A Black flight attendant working for Southwest Airlines noticed a book a passenger was reading and inquired about it.
Little did she know the emotional conversation about race that followed would be with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.
As George Floyd's death sparked numerous protests against racism and racial bias in law enforcement, JacqueRae Hill—a 14-year employee of the airline company—wrote on Facebook about her unexpected blessing amidst the national chaos.
Hill was driving to work on Friday with "a heavy heart" and said she had to go to God with her thoughts:
"Because it would make it hard to smile with everything going on."
As she started greeting passengers boarding the aircraft and mustering up a friendly smile, she noticed that one of them was carrying a book she had intended to read, called 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."
White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism was written by Robin DiAngelo who spoke about the concepts in her bestseller in a podcast with George Takei.
The book discusses various examples of White fragility based on the author's personal experiences while working as a diversity and inclusion training facilitator. Although the book was published in 2018, it seems relevant now more than ever.
During the flight, Hill happened to find an available aisle seat next to Parker.
"I go sit next to him as he was sitting in a row all by himself (That was God). I said Hey How are you? I see you are reading that book .. So how is it?"
Parker—who was on the flight to Panama City, Florida due to all the seats on American Airlines being sold out—told Hill that the book:
"really point[ed] out how important these conversations on race are."
His willingness to engage was noted.
Hill became instantly emotional.
"As I began to respond the tears just start[ed] falling."
"I have been so sad every day and I just want to understand and be understood so we can begin to fix it."
Feeling self-conscious about her tears, Hill admitted that she may have startled Parker with her emotions.
But Parker was not bothered by her reaction and instead told her:
"I'm so sorry. And it's our fault that this is like this."
Hill said the talk was "everything I needed" and was happy despite crying in front of him.
She explained that she attributed their encounter to a higher power.
"I went on to tel him about my prayer on my way to work today and that he Answered that prayer for me with this conversation."
Finally, introductions were made towards the end of the interaction.
"As our conversation came to an end he asks me my name. I told him JacqueRae and then he said well I'm Doug Parker the CEO of American Airlines."
"I told him my mother works for him in DC and then I reached over and gave him a BIG HUG ! I HAD TO!! (yes we were both masked) I thanked him for being open and allowing this conversation to happen because I just needed to hear it and I walked off."
"I thanked God for his LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS the rest of the Flight."
"On his way off the plane he hands me a handwritten note and I thank him again and ask for this pic. This encounter is Only A Holy Spirit thing!!!"
The fact that Hill had a heart to heart with the CEO of the company her mother works for is an odd coincidence.
It does leave one to wonder if it was purely coincidental or, as Hill mentioned, a divine blessing. Parker shared his perspective after meeting Hill.
He told View From the Wing he was embarrassed to admit he had only gotten halfway through reading the book when the crisis hit.
"The horrific and senseless death of George Floyd reminded me there were bigger issues in our world than [the virus], so I packed the book for the trip."
"About an hour into our 90-minute flight, the flight attendant from the front of the aircraft leaves her position and walks back to me in row 25 and sits down in the aisle seat. My ego again assumes she has recognized me, mask and all, and wants to know why I'm flying Southwest."
"But, no, she has no idea who I am."
"She is a young, black woman and she points at the book lodged in my seat pocket and asks, 'How do you like that book?'"
"I say it's fantastic and defensively show her how I'm a bit past midway. She says, 'It's on my list to read and I saw you bring it onboard and I just wanted to talk to you….' And then she started to cry.
"I felt wholly inadequate but I knew it was a special moment. The best I could do was tell her that the book talks about how white people are horrible at talking about racism, and that what we need are real conversations. She agreed."
"I told her I was trying to learn and through tears and a mask, she said, 'So am I.'"
"We talked for a good ten minutes and it was an absolute gift to me."
"Toward the end, I felt compelled to tell her what I did for a living. I'm not sure why, but it seemed like I should tell this WN flight attendant (JacqueRae) that had sought me out, that I worked in the business, too."
"I'm glad I did, because she gasped and told me her mother works for us in DCA. Then she started to cry again and leaned across the middle seat and hugged me. She thanked me for listening and then went back up front as we prepared for descent."
"JacqueRae was the brave one. I was sitting comfortably in the back sending you guys emails without thinking twice about what this young woman — and others like her — were going through. She was a gift to me."
Parker received a special message once the plane landed.
"Before we deplaned, I had a wonderful email from her mother, Patti, thanking me for comforting her daughter. I had done nothing, of course."
And here is what Patti had written him.
"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 y[o]ur 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!"
This was his response.
"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 Ameriaca."
"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 cetainly 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 that conversation. I am better for it and more resolved to do what I can to make the world better for people like her (and people like me). Thank you!"
People on social media were also moved by this beautiful interaction between people.
For a woman whose skin color has been associated with oppressed people for far too long, this encounter is a significant example of the impact of starting conversations.
Hill said in her Facebook post:
"There are so many different ways to affect change in the world. I stand with anyone who wants to make a difference no matter if it is how I would do it or not."
She believed that God answered her prayer "so perfectly" and encouraged everyone to engage in these important discussions.
"LETS TALK !! Doug Parker said that the premise of the book is that we need to have these conversations so here I am."
"My heart is open and my ears are open as well. BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING."
We are listening too, JacqueRae.