July 2, 2019

USAF Major General Alfred K. Flowers Speaks at SUNY Empire Black Male Initiative Event

Flowers is the Longest-serving African American in all Branches of the US Armed Services

Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, left, shakes hands with student Larry Johnson, BMI president. With them is alumnus Carl Hall ’17, a BMI member who assisted in planning and running the event.

A standing-room-only crowd greeted retired USAF Maj. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers, whose remarks, “Diversity and Leadership - Overcoming the Obstacles,” generated a standing ovation.

“Inspiring” was the word most often used by the audience to describe Flowers’ talk.

Flowers holds records as the longest-serving airman in Air Force history and the longest-serving active-duty African-American in all branches of the Armed Forces.

In his last assignment, as deputy assistant secretary for budget, he was responsible for planning and directing Air Force budget formulations, that annually totaled more than $119 billion.

The event took place Saturday, June 29, at 325 Hudson Street, SUNY Empire’s Manhattan location. Flowers was invited by The Black Male Initiative (BMI), one of the college’s many student/alumni clubs.

Flowers’ key messages were of perseverance and persistence, “Never give up.” He told how he was denied an officer’s commission five times, but worked until he achieved his goal.

Flowers also recounted stories of those who disparaged or questioned is goals early in his career. In one, a man told Flowers that he would never advance far because of his “black” accent. Later, this same individual ended up reporting to Flowers, his superior officer. “How do you like my ‘black’ accent now?” Flowers asked his subordinate.

Flowers cautioned, “Never let intellect take you where your character will not sustain you.” He urged those attending to contribute to solving one of our country’s greatest issues: the vanishing village. He said that, in part, we can restore community with the power of education.

He talked about being a “servant leader,” saying “Servant leaders know people are an organization's greatest asset.” In being a servant leader, Flowers advised the audience, “Strive for perfection and achieve excellence.”

Alumnus Sydney Clark ‘17, a retired veteran now working for the Veterans Administration, shared some of his own experience as an African-American in the service. Clark said that when a black officer appeared on base, he and others were so excited that they would follow the officer around just to salute him.

Clark, and others such as Carl Hall ‘17 and student Tevin Guadeloupe, both BMI members, praised Flowers as an inspiration and sought his advice on several subjects.

The event was planned and managed by BMI members. Student Lawrence Johnson, BMI’s current president, served as emcee and alumna Jawana Richardson ‘16, ‘18, lead organizer, BMI vice president and a member of the college’s Alumni Student Federation Board of Governors, also made brief remarks.

All students and alumni in attendance received a free copy of Flowers’ book, “Reflections of a Servant Leader: My Journey as the Longest Serving Airman in U. S. Air Force History,” which he signed for each of them as they talked about the event and the larger issues of race, discrimination, diversity and others.

Flowers was introduced by SUNY Empire State College Executive Vice President for Administration Joseph L. Garcia, a 28-year veteran and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.

Like Flowers, Garcia began his career as an enlisted person. In fact, Garcia and Flowers know each other well from their years of service in the Air Force. Garcia credits Flowers as a mentor and role model and, most importantly, as the man who introduced Garcia to his wife, Brenda.

About Maj. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers

During his 46 years on active duty, he completed a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education, Southern Illinois University, a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy, National Defense University, Fort McNair, District of Columbia, and a Master of Arts in Executive Development and Public Service, from Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.

Flowers was born in Jones County, North Carolina December 29, 1947. He was raised in rural Jones County near Phillips Crossroads. At the age of 10, he started working in the fields with his grandparents, who were sharecroppers. He graduated from Jones High School in 1965. Flowers could not afford to attend college, so after graduating, he decided to enlist in the Air Force. Because he was only 17, his grandmother had to sign a release allowing him to enlist.

Flowers began his career as an enlisted supply warehouseman in August 1965 at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. He then served as an air transportation specialist for four years beginning in September 1967. From January 1968 to January 1969, he served at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam. In 1971, Flowers became an accounting specialist and served seven years in that role. After his selection to the grade of master sergeant, Flowers was commissioned following graduation from Officer Training School as a distinguished graduate of the December 1978 class.

Prior to his retirement, the enlisted members of Air Education and Training Command presented Flowers with the Order of the Sword, the Air Force enlisted force's highest honor for officer leadership.

His many other awards include:

  • The Distinguished Service Medal.
  • The Defense Superior Service Medal.
  • The Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster.

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