Dr. Olivia Hooker: Veteran trail blazer

Dr. Olivia Hooker

Dr. Olivia Hooker, 97, addresses an audience at a Women's History Month celebration in Manhattan's Federal Hall on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. Dr Hooker, who went on to earn her doctorate in psychology, joined the service as a SPAR - Semper Paratus, Always Ready - the acronym used for female service personnel during World War II. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas McKenzie.

The following is an excerpt from the White Plains Patch reprinted with permission.

Westchester County recently presented Dr. Olivia Hooker, a World War II Coast Guard SPAR and one of the first African American women to enlist in the service, with the Civic Engagement Betty Shabazz Award as a part of their annual Black History Month Trailblazers ceremony – yet the 97-year-old hopes that one day there will be no need for a Black History Month.

It will be simply known as history.

“You shouldn’t have to separate it—but you do have to have it [Black History Month] because the history books are written for a certain audience,” said Hooker, who has been a civil rights and women’s rights advocate for most of her life. “They leave out important things. We need to have verified history, and not let people teach wrong ideas.”

Olivia Hooker, Coast Guard SPAR

In February 1945, Olivia Hooker became one of the first African-American females admitted into the United States Coast Guard when she joined the service during World War II. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Hooker, who retired as a psychologist at the age of 87, has witnessed and fought against prejudice in various forms throughout her life.

She was twice denied admittance to the U.S. Navy because of a “technicality.” After refusing defeat, she was admitted to the Navy when she directly wrote to its secretary. Instead she joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1945.

“I learned about the importance of keeping people to their duties without insulting or mistreating them,” said Hooker. “It [being in the military] teaches you how to better form relationships, and how to deal with people without bias and prejudice. It not only teaches you to be tolerant, but how to be creative and step up to the plate.”

Regardless of the things Hooker has seen in life, she never lost faith in humanity and its potential.

“I still believe there is good in everyone,” said Hooker. “Maybe they’ve done a heinous crime, but somewhere there is good that can be brought out. That’s what we have to learn, how to deal with people who have no impulse control. I think we could have a peaceful world, if we put the preservation of life at the top of our priorities. And we can do that, it would be a much better world to live in.”

Read more at the White Plains Patch.

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