Alone In The Darkness

Captain Clevy Muchette Nelson-Royster - #justiceforclevyWritten by Chinue Clifford


If you are from a city, you are likely never to experience it – complete darkness on the night of a new moon. Light pollution from cars, street lights, houses prevent it. It wasn’t quite pitch black the night Clevy Nelson-Royster had to pass her night land navigation training, but alone, in a wilderness, she had to overcome the innate human fear of darkness. Night land navigation requires that a person be able to orient themselves using a map and compass to find grid coordinates.

Imagine being in the middle of the woods, alone, no GPS, no cell phone, no other people, no familiar landmarks, and the only light you can access is a low level red light for limited night vision.  And imagine being a woman and doing so!

There Clevy was, with just a small red light in the wilderness.

For Nelson-Royster, this training was part of the series and metrics used to determine her fate in the Army upon graduating. Clevy was able to navigate in the dark, including “hightailing” away from a pack of animals- to this day unknown exactly what kind- and pass her training.

Many women face this challenge as part of their Army training.  Her mother, and in fact all of her family in the Nelson and Royster clan, remain proud of her many achievements.


Black Women, Hair & the Military

Submitted by Chinue Clifford

Hair is often considered a woman’s crowning glory. Yet, for many Black women who serve their country, it is an impediment.

For Captain Clevy Nelson-Royster, like so many other Black women who serve, it could be challenging to find styles that were deemed appropriate by the army standards predating 2017. She would often wear her hair natural in corn rows while serving and training in the Army ROTC at Tuskegee University. Despite being an HBCU, she still dealt with challenges and even discrimination around hair, choosing a natural style.

Wearing it in its natural state, meaning it was free to be curly, coily and even kinky, is practical for many Black women while training. To chemically or artificially straighten one’s hair is not only damaging, but harder to maintain. Artificially straightened hair will often re-curl when wet- which includes getting wet by sweating.

Imagine being required to do vigorous physical training everyday while being able to wear your own hair in a style that endured the constant movement and sweat. Captain Nelson-Royster would wear her hair in protective styles such as twists and extensions to help protect it while adhering to dress code guidelines. Eventually, she would chemically straighten her hair as a way of ensuring her style met guidelines that then still excluded Black women from dreadlocks and other looks. This helped ensure that she could look “professional” as decided by Army standards.

Many Black women, and quite a few in Captain Clevy Nelson-Royster’s family, have, at one time or another, chemically altered their hair to adhere to standards that do not consider the natural hair of Black women to be professional. Finally, these standards are starting to change. In 2017, the Army changed some of it’s rules.

Just eight states in the US make discrimination against natural Black hair illegal, one of which is Connecticut, where Clevy was born. It is hoped that more states will follow.