A routine flight with a competitor ended in a heartfelt conversation on race for American Airlines CEO and a viral Facebook post published by a Southwest Airlines flight attendant.
The flight attendant, JacqueRae Hill, posted publicly about how she noticed the book he was reading and started a conversation with him. They appreciated the conversation so much she told her mother, an American Airlines employee, about it leading to further correspondence between her mother and Parker.
Doug Parker Flies Southwest, Cheers Up Crew Member
I’m going to let Hill’s words from her public Facebook post mostly speak for themselves here.
With everything we’re seeing on the news after the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, only the latest in a string of unjustifiable killings of black people, she was feeling down as she headed to work.
So my heart has been heavy as I’m sure most of you feel the same. I was on social media before preparing to go to work (terrible idea). As I was driving to work I had to really go to God with my thoughts because it would make it hard to smile with everything going on.
She noticed a man holding the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by sociologist Robin DiAngelo boarding the plane and resolved to speak to him.
As we are boarding my first flight of the day I smile and I greet people when they come on and a man was holding a book that has been on my to read list. The book is entitled White Fragility. I was so happy to see that book in his grasp that I knew after I finished my duties I was going to make a point to ask him about it. I go sit next to him as he was sitting in a row all by himself
Luckily, he was sitting in an empty row. So after attending to her flight attendant duties, she sat down next to him and asked him about the book. He told her that he’s about halfway through the book and that “it’s really good…it really points out how important these conversations on race are.”
Before she could respond to Parker, Hill broke down in tears. She writes that she’s been “so sad” every day and just wants “understand and be understood so we can begin to fix it.” His response was a masterclass in empathy.
I’m pretty sure I startled him by seemingly dumping all my emotions on him but his reply was “I’m so sorry. And it’s our fault that this is like this. We continued to talk and when I tell you it was everything I needed.
I was happy ( even tho I was crying ). I went on to tell him about my prayer on my way to work today and that he Answered that prayer for me with this conversation.
It was only after the conversation that he asked her name and introduced himself. She told him her mother works for him in Washington, DC and gave him a (masked) hug.
While deboarding the flight, he handed her a note thanking her for the conversation and giving her his contact information and took a picture together.
Thank you so much for coming back to speak with me. It was a gift from God and an inspiration for me.
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 that we don’t talk about it enough. Thank you for talking to me and sharing 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.
She told her mother, the American employee, about the encounter and the mother reached out to Parker.
It brings me to tears to read in a text message from my daughter, JacqueRae, how kind and understand[ing] you were to her today on your flight from Dallas. I have only been a part of American for nine and a half years but I always felt your heart is good but you have a difficult job. Thank you so much for confirming my belief in who you are and for the hugs you gave my child. What [..] a way to care for people o[n] their life’s journey! American Airlines will come back strong!
To which Doug Parker responded:
Your daughter’s visit was a gift to me. She is a special young woman. She had the courage to approach me only because I was reading a book on racism in America. She, like most all of us, is questioning how we got to this spot and why we can’t be better. Her kind heart and open-mindedness were evident – you raised her well.
I had no answers other than to tell her we all need to talk about it more. She certainly left an impression on me. Reading a book is one thing – spending time with a kind, strong, young black woman who is hurting and trying to learn from others is another thing altogether.
After we’d talked for awhile I felt like I should tell her what I did for a living. The conversation was even more impactful when we realized we had you as a connection. (How did we let her to go Southwest?)
Thank you for thanking me, but trust me, I was the one who was blessed by thtat conversation. I am better for it and more resolved to do what I can to make the worldbetter for people like her (and people like me). Thank you!
Doug Parker’s Human Side
Parker definitely seems to have a good sense of humor. While he’s been criticized for his management, he’s a very human manager. He’s known to always talk to cabin crew when he flies American and he even rocked out in American headquarters a few years ago. And when a flight attendant spilled drinks on him he was cool about it:
The comments to JacqueRae’s post about this encounter have been overwhelmingly positive. If how someone acts when they think that nobody recognizes them speaks to their character, Parker seems like a really good dude. I can’t remember ever hearing of a personal interaction involving him where he didn’t come off well.
White Fragility has also been on my reading list for a while. It definitely needs to move up given everything happening right now.
This is a tough time with heightened tension and protests against anti-black racism and killings all across the country. Meanwhile, it’s the last day of AAPI heritage month and Asian people have also been subject to racism on various airlines. Doug Parker is right: it is sad that we as a society have progressed so slowly on an issue that has such a clear right vs. wrong.
We need to all do our part to make the world a better place for everyone.
Props to both him and JacqueRae for their openness and giving us a heartwarming story during a difficult time on multiple levels.
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