Black female gun owners speak about Russian Facebook ads ‘I don’t want to be used as propaganda’

Black women who own guns don’t necessarily fit the common conceptions of gun owners. They’re rarely the picture of recreational shooting or gun classes. And some fear that even if they procure the proper training and licensing, they’re not protected by laws designed to shield gun owners from prosecution.

The distance between perception and reality surfaced this week when The Washington Post reported that imagery of a black woman firing a rifle was used in the Facebook ads that Russians bought to influence the 2016 presidential election. The image, which has not been publicly released, might have been intended to encourage African-American militancy and also fan fears among whites, according to the Post report.

Without context, a picture of a black woman firing a rifle is not a neutral image, said Kaitanya Bush, a 42-year-old paralegal in Austin, Texas, who recently bought a 9 mm pistol to protect herself and her family.

Bush said she immediately thought of the cartoon of Michelle Obama on the cover of The New Yorker before the 2008 election. Obama was depicted as a rifle-wielding radical sporting a bandolier and giving her secret-Muslim husband a “terrorist fist jab.” The cover was meant to be satirical — pointing out the ridiculousness of the worst fears of Obama opponents, given that the Obamas were moderate, well-to-do liberals, not the second coming of Assata Shakur and Fred Hampton.

“You can see how that imagery [in the Russian ads] can evoke the same feelings that those had about Michelle Obama bringing this militant side out of the nice and gentle Barack,” Bush said. The New Yorker cover depicted Michelle Obama as “threatening, and fearful, and manipulative, that there is an ulterior motive to this. That we are the temptress.”

Bush said the fear of black women’s radicalism reminded her of the reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab, after she tweeted an unflattering image comparing Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis to characters from Django Unchained.

Lewis attributed the Ravens’ decision not to sign Kaepernick to the tweet, which he called a “racist gesture.”

Outside the context of law enforcement, military service, or criminality, images of black people with guns tend to be associated with political radicalism, whether it be the Black Panthers, the photo of Malcolm X holding a rifle and peering out of a window, which Nicki Minaj adopted for the album art of her 2014 single, “Lookin A– N—-,” or The New Yorker cover of the Obamas. Images of gun-wielding black people are metonyms for black militancy.

Black gun ownership is historically connected with defending oneself from state violence or lack of state protection, from Harriet Tubman to violent uprisings of enslaved people. And of course there’s a long history of black people who hunt, or shoot for sport, like the women in this 1937 image of the Howard University women’s rifle team. But such representations of black gun users aren’t as well-known.

Black women with guns don’t enjoy the same positive associations as someone such as Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde or Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, who made the empowered and unafraid gun-toting archetype a key part of their appeal as movie stars. That tide may shift slightly with the upcoming film Proud Mary, which stars Taraji P. Henson as a sexy, skilled hit woman. There’s also Lana Kane, the smart, sensible spy in Archer voiced by Aisha Tyler, whose biting comebacks and uniform of clingy sweater dresses set off by two TEC-9s made her a cult hero. But at the end of the day, Kane is a cartoon.

And so the limited context in which armed black women are seen may have provided an opportunity for Russia.

“It makes complete sense to me that they would do that just to incite some sort of rise out of people,” said Marchelle Tigner, a 25-year-old firearms instructor in Savannah, Georgia, who calls herself the “Trigger Happy Panda.” “When articles came out about me or videos came out about me, I would read the comments. And a lot of the comments were extremely negative, like, ‘Oh, black women have guns now. They’re gonna start shooting people. They’re angry and irrational, and the crime rate in black neighborhoods is gonna go up now.’ They were really hurtful, really mean, and really racist comments coming out, so it makes sense that if Russia wanted to get a rise out of people or incite some kind of hateful feelings in a lot of people, they would post pictures of black women with firearms.”

Tigner is an Army veteran who began carrying a gun as part of her job as a military intelligence officer. It made her uncomfortable, but after she was sexually assaulted at age 19, shooting at the gun range became cathartic instead of anxiety-producing. She now travels the country instructing black women in gun safety. When Tigner saw the news that Russia may have used an ad featuring an image of a black woman firing a rifle as a way to sow division and disrupt the election, she was not pleased.

“Although I might not agree with a lot of people’s beliefs, I would never want to be used as propaganda,” Tigner said. “I never want to be a gimmick. That’s why I carry myself professionally when I’m teaching because I never want my words or my images to be twisted and used against me, or against people for making that decision.”


Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.

Courtesy of Marchelle Tigner

Black women interviewed for this story believe they will not necessarily be afforded equal protection under the law as licensed gun owners because of their blackness. As a result, there’s a cost-benefit analysis that takes place. On the one hand, they feel unsafe in America because of their blackness, and that includes experiences as a gun owner. But they have decided that it’s still worth having the gun to protect themselves from, among other things, racially-motivated violence.

Even though North Carolina is an open carry state, Dione Davis, a 32-year-old cosmetologist and mother, said that she chooses to conceal carry her Glock with a permit. The reason is because she’s black, Davis said.

“I guess I feel like I’m covered but I’m not covered,” Davis said. “I would say … there is a double standard as to how we’re viewed, black gun owners versus white gun owners. Nobody’s looking at my husband or myself as … college-educated … law-abiding citizens when we have a gun. Nobody’s thinking about whether I have four kids at home when you look at me at with a gun. Nobody’s thinking about those things. … White America always has the positive view: They’ve got a family at home, they’re always viewed with life behind them. Black Americans, we’re viewed with no life behind us.”

Philando Castile had a permit for his gun, but died in 2016 after the Minnesota police officer who pulled him over shot and killed him, citing fear that Castile, who disclosed that he had a weapon, would kill him. Marissa Alexander, a black woman from Jacksonville, was imprisoned for firing a warning shot in self-defense at her abusive husband after a judge rejected her defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law.

In every class she holds, Tigner said, black women voice their worries about not having their rights respected or acknowledged. “I’ve even had women say that they didn’t want to be in the photo that we take at the end of the class because they didn’t even want anyone to know that they were in a firearms class,” Tigner said. “It’s kind of scary to think that you can’t learn how to defend yourself without being a target or being looked at as a threat. Even Tamir Rice, he was a kid and had a toy. Not even a real firearm, being a child, and was killed in less than two seconds after [police] arrived on the scene. Things like that are why a lot of parents don’t even want their children to learn about firearms or to take a class, because they don’t want them to be seen as a target, like my parents didn’t. We talk about that in the class a lot.”

For Tigner, the decision not to open carry is a tactical one. “If I was a bank robber and I walk into a bank and you’re open carrying, I’m definitely gonna make sure I take you out first. It just makes you an immediate target and an immediate threat. That’s how criminals think. They look for the harder target. Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.”


With regard to the Russian Facebook ads, Tiffany Ware, the 44-year-old Cincinnati-based founder of The Brown Girls Project and founder of the Brown Girls With Guns workshop, didn’t think it was possible for racial tensions to get worse than they already are.

“My only thought was how could they think that would create more of a divide than what already exists?” Ware said. “From where I live, my view, my perspective, there’s always been this huge divide between African-American people and others. Now there’s even more of a divide. I don’t see how they thought seeing that image would create a greater divide, because I come from a very strong and proud background and all I’ve ever received was pushback for being that way.”

She first became interested in guns after a team she managed was harassed while canvassing for Hillary Clinton. Her team members told her they’d been called “n—–s” and that their campaign signs had been destroyed. Ware said she’s lived in Cincinnati for most of her life and before last fall had been called “n—-” twice. Since December, she’s been called the N-word four times.

Witnessing her children’s anxiety after President Donald Trump won the election spurred Ware to action to protect herself and her family.

“It just made me think and I was like, gosh, what if somebody did — anybody, not just some crazy racist person — but what if somebody did run up in this house, what would I do?” Ware said. “Like, how do I handle that? I need to figure it out.”

When Ware began organizing gun training for black women at a Cincinnati gun range, she said, she and the women in her group would draw stares and the owners made it clear they were not welcome. “They told us we couldn’t continue to come because there were so many of us that we were knocking out their Sunday regulars,” Ware said. “We knew what it was.” So they found another range.

“From white supremacists who terrorized that young child’s birthday party to the little boy who took the trash out for his mother and his neighbor shot him down on the side of the street, you know these are realities for us,” Bush said. “And I as a lawful citizen of this country, if I am going to come up against someone who may have a weapon on them, I am not going to be in that position where I have to fear for my life, where I’m unable to protect my family.”

With the new movie ‘Crown Heights,’ Nnamdi Asomugha relies on everything he learned from football The former superstar cornerback won Sundance with the story of a man who went to prison for a murder he didn’t commit

Nnamdi Asomugha is taking a quick break.

There’s a photographer, and the photographer’s assistant is setting up a new orangish background. Asomugha, in a gray Converse crewneck and slim-fit black pants, overhears a conversation that’s disdainful of grimy movie theaters and movie theater chains.

He jumps in, makes a funny face and shakes his head adamantly in disagreement. Asomugha loves movie theaters. Always has. When he wasn’t on a football field — the former Cal Bear and first-round draft pick spent his first eight National Football League seasons with the Oakland Raiders — he would sneak into theaters and sit there all day, soaking it up, consuming content and daring to dream of something beyond academics and athletics.

At the Manhattan photo shoot, the Pro Bowler gives a sly smile. This is a full-circle moment.

For 11 seasons, Asomugha was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. After his years with the Raiders and stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers, he walked away from the NFL in 2013 at age 32 via a one-day contract with the Oakland Raiders so that he could officially retire in the city in which he came of age. A true shutdown corner, Asomugha retired with 15 interceptions, 80 passes defensed and two sacks.

Oakland Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha (21) breaks up pass intended for Dallas Cowboys’ Keyshawn Johnson (19).

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

But if you don’t know his name for those reasons, don’t worry, soon you will — and it’ll have absolutely nothing to do with football.

Asomugha is an actor. And a producer. And not because he’s indulging an ego-driven post-athletic career fantasy realized through his ability to cut a big enough check and buy his way onto a set. No. As an actor, Asomugha expertly brings to the screen the story of a man we all should know about — and as a producer, he’s brilliant at finding and financing stories that need to be told.

His Crown Heights, which opens in select New York theaters this week and has a wide release next week, is the true story of Colin Warner, a Trinidadian resident of the Brooklyn neighborhood Crown Heights who was wrongly accused and convicted of murder. Warner served 21 years for the crime, while his best friend, played by Asomugha, tirelessly worked to prove his innocence.

He also happens to be married to Kerry Washington (Scandal, Cars 3, Confirmation), and like his wife of four years — they have two children, Isabelle and Caleb — Asomugha rarely speaks publicly about their marriage or partnership, preferring instead to focus on the work. And it’s understandable, especially in his case, considering that his ambition to become an actor dates back years — before he married his wife in 2013 even, and years before she became famous. The furthest thing from Asomugha’s mind is attaching himself, and this full deep dive into a new career, to his famous and famously talented wife, who happens to be one of very few black women in Hollywood who can consistently commandeer mainstream magazine covers.

Asomugha’s focus is on this second act — and on getting people to see beyond his storied football career. Especially now that he’s doing the thing that ignites him as much as covering wide receivers used to.

“Then we went onstage to perform. And I felt the rush. I loved every bit of it. It was the moment where I said, ‘Oh, this is what gets me close’ …”

“I went to the Los Angeles Kings game,” he said, “and the national anthem started playing. Anytime the anthem comes on … I was fresh off of leaving football, and was just really taken by the moment. There was this [feeling] of, ‘I’m not going to be able to hear that and be ready to go on the field anymore.’ We watched the Kings win the championship, and then I went and called one of my former teammates, Charles Woodson, and said something like, ‘I need that feeling again, of getting ready to go out on the field. With the crowd and all of that.’ I was missing that.”

