We all have to make that gutsy move to get to the other side, whether we’re talking about achieving personal success or arriving at solutions to pressing social issues. That Gutsy Move is what Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour is working on in her newest project, which she shares, among other things, with Dr. Diane Hamilton. Vernice got her moniker “FlyGirl” from being the first African-American woman to become a combat pilot in the US Armed Forces. For more than a decade, she has inspired organizations and individuals to make gutsy moves and create breakthrough results. As a gay woman, African American, and former beat cop, she offers a wholly different perspective on social injustice and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which she shares with Dr. Diane in this conversation.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour here. She is America’s first African American Female Combat Pilot. She’s also the author of Zero to Breakthrough. We’re going to have a great conversation.
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Perception And The Gutsy Move With Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour
Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour propelled herself from beat cop to combat pilot in record-breaking three years and became America’s first African American female combat pilot. I’m sure you’ve seen her on Oprah and everywhere else. She’s inspired countless organizations and individuals to make gutsy moves and create breakthrough results. It’s nice to have you here, Vernice.
It is awesome to be here with you, Dr. D. Is it okay if I call you that? I didn’t even ask permission.
Call me anything you want. I answer to about anything. It’s so nice to have you on the show and I watched your talks. I’ve watched you on The View. I’ve watched a lot of stuff you’ve done, and I loved your confidence in The View. You’re cool. You’ve got all these women staring at you. You’re right on the big screen and no problem. I want to start the show with a little background on you because I had talked about a little bit in your bio, but if people haven’t seen you yet, I would like to have them know more about you. How did you get to be FlyGirl?
When I was in the Marine Corps, my call sign was not FlyGirl. This is not the most politically correct story in the world, but all the pilots get call signs. At the call sign naming ceremony, my commanding officer had written out this whole poem. The last part of it said, “With all you have in that trunk, we will simply call you Junk.” My sign was Junk for junk in the trunk. How did I get FlyGirl? I’m out and I’m speaking. I was doing a STEM event, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics with Mae Jemison and Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek. She is amazing. Also, some other powerhouse women. There were mathematicians, there were astrophysicists. When Mae Jemison puts together an event based around science, it’s out of this world. It was amazing.
Are you a Trekkie?
I can totally speak Klingon. Not really. I do love a good Star Trek episode. We were doing this event. It was at a National Guard unit right there at Midway Airport in Chicago. If I’m in a National Guard unit, I walk around because I’m going to talk to the guys in the flight equipment area to say, “Hi, how are you doing?” I’ll check stuff out. I’m social like that. I saw these patches that had the on aviator wings and then the word ‘FlyGirl’ under it. I was like, “That’s awesome. Can I have one?” They were like, “Yes. Take it. It’s yours.” I started wearing it and then people started calling me FlyGirl. When I was going through my branding and I was like, “Everybody calls me a FlyGirl. They refer to me as FlyGirl. That should be my branding.” It became Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour. That was it.
I’ve seen a lot of your pictures and it’s great to see that you embrace that. You’ve been on many shows and all that we’re going to go into, but what led to you even wanting to do this as a kid? You didn’t grow up saying, “I want to be a combat pilot.” What was your childhood like and what led to this?
I was born in Chicago and at the age of four, I knew I wanted a horse and I said that I wanted to be a cop that rode a horse downtown, a mounted patrol. My parents got divorced when I was three. My mom got remarried. My dad that I grew up with got me a horse when I was six. I was like, “I am halfway there.” I knew I needed a horse. It was amazing. Fast forward, I made it through high school. I was a band geek. I played trombone and all this stuff. I’m at school. I was majoring in Animal Science, emphasis in Horse Science. I decided I’ll train and breed later, but I did want to be a police officer. That was still my dream.
I filled out the civil service exam a couple of years after that. I ended up getting into the police academy, but along that journey, being in college, I didn’t have any money to go to school with. I saw a flyer on the wall that said, “Free trip to Mardi Gras.” I was like, “What? That is for me. Sign me up.” Diane, you know there’s always a catch. They always say nothing’s free. I had to join the Women’s ROTC Auxiliary Team. I joined the team. I was like, “My dad was in the military. My father was in the military and my granddad was a Marine. I could do this.” I joined because I also felt it could help me with the police department, prior military experience and the whole discipline and uniform, esprit de corps.There are no ground controllers in life. You are your ground controller. Click To Tweet
I enlisted in the Army. I came back and decided to do ROTC at my university. During ROTC, I saw a black woman in a flight suit. It was mind-blowing. I was 19, 20 years old. From that moment on, I wanted to be a combat pilot. I wanted to fly. I ended up getting accepted into the police department, which was from school. I did a couple of years and finished up part-time. I ended up going into the Marine Corps after four years of trying to get in, when you could only apply once a year. The first year they didn’t accept me. The second year, they didn’t accept me. The third-year was a technicality. They didn’t accept me. Mind you, the attrition rate is over 80% after the first year of people who don’t get in. They never apply again.
Year four, they’re looking at me like, “Who the hell is this shit? She’s a fricking anomaly.” There was some political stuff. It was right after DACOWITS and women being allowed to fly in the Marine Corps. I would’ve been the first, so there’s probably some stuff all around that. I ended up being the first black female pilot in the Marine Corps. After going to Iraq, the first black female combat pilot in all of the armed services. It was an interesting journey all the way around. It totally surprised. Who knew? That’s the story.
We had talked a little before that I did some work in perception. You were talking about your mind was blown when you saw an African American female in a flight suit. Why would that be such a mind-blowing thing? Did you never consider that women could reach that level?
Perception can also be insidious. Since you have a book coming out, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. My parents got divorced when I was three. My brother and I started flying on the plane very early as unaccompanied minors to visit my dad during the summer. I never saw black pilots on the plane. You always saw white. This is subconscious, unconscious stuff. You’re getting on and I never saw any black crew. When I went to ROTC Leadership Advanced Camp, my battle buddy, a young white female, was actually on an aviation contract. She was going to be a pilot. I wanted nothing to do with aviation. I wanted to be a cop. I want to do field artillery, sniper platoon, Delta Force, Special Forces. Anything where I could shoot a gun or blow something up, and everything that women could not do because of the combat exclusion laws at the time.
Fast forward, it’s career day. We walked around at 12:30. She was like, “Armour, can we please go to the aviation tent now? We have looked at everything in this field.” I was like, “All right, fine. Black people don’t even fly,” which is not true. Bessie Coleman, Tuskegee Airmen, Willa Brown, the legacy is long and large. It is absolutely about access and exposure. Black Lives Matter movement is going on, George Floyd, Mr. Brooks, Breonna Taylor. There’s a whole movement around access and exposure of black lives mattering the same as other lives. My battle buddy, a young, white female, I say the whole little drop, “Black people don’t fly,” which if I’m going to be honest, I know my side hustle is being a comedian and I make my little one-liners, but I was being serious in that moment. Black people don’t fly and it was not the truth.
We go across the field and we walk into the tent. There’s a little gym inside and camo netting everywhere. I look towards the back, take a second for my eyes to adjust to the dimness and there was a black chick in a flight suit. I’m like, “What? That is cool. Why didn’t I think of that?” My battle buddy was like, “I told you.” I had never envisioned myself that pilot. Does that mean I shouldn’t have thought about it or why couldn’t it have been me? It’s a great question. That’s how it was. Obama, when he was running for president, I remember in the beginning, I was like, “That’s awesome. E for effort. He’s not going to have it,” and there it is. It happened. That’s what happened and it planted the seed. Here I am talking to you.
It’s such an interesting part of the research I did with curiosity about what assumptions we make. Things that hold us back from being curious are fear, assumptions, technology, and the environment. A lot of it is they overlap to some extent. You have people around you that might never have said you could do this or that wasn’t even a possibility. Do you have children?
I do. Her name is FlyBaby.
What do you do to open up the world for her?
She travels with me and we go places together. I’m excited about everything that she gets to discover and see with me, which as she grows up, we’ll probably never have the opportunity to do. I had the opportunity to go to the last space shuttle launch. My partner’s son, who was thirteen at the time, got to be there and see the last time aircraft left American soil going into space when we sent two guys up again. One of my best friends is an astronaut. He’s been selected to go up. Taking her to things like that, showing her that everything is available and more. My parents did that too. They told me, “You could do anything. Everything is possible.” I remember sitting down and recording my grandfather, who was in World War II. He was a Montford Point Marine, the first blacks to be a part of the Marine Corps. They actually went to a segregated boot camp because they could not go to boot camp with their white counterparts.
