RENO, NV - A large crowd gathered in the auditorium at the Nevada Air National Guard Friday morning to watch Ondra Berry get his star.
Some of those on hand had been watching Berry excel since he was a kid growing up in the tough neighborhoods of the East St. Louis projects, bused to a mostly white suburban school where he became an honor student and a two sport star.
"He was never content with OK," remembers his high school football and track coach Mitchell Marsh. "He succeeded academically, athletically, socially."
It's a pattern he has repeated throughout his life.
When he joined the Reno Police Department there were just three other black officers. In 25 years there he rose through ranks, retiring as Assistant Police Chief.
Joining the Air Guard in 1986 as an enlisted man, he's again risen to the rank of general. He's also the state's Deputy Adjutant General and a special assistant to the chief of the National Guard Bureau on diversity.
"It's not about where you came from," says Berry. "It's about where you're willing to work toward. I say this all the time, if your memories are bigger than your dreams, your life is in trouble."
A personal note here. When this reporter was in the Air National Guard decades ago, there were no minorities, in fact, no women.
A look at those in uniform in the audience Friday revealed a National Guard which now looks more like the community at large, Ondra Berry once again helping to lead the way.
"My job is to pull other people up. Just let them know it's possible. And it's got to be easier for people coming up behind me. If I'm not working hard to make sure that happens, then I've failed.