His friend had advice. “He said, ‘You have to find something that gives you a feeling close to that, because you’re never going to get that again. You’re never going to be able to go out on the field and get 70,000 people screaming when they announce your name. But look for whatever gets you closest to that point.’ ”

Asomugha said that maybe three or four months later, he was in New York doing a reading of a play at the Circle in the Square Theatre. “When you’re backstage,” he said, “and you’re coming out with the actors, you go through a tunnel before you get out there. And then you stop right before you go onto the stage. It was just a reading. But I had that moment. I was back in the tunnel. Then we went onstage to perform. And I felt the rush. I loved every bit of it. It was the moment where I said, ‘Oh, this is what gets me close. …”


Asomugha was born in 1981 in Lafayette, Louisiana, to Igbo parents. He loathes the term “Hollywood” as an adjective. He mock-scowls — hard — when he hears it being said. Asomugha was reared in Los Angeles, the entertainment industry nestled practically in his backyard. But “going Hollywood” is akin to someone saying you’re fake. Or out for self. Or perhaps more mystified by the bling than the hard work. “That’s not,” he said, “me.”

André Chung for The Undefeated

Who he is: a guy who came up in a Nigerian family that celebrated academic excellence and embraced the high arts. The creative space has always had a strong hold on him. It came to him naturally, more so, even, than his athletic prowess. “I come from a performing family,” he said. “My parents are Nigerian, and their parents and their parents — and it’s all about performance in their culture, you know. The music. The dancing … you’re told to stand out at family gatherings and perform in some sort of way. You’re just kind of born into it,” he said. “Me and my siblings … were forced to get up in the church and do some sort of play for the rest of the church. We’re like 7, 8 years old. It’s just what you had to do. It was always sort of in my blood.”

But the performing arts had to be a quiet passion. Especially once he got older. Football was king. So was basketball. And he played both at Narbonne High School in Harbor City, California.

“We took piano lessons. And I remember going to football practice — me and my brother. We were late to practice one time, and … I remember the coach standing us up in front of the whole team and just saying, ‘Nnamdi’s late, guys, and I wanted to tell you, he had a piano lesson.’ Everyone’s laughing, and I’m just sitting there like …” He shakes his head at the memory. “That stuff wasn’t cool at all.”

“Football taught me so much just about life,” he said. “The confidence of me being onstage or performing in some sort way … that was nurtured … and blossomed because of football.”

He shifted. Went full throttle into football, leaving the creative arts, and his equally passionate desire to excel in them, behind. It wasn’t until years later in college — he attended and played for the University of California, Berkeley — that he was reminded it was possible to live in and do well in both worlds.

“It was my junior year at Cal. A [teammate] of mine came up to us after practice like, ‘Hey, guys, I’m doing a performance down at Wheeler [Hall].’ I don’t even know what the play was. Like Porgy and Bess or something. Immediately I started making fun of him. You make fun of someone when they start talking about this, especially in the football world. I got all the guys to make fun. Like, ‘This guy, he’s doing a play!’ We went there to clown him,” Asomugha said. “[But] I’ll never forget he was brilliant onstage. I will never forget it … because it was one of the moments where I was like, ‘Oh, no, this is cool. This is OK, even though we play football.’ He opened my mind up.”

Cal Berkeley rid Asomugha of his own boundaries. It was transformative. He loved football, and knew he’d make a career out of it, but he also knew that when football was over, he’d transition into something more creative. And it was football, ironically — even with that early atmosphere of being anti anything that didn’t scream hypermasculinity — that gave Asomugha the confidence to pursue the creative arts. He’s appeared in the Friday Night Lights television series, as well as on The Game and Leverage; he collected his first credit in 2008.

“Football taught me so much just about life,” he said. “The confidence of me being onstage or performing in some sort way … that was nurtured … and blossomed because of football. Just being able to do things that you didn’t think you can do, that you can’t turn around. You have to do it and doing it in front of thousands, and then millions, that are watching. You’re onstage. It’s not that I don’t have the fear, it’s just that I know how to handle the fear, you know? I can have the fear and still think.”


For the new Crown Heights, Asomugha didn’t make it easy on himself.

He helps tell the real story of Colin Warner. In 1980, Warner was wrongly convicted of murder. In the film, which is based on a This American Life episode, Asomugha portrays Warner’s best friend Carl King, the man who devoted his life to proving his friend’s innocence, and to getting him out of prison. Lakeith Stanfield portrays Warner, and the film is an important moment for both actors. Stanfield pulls off an emotionally complex role, and Asomugha displays impressive dramatic chops.

Nnamdi Asomugha as Carl King in the new film “Crown Heights.”

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

“One of the interesting things about Nnamdi is how calm and assertive he is,” said executive producer Jonathan Baker, who founded I Am 21 with Asomugha. “He’s an extraordinarily even-keeled individual. His experience with sports created a sense of get-up-and-do-it-again. The discipline. People respond to him as a natural leader, and it’s evident in everything that we do.”

Asomugha even nails a very distinct Trinidadian accent. “He took it seriously,” Carl King himself said of Asomugha’s portrayal. “He’d call me and ask me questions. ‘Am I bothering you?’ It seemed like he just wanted to do the best job he could have done. And he told me he wanted to do the story justice. It’s a deep story. It’s not one of the stories that you can make up. This is a story about an injustice that was done to this kid in 1980. He had to endure 21 years of the very worst. And portraying me? I’m very pleased.”

The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was a critical darling and a fan favorite, nabbing the Audience Award. And Asomugha was ready for the moment, good and bad, both as a producer and a co-star of the film.

“This is cool. This is OK, even though we play football. It’s OK to live in both worlds.”

“I’ve played for the Raiders and the Eagles,” Asomugha said before laughing, “Those fans will prepare you for any event that you have to go through in life! I’m able to explore and just take risks, and just really go after something that I’m passionate about. I can take whatever’s going to be thrown at me.”

That preparedness was crucial.

“I didn’t bat an eye. Football taught me was how important the preparation is before the actual moment. And then when you get into the moment, being able to throw away the preparation and just hope that it’s in you somewhere, that it stayed in you. And that’s what I think with this,” he said. “The project came [along, and it] didn’t feel daunting. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe this!’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve trained for this. I’m excited. I can’t wait to go into a character [and] put something on film! And then it got such a great reception at Sundance, so I was happy.”


There’s more coming from Asomugha. He’s hell-bent on bringing more stories like Crown Heights, which will be co-distributed by Amazon Studios and IFC, to life. Asomugha’s company, I Am 21, is prepping to shoot the highly anticipated Harriet Tubman biopic. It’ll be an important film: Tony winner Cynthia Erivo is starring, and it tells the story of the former slave-turned-abolitionist who worked tirelessly as an Underground Railroad conductor, nurse and spy.

The plan is to start shooting sometime this fall, and Asomugha said the film falls right in line with the mission of I Am 21.

“There’s an element of true story, an element of stories that connect to social issues that effect some sort of change in the world,” he said. “There’s also fun stories that aren’t true, but just have amazing characters at the center. Whether it’s a woman or it’s a person of color, whether it’s a person [who is] just ‘other’ … telling the underdog stories, and how they’ve risen out of that.”

And as for the future of his own acting career? He’s been ready. “I’m the type of person that always has a goal of greatness,” he said. “My mindset is, I can take all the chances in the world. I don’t put stress on myself. What I do is enjoy preparation. It’s just who I am.

André Chung for The Undefeated

“There was a long stretch where practice was much harder than games for me. I felt a level of dominance and being in the zone, for years. Game after game, after game — practice was always harder. So, if there’s any level of stress in this, it’s not being onstage, it’s not the moment that the camera turns on. It’s the preparation that comes before that.”

Historical situations that could have been peacefully solved by a white lady with a Pepsi Selma. Stonewall. The storming of the Bastille. Tragically, all that was missing was Pepsi.

Judging by the rapid-fire responses to Pepsi’s latest ad, releasing a commercial in which police violence and injustice can be solved by offering uniformed officers with guns a can of carbonated corn syrup is the ultimate lead balloon.

Join the conversation

A quick primer for the uninformed: On Tuesday afternoon, Pepsi published a video featuring Kendall Jenner, who is famous because her family prances around on TV doing basically nothing. In an attempt to be timely, or “with it” or something in that general vicinity, Pepsi elected to depict the civil unrest that’s marked much of the past three years as the country became increasingly aware of the fact that it’s not exactly safe to be an innocent black person around police. Basic plot points: Kendall is blond and modeling, and she sees a crowd of brown people with signs traipsing past her. When one of them wordlessly tells her to join them, she rips off her blond wig, hands it to an unimportant black lady, starts marching and gets woke. Thoroughly ensconced in her wokeness, Kendall and the crowd meet a wall of police officers. Kendall offers a Pepsi and a smile, and all is right with the world, no one gets hauled off in paddy wagons with their hands in zip ties, and tear gas is basically an imaginary substance no one uses.

The answer to hundreds of years of race-based subjugation, violence and oppression was a white lady with a Pepsi.

Who knew?

That sound you hear right now is millions of hands slapping against foreheads, wondering how we could have missed this obvious and simple solution.

Just think how many situations in history could have been solved, if only there’d been a woke white lady with a Pepsi. It’s a lot, which is why I’m generously offering my services to help us parse this incredible discovery. If only we had a time machine and an unlimited supply of Pepsi, the world would be a completely different place. For example:

Tiananmen Square

Guy driving tank sees a white lady holding out a Pepsi, decides against brutally massacring students protesting for democracy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of lives are spared. China becomes the world’s biggest democracy, and no one cares what Donald Trump has to say about currency manipulation.

The Trail of Tears

If someone had only gotten Andrew Jackson a Pepsi, maybe we could have spared thousands of Native Americans from sickness, cruelty and displacement. Maybe we wouldn’t be so pressed to get this dude off the $20 bill. But no, instead, we’re getting Harriet Tubman, the pistol-toting narcoleptic. See what happens when there’s no white ladies with Pepsi?

Bloody Sunday

Not only would congressman John Lewis not have had to go through the trauma of thinking he might die on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, all for the sake of some silly little voting rights, Ava DuVernay never would have been snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Selma. I can’t believe this. Not having white ladies with Pepsis ruins everything.

That period when Bloody Mary was being really terrible to Protestants

Fine, maybe we could have fixed Queen Mary I’s penchant for creatively murdering Protestants if her favorite lady-in-waiting had an ice chest full of Pepsis. But then maybe Elizabeth I never would have ascended to the throne, we wouldn’t have that whole “I don’t wish to make windows into men’s souls” speech and Cate Blanchett wouldn’t have had to tell everybody at Tillbury that “I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.”

Totes not worth it. Hard pass. Sorry, Protestants.

Any Riot, Ever

See: The Stonewall riots. The Rodney King riots. The Watts riots. The King assassination riots of 1968. The Wilmington race riots. The Tulsa race riots. The Storming of the Bastille.

Look, the next time someone is denied one’s civil rights and gets murdered simply for being oneself, or a group gets pissed off at the lady with big dresses and funny hair telling poor people to eat brioche, maybe we should all just take a deep breath and find a white lady with a Pepsi. Honestly, Marie Antoinette would probably still have her head attached to her body if only she’d had enough Pepsi.

The Duel of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton

We could have had President Alexander Hamilton maybe (notwithstanding the whole Reynolds pamphlet scandal), after the election of that lech Thomas Jefferson, but no. Hamilton had to go and get into a duel with Aaron Burr, and instead of shooting a harmless Pepsi can off someone’s head, what resulted was the death of the architect of our whole complicated financial system. Thank God for Ron Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda; otherwise, none of us would know any of this.

Every lynching ever

Somehow, cracking open a Pepsi just eases whatever inclinations you might have had to throw on a white robe and hood and terrorize, torture and kill members of a community. But only if it comes from a white lady. Funny how that works. White ladies (with Pepsi): Clearly magic.

But really, folks, drinking too much sugary fizzy water, no matter the brand, will give you diabetes and contribute to obesity. Until they release an ad in which Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Chelsea Handler band together to solve gang violence in Chicago, maybe we can all just drink La Croix instead.

Cheers!


