Growing up in Hampton, Virginia, Raymond Alston noticed racial differences in his community.
As an elementary school student playing at recess, he eyed a fenced swimming pool on the other side of the school athletic field and entertained classmates by describing how he planned to fearlessly jump into the pool from the diving board. His brother heard the comment and laughed.
“He pointed to a sign and told me to read it,” recalled Alston. “It was a white sign with big, bold, black letters that read, ‘WHITES ONLY.’ It was there the whole time. I just never bothered to read it. Imagine having to walk past that swimming pool and watch people enjoy something you cannot simply because of the color of your skin.”
The significant history of his hometown gave Alston pause for deeper reflection on race relations, a reflection he carried into his work at TSA.
Alston, now a TSA program specialist, considered it a privilege to lead a group of colleagues in the Department of Homeland Security program to drive performance. His participation in a program that advanced authentic discussions while honoring individual perspectives in the name of inclusiveness is characteristic of his desire to align DHS and TSA cultures. It also speaks to his personal experience.
“I was born and raised just three miles from Fort Monroe where the first Africans in English North America landed in 1619,” said Alston.
Alston was inspired by the Emancipation Oak tree rooted resolutely on the Hampton University campus, one of the many historically Black colleges and universities in the Virginia area. The tree was the site where President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was read for the first time in the southern U.S.
Alston spent his childhood summers on Hampton’s campus where he participated in the National Youth Sports Program while positively influenced at home by strong male role models in the form of his father, grandfather, uncles and cousins.
“My father, who encouraged my learning of history and the justice system, would often tell me of his experiences,” said Alston. “He was a deputy sheriff in Hampton during my childhood and was a major influence in my decision to study administration of justice (in college).”
With a George Mason University Bachelor of Science under his belt, Alston joined TSA as a baggage officer at Washington Dulles International Airport in 2006.
“I joined TSA thinking it would be a stepping stone,” said Alston. “I had no idea there would be a career path.”
Turns out, his degree is completely transferable to his current work.
“It falls right in line with the TSA mission,” explained Alston. “As an organization, we have to consistently adapt to new threats, which requires strategic planning, review and implementation. I have found since my first day with TSA, it is a team effort. Our individual successes lead to the success of the team, which leads to the overall success of the agency.”
When asked why he feels it is significant to celebrate Black History Month, the same sense of teamwork was top of mind for Alston.
“There is a diverse and broad spectrum of Black culture that contributes to the TSA workforce,” he said. “By being curious and more informed, we can strengthen the overall culture of the agency and its performance.”
Alston made the jump to program analyst with TSA’s Training and Development in 2017 after a distinguished airport career as a behavior detection officer and a National Training Team instructor. He moved to TSA’s Enterprise Support last year.
What I do matters
“I assist in making sure employees within the pillar of Enterprise Support have the equipment, software and training to perform their duties. I often anticipate and resolve potential conflicts between internal and external stakeholders, resulting in a smoother, expedited process.
“My efforts help by prioritizing the mission and maintaining the readiness within Enterprise Support. I help employees navigate the various systems within the agency, which can be confusing.
“I embrace the fact we can always learn something new. I also believe we are only as strong as the team we have with us, and challenges provide us the opportunity to grow stronger.”
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs