LaDonna Powell never turned away from revolution. And the entire time she spent working at JFK airport for Allied Security, she fought for what was right, no matter the cost. She told her story to This American Life, beginning with her start at Allied, when she was posted in various guard towers around the acres of tarmac. From day one on the job LaDonna reported the rampant discrimination and bad behavior she saw at every turn. Women at Allied were denied lunch and bathroom breaks, forced to pee in coffee cups and bleed on themselves during 12-hour shifts. They were called names and exposed to porn, sexually harassed, and raped. But LaDonna remained principled and confident. “I would just give the morals my mom dropped in my brain, hoping it would stick to them,” she told NPR. She assured herself, hey, everyone has a boss, and if she worked hard enough and climbed the ladder she’d find responsible leadership.
That attitude got her promoted to supervisor; she was the youngest woman to advance so quickly. When she was appointed to train the new recruits, she told them to focus on their work, but also emphasized that they mattered. They were worth it. And if they were wronged, they should report it, report it, report it. Which is what she continued to do every time she saw women being mistreated.
The discrimination didn’t stop. LaDonna did every single thing in her power to make it right. She was never afraid to speak truth and logic to power, but no one at Allied listened.
Instead, they fired her.
This American Life asked LaDonna if she ever felt powerful during her time at Allied. When she made supervisor? No. When she was training new recruits? No. When she filed a lawsuit against the company that finally forced the CEO to respond? No. She said in the interview, “I still feel at his mercy. I feel like I am caged because of them.”
And yet: She has returned to JFK working a better and higher paying job as a security detail for VIPs. She escorts dignitaries through the terminals armed with an M4 and a pistol. Her words are pained, but her voice throughout this NPR interview? Clear, unafraid, outraged, energized. She owns every bit of her story, including her most vulnerable moments, and we’re all better for it. Listen for yourself here: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/647/ladonna