to team-building, a key component of the ALS mission and curriculum.

He said extra efforts in this area yielded only positive results. Attendees’ genders were also confirmed but (back then) first names typically took care of this.

The bottom line: The guy was correct, and after reflection and self-scolding, I changed my mind and future tune.

My second eye-opener still involved my role as a first sergeant, when we used to send sponsor packages which included your newspaper, to new troops and their families. I actually fielded several calls from trepidatious inbound African-American troops, typically from “up north urban areas” aware that they were coming to the “deep South” and noticing a paucity of “black faces” in much of the local coverage, especially in the area of prominent civic groups.

I couldn’t really speak satisfactorily to these concerns; in fact, I can only hope things have improved since I retired in 2003.

It was these two incidents that moved me to become more racially conscious and sensitive.

This issue came front and center to me in 2006, when I saw the coverage of Miss Choctaw in, again, your paper. There they were, 25 or so Caucasian faces. I put myself in the place of my new troops seeing such an array, wondering how their children would fare in the new schools they’d soon be moving into.

I took the step of calling CHS and spoke to a prominently-placed administrator, who was taken aback at my call, a bit flustered actually. I included in my observation of how unwelcoming such a display could be to certain groups in our community, present and future.

Since I didn’t reveal his name, I don’t mind sharing a funny aspect of the call: “You don’t even sound black. Why is this of concern to you, Mr. Roberts?” Being quite good at many accents, I offered to call back using my best Brooklyn Roller Rink guy voice, even going so far as to reveal that I’d recently learned of my own “diverse” racial background.

The administrator declined, and to be quite honest, I never looked out for the displays again.

Does this even matter? I obviously think it does.

Does our local NAACP chapter care to engage or have they given up? Again, does this matter to our area?

I’ve been told by several African-American friends that there’s only one beach at which they feel welcome, naming it “Black Beach.” I know not where it is because, well, going to the beach is no longer “a good look” for me.

The best example I’ve seen of racial inclusion and diversity in our area can be found in Pastor Larry Bolden’s Striving 4 Perfection Ministries. Whether it’s a clustering accident or not, many of Larry’s parishioners are or were in the U.S. military.

What, if anything, should happen next?

William Roberts is a resident of Fort Walton Beach.