UPDATE: Pepsi has pulled its ad featuring Kendall Jenner. In a statement released Wednesday morning, the company said this: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

Meet the Navy’s first female African-American chief warrant officer Summer Levert is inspired by family, mentors and fellow sailors

In 1997, Cleveland native Summer Levert began her military service in the Army National Guard. Now she’s the first black female boatswain’s mate in the U.S. Navy to hold the position of chief warrant officer.

“I joined the Navy to get out of Cleveland,” Levert said. “I worked two full-time jobs and went to school part time. I needed a change because I was headed down a dead-end street. I followed my twin sister [Dawn Greene] into the Navy.”

She earned the rank of boatswain’s mate — an officer who is the subject-matter expert on all major seamanship functions and the maintenance of topside gear such as small-boat operations, supervising anchoring, mooring, replenishment at sea, towing, transferring of personnel and cargo, and the operation and maintenance of ship’s boats — in October 2000 shortly after she enlisted.

Levert endured some challenges along the way. She worked her way up the ranks to chief petty officer in 2011. But she wanted more, so she set her sights on becoming a chief warrant officer. In 2014, she applied to the chief warrant officer program and was selected.

“I was shocked when I found out, and I still am shocked,” Levert said. “Since I was selected, there have been a few more after me, so I think the Navy finally got it. The Navy focuses on building you up physically and mentally, but they also make sure they educate you and keep your mind sharp. I was 21 when I enlisted, older than my peers. I had to keep them motivated a lot of times because it was their first time away from home.”

Levert recalls her first few days in the service.

“I thought I’d made a huge mistake,” she said. “I was treated like garbage because I was a female. The first thing my chief told me was I was not going to sit around and get pregnant. And if I did, he would send me straight to a ship. Then he told me to go clean his toilet so he could take a crap.”

When achieving success, there are always obstacles to overcome. Some obstacles are harder than others, but Levert continued to use her family, friends and mentors for inspiration to get her where she is today.

“I am inspired by my uncle, who started his career out as a hull technician in the Navy,” Levert explained. “He is now a rocket scientist. My mom was a huge inspiration as well because she was a nurse in the Army Reserves while I was growing up. My twin sister inspired me to join the Navy because she enjoyed her job, traveled often, and was happy.”

Levert said she never aspired to be a first at anything.

“When I was a junior sailor, I was always told that I’d never make it in this field because it is male-dominated,” she explained. “When I did make it, I thought that because the year was 2014 and the Navy so large that there had been a black female before me out there somewhere.”

Levert said she was always told that women in the military use their sexuality to get ahead, which she admits is the biggest misconception people have about black women or women in general in the Navy or armed forces.

The hardest part of military life for Levert is being away from her family for long periods of time during her world travels.

“I’ve traveled to many places while in the Navy,” she said. “A few places that stand out are Spain, Honduras, Greece, Panama, the Bahamas, and Dubai. My favorite port was Panama. The weather was warm, and the food was delicious and cheap.”

She’s never been on the front line of combat, but she’s been deployed to combat zones a few times. She’s currently deployed in a combat zone today. While at sea, she thinks about her favorite things, such as gardening.

“My favorite thing to do when I’m not away from home is gardening. I grow fresh fruits and vegetables and beautiful flowers. I love to see the fruits of my labor, literally,” said Levert. “When I retire, I want to have a huge garden and have nothing to worry about but pests and watering.”

The best piece of advice Levert’s ever received is to never quit. It comes from a quote by Harriet Tubman.

“My favorite quote is: ‘Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember: you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.’ ”

Levert is assigned to the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde as the ship’s bos’n. The ship’s captain depends on her to execute major seamanship tasks safely and maintain external upkeep of the ship.

“Bos’n is very humble. She believes in hard work and effort and only desires to be measured by her character and deed,” said Lt. Alvin Weidetz III, USS Mesa Verde’s deck department head. “Woe betides the sailor, junior or senior, that steps out of line or throws safety to the wind. But at the end of every evolution, Bos’n will count heads ensuring all are safe and sound, laud each and everyone for their efforts and encourage their improvements to do better.”

In December 2015, she received a plaque of recognition for her service from her hometown by U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio).