Philadelphia Communication Solutions Specialist (CSS) David Hardy Jr.’s email signature block ends with one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most enduring quotes, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
The quote resonates with Hardy. It’s a moral stance he proudly models, learning the lesson first from his nurturing parents and second from his parochial school education. He’s been a difference maker as an educator, school administrator and activist for social change. Now, he works to help people address issues at the lowest level possible and trains personnel to have productive conversations with difficult passengers and coworkers.
Call it destiny
Hardy joined TSA in November 2003 after serving as an elementary school principal in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia where he was the first African-American male ever appointed to the position in the diocese.
In 2020, he was the right person in the right place at the right time. Detailed to TSA’s Civil Rights & Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement as a CSS just one week after the murder of George Floyd, Hardy saw an opportunity to improve race relations and societal tensions at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL).
“Immediately after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, PHL Federal Security Director Gerardo Spero met with me to discuss whether TSA/PHL had issues of race,” recalled Hardy. “TSA personnel complained no one had addressed the social unrest after Floyd’s death.”
A four question survey was devised, and Hardy, masked and socially distant, walked the airport at the height of the pandemic, gathering 502 out of 850 employee responses. Out of that survey, TSA PHL launched race matters dialogues.
“Sometimes quite contentious, a multicultural group of officers is allowed to respectfully be heard without facing reprisal,” said Hardy of the shared experience. “By bringing diverse groups together, I get them to find the commonality that binds them to work as a team to support the mission of TSA.”
Hardy’s effortless, natural rapport creates trust. Team members follow him into frank and controversial conversations, not because they think Hardy will agree with them, but because they know they will be heard. He looks for the good in everyone, always giving others the benefit of the doubt.
The facilitated dialogues at PHL and St. Louis Lambert International Airport increased morale by identifying common ground. By June 2021, surveys from the PHL dialogues showed over 95% approval from participants. In Philadelphia, 81 TSA team members participated in nine race matters dialogues, with a growing waitlist for new sessions.
Acknowledging Black History Month in his own words
As an African-American man, I’ve witnessed and been a victim of racism; however, I was raised to remain optimistic and overcome the ignorance I faced.
I am a staunch supporter that everyone has a right to their own opinion. It isn’t easy, but I remain neutral when facilitating a dialogue where others find it hard to understand what minorities are complaining about when discussing being stopped by police, being followed around in a store because they are suspected of possibly stealing something or the huge disparity in wealth, health and education.
Like all other nationalities and ethnicities in America, it is a time for America, as a whole, to celebrate and honor the rich traditions of African-American culture in remembering those who came before us and believed in the American way — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.
What I do matters in his own words
It is imperative our frontline officers and the rest of TSA personnel have someone to listen to their concerns and issues that arise. I know what I do matters because having a neutral party to listen and address concerns is essential to security operations. It is my job to help complainants and others find common ground and return focus back to the mission of TSA. Whether in my permanent position as a transportation security manager or my detailed role as a communication & solutions specialist, I get to serve and care for the flying public, the frontline officers and all other TSA personnel.
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs