A year ago, Southwest Airlines flight attendant JacqueRae Sullivan felt overwhelmed by the events in the United States following the death of George Floyd.
The protests in her hometown of Dallas, Texas turned violent on the night of May 29 and when she took to social media the next morning, “it didn’t help the situation,” Hill said in an interview with CNN at the time.
On Friday, she flew to Dallas Love Field for a flight to Panama City, praying for a glimmer of hope or understanding. “It’s so difficult with everything that’s going on… You want to be informed, you want to know. But at the same time, my job as a service person is to bring happiness to someone.”
She said she prayed as she walked in, “God, please help me get to work today.
JacqueRae Hill – as she was called before her marriage to Rashard Sullivan this Memorial Day weekend – had a life-changing encounter with passenger Doug Parker on that day’s flight, and their story became viral.
A year later, his new friend, the CEO of American Airlines, attended his wedding and met Sullivan and Sullivan’s mother, Patti Anderson, an American Airlines employee.
Books are magic
Sullivan told CNN last year that when the flight began to board, she went through her usual security checks, greeting passengers with a hello and a smile her eyes must offer as she was wearing a mask.
“I’ve known the book for a while. Michael Eric Dyson wrote the preface. It was on my list, but I haven’t received it yet,” Sullivan said.
After she finished her shift, she walked to the back of the plane, where the man reading the book sat, alone, next to a window, typing on his phone.
“I let myself down and I said, ‘Hey, how are you? So this book, how is it?'”
The two began to discuss the book. Sullivan remembers the man, who was white, saying, “It’s our fault. We have to start these conversations.”
As the man spoke these words, Sullivan was overcome with emotion and began to cry. “I know he didn’t know what to do. I know I startled him. I was embarrassed. I didn’t expect it. It was just a heartfelt moment for me, and we talked for a while. 10 minutes. ”
The great revelation
She thanked the man profusely for the amazing conversation, for his interest and for his attention, weighed him in hugging him (she did). He asked her name and she introduced herself. So the man told him his name. “I am Doug Parker, the CEO of American.”
Parker scribbled a note to Sullivan before disembarking, expressing his gratitude and pleasure in meeting and speaking with her.
JacqueRae S. Hill
“I was grateful if he was a random person who had no influence. But because of his position in life, because he reads this book. He doesn’t have to educate himself. And the fact that it is, I just think that says a lot about the work we all need to do to try to come together. ”
Sullivan waited a day before posting his experience on Facebook. “With all of these emotions, I wanted to process it fully. I wanted to make sure that the way I was writing was exactly how I felt.”
As the positive responses poured in, she realized she had struck a chord. “I had no idea it would be so big. The response was overwhelming. I cried every day. Tears of joy.”
Sullivan’s mother Patti as an American Airlines employee Anderson reached out to Doug Parker to express his gratitude for the moment he shared with his daughter on the flight – and for the hug.
Parker replied to Patti Anderson, “[JacqueRae] definitely left an impression on me. Reading a book is one thing – spending time with a kind, strong young black woman who is suffering and trying to learn from others is quite another. ”
Parker ended his response by thanking Anderson for thanking him, “It is I who have been blessed with this conversation.”
Courtesy of JacqueRae S. Hill
A lasting friendship
On Instagram this week, Parker thanked the Sullivans for including him and his family on their special day and reflected on their year-long friendship. “She started a courageous conversation with me about race in America and it’s a conversation I’ll never forget,” he wrote.
Sullivan said in the post, “I want to spotlight a family who have now become special friends of my family. The Parkers!”
CNN’s Brekke Fletcher contributed to this story.