By Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 18, 2020
Senior Airman Kailen Kistler speaks at the Run for the Dream 5k event at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Sept. 12, 2020. Kistler organized the event after witnessing the video of George Floyd’s death in May 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
Participants watch Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech after the Run for the Dream 5k event at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Sept. 12, 2020. Organizers enforced social distancing and mask wear during the event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
Runners depart the start line during the Run for the Dream 5k event at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Sept. 12, 2020. Signs featuring famous quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lined the running route. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Newman, 31st Fighter Wing command chief, speaks at the Run for the Dream 5k at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Sept. 12, 2020. The event commemorated the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
A runner signs in to the Run for the Dream 5k at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Sept. 12, 2020. Organizers strictly enforced social distancing guidelines and mask wear during the event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Cusimano)
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed while being arrested outside a shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Video of the incident quickly spread online, igniting social outcry and protests across the United States and the world.
The video was viewed by millions of people around the globe, including those right here at Aviano Air Base.
“So many of us saw that video and felt angry, and helpless, and outraged,” said Senior Airman Kailen Kistler, 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron mobility readiness spares packages journeyman. “I just knew I wanted to do something that was educational and not controversial and would bring the community together.”
Kistler did some research, and realized the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech was only a few months away. It was exactly the kind of message she wanted to send, and it met all her criteria, she said.
So, she came up with an idea for the event: a 5k run where participants would gather afterward to watch the speech in its entirety.
The 31st Fighter Wing does its part
In response to the growing social concern, the 31st Fighter Wing held a “Unity in Diversity” day July 17, 2020. Airmen from different units gathered in socially-distanced conference rooms and classrooms across base to tell their stories and work towards self-reflection and understanding.
“I honestly really enjoyed the conversations that we had,” Kistler said. “It was nice to see that people were all feeling the same way about stuff, it was really productive.”
Feedback on the event was overwhelmingly positive, organizers said, but some Airmen expressed concern that the discussion wouldn’t have a lasting effect.
Leadership knew then that the conversation needed to continue well into the future.
“Our work is not even close to being done,” said Maj. Stephen Emmerthal, the then director of the Commander’s Action Group with the 31st FW. “This was just a down payment, an investment in the bank of trust.”
Kistler knew the 31st FW wasn’t solely responsible for affecting change. Individuals in the community also needed to step up, she said.
By then, she’d already been working on her event for a month and felt good about where it was headed. After Unity in Diversity day, she felt even better.
Planning an event can be challenging even in the best of conditions. Throw stringent COVID-19 guidelines into the mix, and the difficulty increases tenfold.
“I really wanted to make sure I thought of everything,” Kistler said. “I knew if we weren’t prepared, we’d make it difficult even for future events people may be planning.”
Other members of Wyvern Nation rallied to help her with her cause. Roughly 60 volunteers signed up to help craft signs with quotes from Dr. King to be placed along the run route. Others agreed to act as road guards and man water stations.
As the scheduled date of August 29, 2020 drew near, everything was falling into place, Kistler said. The run would take place one day after the date of the famous speech.
Mother Nature, however, had ideas of her own. The weekend forecast called for heavy rain, hail, and even possible tornados. In the end, the team had no choice but to push the run back.
“It was such a tough call,” Kistler said. “We had a lot of momentum going. But I realized it wasn’t about the actual date, it was about the significance.”
A new date was set: September 12th. Kistler and her team took the extra time to shore up their planning, and when the week finally arrived the forecast called for beautiful weather. The ‘Run for the Dream’ 5k was finally a go.
As participants gathered in the parking lot next to Hangar 1, 31st FW Command Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Newman set the tone for the day with his opening remarks.
“There’s a lot of hate out there,” he said. “That doesn’t sit right with me.”
The run kicked off and signs posted along the route reminded runners of what the event was all about.
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle,” read one sign. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way,” read another.
Wyverns of all kinds navigated the course. Mothers pushed strollers, couples ran side by side, and participants finished the run feeling a sense of community.
“It was good to get together and socialize,” said Senior Airman Malcolm Shelton, 31 LRS inspection team member. “[And] to talk about the situation going on in the world.”
After the last few runners finished, participants moved into Hangar 1 to listen to a guest speaker before the ‘I have a dream’ speech was played in its entirety.
At final count, more than fifty people attended. Kistler was happy with the turnout, she said, but her focus wasn’t on the numbers.
“I don’t think it’s about the quantity, necessarily. It’s more about the people that did come, they really want to be here,” she said.
As the 31st FW, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. itself continue to have meaningful conversations and address important issues, Kistler said she hopes events like these continue to grow.
“I plan on bringing this to my next base, and the base after that,” she said. “I hope it spreads to other bases as well.”