KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) --
“So many times, when I face adversity in my career, I would simply stop and think to myself ‘What would you do?’ That would be my compass and sound judgement on how to proceed. I love you Chief Master Sgt. Player.”
This was one of the last text messages that a close family member sent to Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Player before taking his own life.
Player, Mathies Noncommissioned Officer Academy director of education, began contemplating her purpose after losing her family member. Growing up in the small town of Greensboro, Alabama, separation and racism was no rarity to Player. After reminiscing of her days as the homecoming court in high school, Player didn’t identify as just the queen, but as the queen of color.
From thriving as a dorm chief as the youngest trainee in her flight during basic military training to exceeding as a Black, religious leader, Player has embraced being different.
“I have always had a hesitation,” Player said. “I’m Black, I’m a woman and I’m a Muslim. People question my religion when they realize I come from Alabama, but I believe in helping people, no matter race or religion.”
An inspiration such as religion provides Player a direction to follow. Knowing that she is different keeps her motivated to stay true to herself.
“Are my actions, decisions and behaviors pleasing in Allah’s eyes? At the end of the day, that is how I move,” Player said. “It is my job to spread his word without acting based on spirituality or religion. It is challenging sometimes, especially as a female. We need to focus on ourselves and not how others view us.”
Player is able to embody her persona with confidence. Being original is something she believes is important for not just herself, but others.
“I am a professional trouble maker,” Player said. “I am not afraid to stir up some good trouble. One of my favorite rappers, 2 Chainz, rapped about being a two dollar bill. I take that out of context and apply it to my people. Be a two dollar bill. Be rare. You cannot inspire people if you aren’t the real version of yourself.”
Although self-worth and confidence are the foundations of Player’s personal growth, it’s relaying her energy to those around her that fulfills her meaning.
“Perseverance makes you a good leader. Openness and being transparent with your people makes a great leader,” Player said. “When someone reaches out for help, they either want you to fix the problem, or feel it. When they want you to feel it, they want you to listen and be in the moment with them. When they want you to fix it, game on. I want my Airmen to show up and be the best version of themselves. Some days you won’t smile. Some days, you will cry. Some days will be joyful. Just remember to show up and be yourself.”
As the director of education and leader of diversity campaigns around Keesler Air Force Base, Player strives for change. She draws inspiration from not being the norm and inspires to teach others to embrace people who may be different from them.
“My goal is getting to the root of our problems together,” Player said. “Painful issues such as social injustice may be bigger than what we can do on base, but we apply actions and behaviors that we can take outside of those gates. We are all different, but when we understand each other, we can achieve our ultimate goal.”
Player was recently selected in 2020 to be one of five personnel to promote to the rank of chief master sergeant on Keesler AFB. She hopes to use her position to work as a team player and inspire the Airmen she leads.
“Even though my relative is not here with us anymore, he gives me hope,” Player said. “I hope Airmen can look at me and think ‘My goodness. If she can act like this in and out of uniform, so can I.’ We need to allow Airmen to be themselves. We put too much pressure on people to be perfect when perfect doesn’t exist.”
Dealing with challenges has allowed Player to become a better person and leader for the people she cares about most. She has found her purpose from within and flourished to impact the people around her.
“I didn’t have him call me,” Player said. “It is people like him that I vow to let know- Am I scared sometimes? Yes, I am always scared. But if you are a little vulnerable, I can help you with whatever I can, or if I can’t, I can find someone who can. I want to bring hope, knowing my journey, as well as inspiration and a voice. As their leader, it is my job to be their voice. Play on, Player. That is my motto. Whenever I feel defeated, I remember who I am.”