I kept saying, “I’ve got to document this. I’ve got to record them. I’ve got to record living history.” I remember at one point he’s telling me about the war and the job. He was like, “We can never be a pilot. We were in the boardroom where we were janitors. We were cooks. I never would have imagined that my granddaughter would be an officer in the Marine Corps.” He said, “You can do anything.” I could feel my eyes watering up. It’s so trite. It’s a cliché. You can do anything. Here my grandfather was 90-something years old looking at me from almost a century-old telling me, “I never would have imagined. You can do anything.” It’s so true. That’s what I’m trying to do for my kid. Show her the world.
This ties to the question you asked me. How am I showing my kid that everything is possible? What I have discovered is I have to be more influential than the outside programming. When she was four, she was doing something. She was in the bathtub and she did something. It was amazing. It’s my kid. It’s going to be amazing. I was like, “You are so strong.” She was like, “Mommy, no. I am not strong.” I was like, “What?” I’m going to take the talks about gutsy, bold leadership and engagement. How is my kid telling me she’s not strong? I was like, “Baby, yes, you are.” She’s like, “No, mommy. I don’t want to be strong. I just want to be a girl.”
Diane, the air could have sucked all the way out of my body and my blood and my heart could have stopped at that moment. I was like, “What?” I was like, “Baby, I’m strong. I’m a girl. Grammy, she’s a girl. Grammy is strong.” I said, “Are you smart?” She said, “No.” I said, “Are you intelligent?” She said, “No.” I said, “Are you pretty?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you cute?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you scared?” She said, “Yes.” “Are you shy?” “Yes.” At that moment, what I realized is that even though this kid is only four years old, whether it’s TV or the cartoons or the iPad, all these outside influences. Is there somebody telling her she’s not strong? No, but she’s looking at what is portrayed as girls being saved, girls like pink and glitter. Girls do this, girls do that. Girls don’t have short hair. At that moment, I made the decision that even though I say these things, I’ve got to say, “I’m a lot.” I have to show her a lot, but that’s not what I say. It’s what I show her. It goes back to your perception. I need to read your book.
I love that you are already opening up the world to her because of what she’s talking about in Zero to Breakthrough. She’s young and you’re doing so much with her. That’s the name of your first book. You help people if they want to succeed and you change their mindset. You’re working on your daughter and I love that you do that. I want to talk about the book. That was with Penguin. You had success with that quite a bit. When you still talk to groups, is that your main focus, Zero to Breakthrough, or are you on a new topic since then?
It’s interesting. First of all, I want to address when you say I changed people’s mindsets. You and I both know I can’t change anybody’s mind. I can’t make anybody do anything. I said to one of my friends, “What do I do? What’s the magic I create?” My friend said, “Vernice, it doesn’t matter. We could be going through the line of the grocery store or you could be in the car service and talking to the driver. When people leave your presence, they are confronted with the possibility that there’s more. There’s more to their life. There’s more to what they could do. If they want more, they have it.” Zero to Breakthrough, yes, engagement. Before I can release missiles, the ground controller would say, “You have permission to engage. Cleared hot.” Here at home, there are no ground controllers in life. You are your ground controller.
If you don’t give yourself permission, who will? That was the foundation. I came to realize what some of my magic was in how I created the breakthroughs, which was almost the prequel of the movie before the movie. In order to engage in some of those moments, it took guts or all the courage, whatever people want to call it. I ended up calling that the gutsy move. In your gut it’s right. It takes guts to do it, but to get to take action. It’s not a gutsy thought. It’s a gutsy move. That’s where gutsy leadership was born for me. That was around 2011 to 2012. The next book that I am working on, the working title is The Gutsy Move. I’ve thought about doing the gutsy leader or gutsy leadership, but it’s beyond executives in the corporation. It’s almost like have Brené Brown Daring Greatly. It was everywhere. There was a mom or work or whatever. I wanted it to be a book for everyone because everyone can make that gutsy move in their life to achieve whatever they want.
Get gutsy, live gutsy. I like that. I’m looking at all your trademark stuff. One mission, one team. You’ve got quite a few different trademarks. I love the gutsy thing because I love the whole Nike, Just Do It mentality for one thing. I don’t think a lot of people push themselves enough. They exist instead of live. It was what I expected when I researched curiosity, I assumed everybody was going to say fear. Fear does hold people back. What surprised me were some of the other things that held people back. We talked about it before, the assumptions, the things that we tell ourselves and we’re like, “I’m not going to be interested in that. It’s going to be too hard. I’ve never seen an African American female do that,” or whatever it is that you put in your head.
You’ve got a lot of support. Your environment, which a lot of people have their environment, they don’t have grandfathers or people like what you talked about from your family all being in military and different things as support systems. It can be hard for people to see. They don’t know what they don’t know because they haven’t been exposed to it. I love that you go around and talk about these things of getting people aware, even if it’s in the grocery store line or whatever you said. People don’t put themselves out there. You are so enthusiastic and you have this life to you that you probably were an adorable child that did that all the time. Can you get people to have that enthusiasm? Do they need that enthusiasm?Everyone can make that gutsy move in their life to achieve whatever they want. Click To Tweet
It’s not about enthusiasm. I have a friend and we talk about this. I’m like, “There are many assumptions you’re working off of here. Why didn’t you call me at all?” “I thought you’re probably busy.” “You didn’t, though. You assumed.” She was like, “You’re right.” On different things, all these assumptions like, “They’re probably not open,” or “They’re probably this or that.” I said, “If you’ve got to make up a story because you don’t know, why not pick the best-case scenario instead of the worst and go off on that one? Let’s drive towards that if we got to make something up.” When I ask people questions and I dig because I love how curiosity is a part of your work, your body of knowledge.
I’m asking you questions because honestly, I have an intense curiosity and intense curiosity to understand how you came to that answer or how you came to that decision or how you came to that process versus why do you do that? I use those words. Even if I say, “Why do you do that?” I could say it in the sweetest way ever and somebody’s still going to feel attacked, but why did you feel questioned?” I was like, “I’ve got an intense curiosity. I’d love to know how you came to that conclusion,” and it’s totally different. I go through life like that.
I feel that a lot of people feel attacked sometimes when they think that you’re questioning what they’ve done. I was looking at some research on men versus women on that. After seminars in Cambridge, there’s a bunch of different studies out there, but they found that women are less likely to ask questions because they don’t want to point out anything and offend. The men, the first thing they want is to ask because they noticed something wrong with what the speaker said and they have no problem pointing it out. Do you think as women, we tend to want to not offend and be careful too much and avoid and questioning, which puts us into status quo?
It permeates many things. If we’re going to do a gross generalization on women and let’s say the pay gap and all that stuff, research and studies show that a guy negotiates for a higher salary and a woman is like, “Thanks for the job.” A guy asked for the pay raise and the woman is like, “I’m glad to be here.” The guy gets the promotion and she’s like, “They’re going to see how hard I’m working.” When the post comes out and it’s like, “We’re going to promote somebody,” and it’s ten prerequisites. The woman is like, “I only got 9.5. I’m not qualified.” The guy’s like, “I got half. I’m going for it.” There are some systemic things with how women it seems are raised.
If I walk into a classroom and that side of the room is painted blue and has all the boy toys and the other side is painted pink and has all the girl toys. What are we doing from the beginning? No wonder there’s this huge difference. There’s a pay gap because women never asked for the money and never asked for the raise and guys do. Even if it’s different separate systemically in the system, it’s even more so because of how we are behaving. It’s all driven by unconscious and assumptive thoughts that we don’t even question. It’s deep.
You question a lot of things and I love that. Once you were on a motorcycle squad and football and you’re a beat cop.
My dad played for the Colts when they were back in Baltimore and I always wanted to play football. He was a coach for a Pop Warner team, the Mighty Steelers. I’ll never forget that Pop Warner. I wanted to play, but he didn’t let me play it. He said I could be a cheerleader. That lasted for all of ten minutes of one game and I threw those pom-poms down.
I’m sure you probably were stronger and harder working than any of the other players on the team. I could imagine. Your success, you started as a beat cop, you ended up doing all these things. How hard was it, first of all, to get through boot camp and everything else that you had to go through? You’re not in a desk job. You’re a combat pilot. I can’t even imagine what it’s going through that training. My nephew went through that for the Air Force and he said it was the worst and the best thing he has gone through. Do you agree with that?
Basic training was tough, that’s the Army, and officer candidate school for the Marine Corps was grueling. When I graduated from basic training with the Army, which was four months, I was still in the turtle group. I was still a slow runner. I was in okay shape, not the best shape in the world. When I graduated from officer candidate school, when I first got there, I was running 3 miles on 31 minutes and 32 seconds. I’ll never forget that. When I graduated, my fastest run was 21 minutes and 30 seconds. I had lost 10 pounds. I was lean. My body wanted to run instead of walk anywhere I went and I was in the best shape. I could climb all the cargo nets, go through the mud, carry the log. You are a machine when you leave that place. Was it hard? It was hard. It’s hard for anybody that goes through something like that. There are some athletes that could go to the Olympics when they first get to officer candidate school and physically, it might not be as demanding for them. For the average person, you’re definitely not average the day you become a Marine Corps officer.
I was listening to something that Demi Moore was saying about the GI Jane training she went through. She said no matter how hard she worked, I don’t even think she could do more than two pull-ups even when she was done with all that. Are you able to do the pull-ups? How hard was that?
At one point, my goal was to do twenty dead arm hang pull-ups. I got up to sixteen.
I can’t even move an inch, not even a half-an-inch, I don’t think.
You can. You have to work up to it. I could never fly an attack helicopter. The first day I went out, I did that attack helicopter. There was no way I could have flown it. I had to learn. Nobody pops out the womb and know how to do any of this crap. We can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself or eat by ourselves. Everything is learned and it’s hard until it’s not hard anymore.
That’s a lot different though, being in a combat pilot as compared to a beat cop. What is it when you’re up there? The first time you go up, did they do all the things where they try to make you throw up and spin you around and do all that to get you over?
I was determined I wasn’t going to throw up. Each beginning play is about 1.5 hours and I had a cool instructor. He was showing me some extra stuff and yes, we did all the aerobatics and he’s like, “Let’s take a long way back.” I’m like, “No.” I’m trying to hold it together. I was like, “I’ll make it.” I could feel something coming off. We were maybe 5 to 8 minutes from landing. I ended up taking off my gloves. It’s probably more information than you guys need to know. If it had been a 1.5-hour flight, I would have made it, but the two hours got me. It happens.
They break you probably on that. When you give your talks, you give some great stories. The audience is following along and it’s moving to watch what you went through and some of the stories. Even on Oprah, talking about some of the stuff you do. What was it when you got to go on Oprah?
They came after me and the public relations officer said, “We got a phone call for you.” This was during combat operations. We weren’t allowed to talk on the phone. I hadn’t spoken to my mom and dad for about a month at the time. I had a satellite phone and it was amazing. As a little kid, the reason I wanted to be a cop was mounted patrol. As I got a little older, I wanted to do something to help my community. Being interested in being a police officer, I knew that would help my community. After being a cop in my city, on my beat, I wanted to do something bigger. I asked to do something bigger than I ended up going into the Marine Corps. Who knew that when I came out on the other side, people would be asking me to reach out to organizations and help? It’s almost every step has led me to doing and being what I am right now. The challenges and obstacles along the way absolutely prepared me for this moment, talking to you and to go on to what I’m meant to do. Every obstacle is preparing me for my next mission.
Your next mission, you started a company once you got out and you had six figures in your first twelve months of your business. Tell me a little bit about that success. What kind of company? It was training consulting that you still do, correct?Black lives matter as much as everybody’s life. That’s the part people don’t get about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Click To Tweet
Yes. That is still my company, even though I have also a construction company. I want to be a total Elon Musk or something, serial entrepreneur. I started my company and when I came back, I went to a couple of schools and I spoke and I was like, “This would be cool. I love speaking. This will be my way to give back to my community.” After coming back from Iraq, people were reaching out to me and I’m like, “This is cool.” Those previous things that set me up for exactly what I wanted to do. Who knew? Fast forward, I’m speaking, I’m traveling. My cousin talked me into writing a book while I was deployed in Iraq. When I first graduated from flight school, he asked me to write a book and I’m like, “I haven’t even done anything yet. It’s just a title. Let me do something.”
Two deployments later, 2:00 in the morning, I’m talking to him on a sat phone on the border of Syria. I’m like, “I’m ready.” That’s when Zero to Breakthrough was born and The Gutsy Move, and Black Lives Matter movement. Sitting on my desk, COVID hits. All my keynotes are canceled. I’m like, “Crap, what am I going to do?” I beat myself up for a little bit for a couple of days. I’m like, “I used to get excited when people were fired.” I was like, “This is an opportunity. Now you get to do what you want to do.” I got to take my own medicine. I get to create whatever I want. What do I want to create? Black Lives Matter happens.
The death of George Floyd. Everybody’s at home. They have no options but to see it. Our whole country is going through stuff. Here I am sitting on my desk saying, “What am I going to do? What should I do? What can I do with my platform?” I had never spoken about anything political. No Republican or Democrat or anything that from the platform. Bold, gutsy leadership, engagement. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on. At this moment, how do I navigate this? I knew immediately this is not a political conversation. This is being proactive. This is about humanity. We’re talking about lives on the line. We had the people that say, “All lives matter.” Yes, all lives do matter. That’s what we’re saying. Black lives matter as much as anybody else’s life.
If you were saying it in another way, when I am in a breast cancer march, there’s nobody there protesting saying, “All cancer matters. What about lung cancer? What about pancreatic cancer?” We’re all there for breast cancer. We’re not saying none of the other stuff matters. That’s the part people don’t get about the Black Lives Matter movement. As a black gay woman, all three categories that get discriminated against, whether I was black or only a woman or only gay. A former cop keeping peace on the streets with the protests and the riots. Former soldier and National Guard, keeping peace on the streets with the riots, and a diversity officer for headquarters of the Marine Corps on a committee implement diversity policy and all the services.
It’s like, “If I have all these dots and can’t connect the dots, what life does anybody else have that doesn’t have any dots or maybe 1 or 2?” I knew I had to use my voice at this moment to be a voice for the folks who felt voiceless and giving tangible things to do. I wrote an op-ed that ended up being published in a couple of papers. It was about a new conversation. The old conversation is the one my dad had with me where he said, “Vernice, I’m teaching you how to drive.” He tells me to pull over. He looks at me and he said, “What do you do if you get pulled over by the police?” “I make my hands visible.” He says, “How?” “Put them at the 10:00 and 2:00.” He said, “That’s right. I said, “Dad, what if I didn’t do anything?” He said, “It doesn’t matter.”
To people who are not African American, it’s something they don’t think anything about it at all. I imagine the press comes to you for interviews quite often because you experienced all these different things.
They don’t yet, but I’m trying to get the exposure out there to be that voice. Maybe this is going to help.
I will definitely do my part to make sure everybody knows that you want this. They need somebody like you. You have every single aspect of what we’re talking about in society, and you’ve experienced all of these different things. I don’t know if I hear it as much from the African American women as I do from the men of being stopped and being harassed as much. Do you think that the women got it as much? Do you think your father would say the same thing to his son as he would do with his daughter?
No. It’s different. I could be walking down the street and I still hear the doors click lock. I step on an elevator and a woman will scoot a little further away and hold her purse on the other side. I was eleven years old and I was there with my stepsister. She was twenty-something. We went into RadioShack. It was Christmas time. The service rep came over and said, “Do you mind taking your coats off?” It’s 30-something degrees outside. We walked into the store. I started taking my coat off and my sister was like, “Stop. What are you doing? Don’t take your coat off.”
I was like, “Okay.” I looked around the store. Everybody else has a coat on. She was like, “Why do you want us to take our coats off?” He was like, “It’s store policy. You have on a big coat. We’re going to need you to take your coat off or you’re going to have to leave.” “Why do you want us to take our coats off while everybody else in here has their coat on?” “That’s it, ma’am. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” At that moment I got that. He’s asking us because we’re the only black people in here and he doesn’t want us to shoplift and put stuff in our coat.
Which city was this?
That was Memphis at the time. I’ve lived in quite a few cities. Diane, honestly, that stuff happens. Unfortunately, you get used to it, but that’s what this movement is all about. When I got pulled over on my motorcycle and the police officer said, “You look like a nervous driver.” I got pulled over two days in a row driving down the interstate. This was after I was a police officer and I’m asking, “What was I doing, officer?” He’s like, “This looks like your tint was a little dark.” I’m like, “Are you kidding?” I had my cruise control set at 70 miles an hour. I had been pulled over the day before in my uniform. I was like, “What is going on?”
It doesn’t matter who you are. We make jokes like I love black and stuff like that. There is something going on with the DNA, the fabric of our nation, even where policing comes from. As a cop, I knew I was one of the good guys. I’m out there. I am going to protect our people. I’m going to protect my block. I talked to the tough neighborhoods because I didn’t want them to find people with warrants and drugs and suspended licenses. I’m going for a tough neighborhood. Diane, where was the tough neighborhood? The black neighborhood. That’s right. Here I am, a brand-new cop, over-policing my own brothers and sisters because I’m here to “crackdown” on crime.
I’m pulling people over at a corner where I could sit and watch people for not using the turn signal because that’s going to give me an excuse to pull them over, find a suspended license, do a search on a car, find some drugs. Now I got an arrest. I wasn’t doing that in the white neighborhood. It was the thing about how police are bred and led. It’s not that we’re bad people. Cops stick together. There’s a code. You don’t “rat each other out.” Why am I even talking about this, Diane? It’s because it ties back into the gutsy leadership. Do we have the guts to, number one, acknowledge we have some injustices going on? Number two, do we have the guts to do something? On the 30th of June, we are fighting to get an anti-lynching bill through the Senate. We know it’s not okay. Why are we having to fight for something like that?
From your perspective, I’m curious, from the police officer’s angle, since you have that angle as well, I’m sure people are asking you what do you think about putting pressure on somebody’s neck where they can’t breathe. Did you see people doing these kinds of things?
Certainly. I was taught the chokehold. I looked it up and in Nashville, Tennessee, it was still legal to do the chokehold. They might’ve changed their policy at this moment, but I was taught to chokehold, the carotid, putting your elbow right here. You hold it until they pass out. It blocks off the blood to the brain. That’s what the chokehold is for.
I thought that was to hold them down. I didn’t realize they were trying to make them pass out.
It’s to make somebody pass out to make them go to sleep so they’re not resisting anymore.We’ve got to have the guts to acknowledge injustice and the guts to do something about it. Click To Tweet
Do you think that the training needs to be changed?
How do you get people to recognize that the police have been taught a certain thing that they’re not the bad guy? These guys are the bad guys possibly, but maybe not other police. People like to lump everybody together.
It’s a little deeper than how do we adjust the training because it’s the culture. It goes back to the culture, how we’re bred and led. If you understand the origins of policing, they were overseers of slaves on plantations. When the slaves were freed, they were the vigilantes who arrested black people who were free slaves for doing even the smallest of crime because all the labor was gone from slavery. Now they arrested people. Now you got the chain gang and we have our labor again. It went from enforcing the Jim Crow laws. All the colored laws, back of the bus, don’t drink out the white water fountain. We see it in all the movies from the ‘50s and ‘60 and Selma and all that stuff.
Blacks with the water hose and the dogs and all that stuff. The police of that time, and then if you look at some of the policing history on some of the departments, that’ll say we became a way more professional department. I’m like, “What does that mean? How do you become more professional?” They went from being vigilante Jim Crow into trying to be safe for the community. Being safe for the community also meant for protecting whites from blacks. Now Dr. King is assassinated. We have six days of violent rioting and people are talking about the looting and fighting. I don’t agree with the violence. After the six days of rioting, the Civil Rights Act was finally passed because of what was happening. Kaepernick protesting quietly, that didn’t get any attention. That didn’t change.
I’m not advocating violence. I’m saying different things shifts. Now fast forward to policing, we’re not that far removed. It’s 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination. You still have people in the department who’ve been on the department for 42 years. We have to look at culture and philosophy. When that officer was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and everybody was yelling at him, it incensed him, even more, to stay there because it’s like, “I’m the police. You don’t tell me what to do. Stand back, get back.” They all banded together. There were two rookie cops. They’ve been on the street for 3, 4, or 5 days. They didn’t know any better. They didn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t have known what to do at that moment. I was in a moment like that. I remember thinking, “He’s a Sergeant. He knows more than I do. He trains rookies like me. I need to watch to see what happens.” I was at that moment. I could have been in an orange suit. It’s crazy.
They’ve been out for a few days and they don’t even know what’s going on and they maybe think that he’s going to pass out or whatever it is that they’ve taught you. There are no good answers for any of this stuff. That’s why you would be so interesting to be a voice for such an important topic. When we’re talking about perception, there are many ways. You’re looking at it from as a cop, you’re looking at from all the different female, black, all the things you were saying. It’s going to be difficult, especially combined with COVID and everything else that’s going on. It’s crazy.
Now you can’t do a lot of your speaking and your training, as I can’t, but a lot of things we’re having to do virtually. I imagine you could do a lot of this media virtually, which would be great. I would love to see you do that. I hope that you get to be much more known for your cause. You have great insight from your experience. I know we touched on a lot of your experience and the things that you’ve done and I wanted to also congratulate you for your two honorary doctorates. I’m curious about what they’re in.
One is a Doctorate of Law and the other is a Doctorate of Letters. Yes, writing English.
I’ve never heard it called the Doctorate of Letters. That’s interesting. You’ve got a lot of recognition for so many great things that you’ve done and I was excited to have you on the show because you’ve always been an inspiration to me. I know we’ve had a lot of times that we’ve tried to get this together where we could get on and get you on the show. I’m so glad you were able to make it, but I want to make sure that everybody knows your book Zero to Breakthrough. They could probably get everywhere. I’m sure it’s on Amazon and everything else. Is there a site or anything else like social media that you’d like to share how they could follow you or contact you?
Number one, if people would get their hands on it, I have a resource on how to make a gutsy move of their own. Before I jump to that, and as we wrap up that last conversation, I want to say our police, it’s not about good or bad people. It’s about behavior that needs to change. That needs to shift. That’s what all this is about. Our mindset and behavior, our assumptions, our unconscious biases and bringing light to some of the inequalities and injustices that are there that we can remedy. Period, end of the story. We have to take it from protest to policy. Protesting isn’t going to do anything if we don’t vote and get policy in place, period, end of the story.
I was on Sister Dr. Jenna’s show once. You can have multiple titles. It would be good.
I’ll think about it.
How can they follow you and find out more?
Number one, you can text GUTSY to 72000. If you do that, you will get a three-part video series on how to overcome your challenges and obstacles. You will get an action guide on the steps, the process, walking you through on how to make your gutsy move. Share it with your friends, your family, your colleagues at work, your leadership team, whatever. My gift to the folks that are reading. How you can get in touch with me in real-time, @VerniceFlyGirlArmour, on Instagram. I love Insta, Twitter and Facebook. On LinkedIn, Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour. The only place it’s different is Twitter because it was too long. It’s @VerniceArmour on Twitter. My email is FlyGirl@VerniceArmour.com. I’m here.
Yes, you are. You are so much fun to talk to, Vernice. Thank you for being on the show. I enjoyed this.
Me too. I look forward to being a voice and helping folks navigate and maybe have a little facilitated conversation through these unprecedented times and staying gutsy out here.
I’d like to thank Vernice for being my guest. We get many great guests on the show and Vernice definitely was one of them. She’s entertaining and interesting. It’s hard to keep up with many of the guests on the show because there’s an amazing amount of information and content. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can go to DrDianeHamilton.com. If you wanted to read Vernice’s book, you can go and click and it will take you right there. There are tweetable moments there. I hope sometimes that a lot of people take some time to tweet out some of those tweetable moments or come up with your own because I love sharing these shows. I’d love to get Vernice out there as the voice for what we were talking about on the show with the Black Lives Matter because she has some perspective from many different aspects of the whole thing. It’s interesting to talk about perception and the value of what our reality is. She and I had the chance to talk a little bit before the show and after the show.
It’s such a fascinating topic to delve into perception. I know that with the Perception Power Index, what we’re trying to do is give an idea about what the process is that you’re going through in perception in the first place and how you’re incorporating things IQ, EQ, CQ for Cultural Quotient, CQ for Curiosity Quotient, and some of the other aspects in the whole decision-making process. You don’t realize how much you look at things from your own vantage point. Vernice does such a great job of pointing out her unique vantage point and how she saw things in a completely different way than I have. Perception is going to be a hot topic. I hope you have a chance to take some time to look at that, or you can take the Perception Power Index on the site if you go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You can go to the bottom and look at some of the assessments we offer. In addition to the Curiosity Code Index and the Perception Power Index, there’s Emotional Intelligence and DISC, and some other assessments that are all available on the site. A lot of them will give you some great insight. I hope you take some time to check those out. Thanks, Vernice, for such a great show. I hope you enjoyed this episode and join us for the next episode.
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About Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour
Leveraging her “Breakthrough Mentality” and “Get Gutsy” mindset, Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour propelled herself from beat cop to combat pilot in a record-‐breaking three years and became America’s First African American Female Combat Pilot. As featured on CNN, MSNBC, The View, FOX News, Oprah Winfrey and others, FlyGirl’s fresh, edgy style, high, contagious energy and unique, gutsy essence jump off the stage, page and screen and moves people to action. Since 2007, she has inspired countless organizations and individuals to make gutsy moves and create breakthrough results.
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