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 hit social media the next morning, “that didn’t help the situation,” Hill said in an interview with CNN at the time.
She drove to Dallas Love Field on Friday to fly to Panama City and prayed for a glimmer of hope or understanding. “It’s so difficult with everything that happens … you want to be informed, you want to know. But at the same time, as a service employee, it’s my job to make someone happy.”
She said she prayed on the way home, “God, please help me get to work today.”
JacqueRae Hill – as she was called prior to her marriage to Rashard Sullivan that Memorial Day weekend – had a life-changing encounter with passenger Doug Parker that day, and her story went viral.
A year later, her new friend – the CEO of American Airlines – attended their wedding and met with Sullivan’s mother, Patti Anderson, an American Airlines flight attendant.
Books are magical
Sullivan told CNN last year that when the flight began boarding, she went through her usual security checks and greeted passengers with a hello and smile that her eyes had to provide because 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 just haven’t gotten it yet,” said Sullivan.
After finishing the service, she went to the back of the plane, where the man reading the book sat alone by a window, typing on his phone.
“I let myself fall and said, ‘Hey, how are you? So the book, how is it?'”
The two started talking about the book. Sullivan, remembering the man who was White, said, “It’s our fault. We have to start these conversations.”
As the man spoke these words, emotion overwhelmed Sullivan and began to cry. “I know he didn’t know what to do. I know I scared him. It was embarrassing for me. I was not expecting that. It was just a real moment for me and we talked for 10 minutes. ”
The big reveal
She thanked the man profusely for the incredible conversation, for his interest and for his care, cradled her in a hug (she did). He asked her name and she introduced herself. Then the man told her his name. “I’m Doug Parker, the CEO of American.”
Parker scribbled a note for Sullivan before stepping out, expressing gratitude and joy that he had met and spoken to her.
JacqueRae S. Hill
“I was grateful when he was a random person who had no influence. But because of his position in life, the fact that he is reading this book. He doesn’t need any further education. And the fact that he is, I guess simply “speaks volumes for the work we must all do to bring us together.”
Sullivan waited a day before posting her experience on Facebook. “With all these emotions, I wanted to process it fully. I wanted to make sure it was exactly as I wrote it.”
As the positive responses poured in, she realized that she had hit a nerve. “I didn’t know it would be that big. The response was overwhelming. I cried every day.
Sullivan’s mother Patti, an American Airlines employee, contacted Anderson Doug Parker to thank her for the moment he shared with her daughter on the flight – and for the hug.
Parker replied to Patti Anderson: “[JacqueRae] definitely impressed me. Reading a book is one thing – spending time with a nice, strong, young Black woman who is hurt and trying to learn from others is another thing entirely. ”
Parker ended his answer by thanking Anderson for thanking him: “I was the one who was blessed with this conversation.”
Courtesy 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 years of friendship. “She started a brave conversation with me about racing in America and it’s one I will never forget,” he wrote.
Sullivan said on the post, “I want to highlight a family who have now become special friends of my family. The Parkers!”
CNN’s Brekke Fletcher contributed to this story.