Connecting to the Past, Creating a New Legacy
By Master Sgt. Kellen W. Kroening, 128th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published November 30, 2016
MILWAUKEE -- On a cool rainy, overcast day in September, Staff Sgt. Roby Luckett finds himself immersed in a vibrant bounty of artwork in the Circle of Art tent at the Indian Summer Festival at the Henry Maier Festival Park on the Milwaukee lakefront. As one of the featured Native American artists, he has more than a dozen paintings on exhibition. While this might make some people nervous, Luckett is not. He has a quiet confidence that is perfectly matched with his stoic exterior. He sold every single one of his paintings, which most definitely gives him something to be confident about.
Luckett, an aircraft mechanic with the 128th Air Refueling Wing, is part Choctaw, Cherokee, and Blackfoot Native American, as well as African American. However, he uses his Native American cultural background as inspiration for most his artwork.
"I have been coming to Indian Summer since I was a little kid," said Luckett. "But it was only in the past few years that I really started to make a strong connection to that part of my past."
He credits painting as the vessel for him to explore his heritage, and though he is relatively new to it, his craft is very refined. So much so that he was personally invited by the Head of the Circle of Art Committee, Carol Cameron, to exhibit his work at Indian Summer, one of the many cultural festivals in Milwaukee.
Luckett recalls a chance encounter right after he began experimenting with painting that nurtured his interest in the medium and would lead to the displaying his work at the most prominent event in the city that celebrates Native American culture.
"When I was working the 128 ARW recruiting booth at Indian Summer, I got a chance to meet world-renowned Cherokee painter Pat McAllister," said Luckett. "Since our encounter, I began to develop my craft as an artist and balance my military career as well."
Following that meeting, Luckett continued to hone his skills and eventually ran into McAllister and her husband, Joe McAllister, a few years later.
Joe happened to be a Navy veteran and naturally hit it off with Luckett. They spent more than an hour sharing their military experiences. Afterward Luckett showed Joe some of his artwork and received very positive feedback from him.
It was Joe that ultimately encouraged Luckett to send samples of his work to the Circle of Art Committee.
"Joe told me my paintings were unique from the rest of the art they were displaying," said Luckett. "He told me my work would do well amongst the Native American community and art enthusiasts in general."
Luckett eventually found his niche in painting Native American headdresses. He explained the feathers in the headdress represent the milestones of one's life in most Native American Cultures. He sees the headdress as a reflection of not only his heritage, but his military service as well.
"Each feather shows my movement through the ranks, my community service, my work with youth and veterans, my deployments, my accomplishments and my children" he said.
Luckett recognizes the appreciation for military that the Native American culture has. It has deepened his connection with that part of his heritage.
"I feel like this is a huge honor being able to represent my culture and also represent the Air Force in this year's Indian Summer Festival," said Luckett.
It is that pride in his service and dedication to his fellow service members that led to his most recent project.
Since meeting Tim Mayer, an artist and administrator "Artist for the Humanities," Luckett has plans to use his creative skills to reach out to struggling veterans. The organization is a non-profit program aimed at assisting United States military veterans deal with trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Mayer incorporates art into therapy for veterans, which helps them communicate and release bad feelings through art. Luckett plans to visit the VA in Milwaukee and Appleton to facilitate painting sessions with veterans that suffer from PTSD and other disabilities.
Luckett's exploration of his heritage has manifested into much more than just art and outreach. It is almost a spiritual transformation.
As of Nov. 29, 2016, Luckett will no longer be known as Roby Luckett, but as Nakoa Akin Moonblood, his Native American name. Nakoa is a Choctaw name which means loyal warrior. Akin is a Nigerian name meaning brave. Moonblood is a last name that he felt a strong connection to.
Luckett sees changing his name as shedding the negative connectivity of it being a slave name. It is a name passed down by his father who has also legally changed his name.
However, Luckett doesn't resent the holding that name. In fact, he is proud of it. His children still carry it and will make the decision of whether or not to change theirs when they are older.
"At the end of the day I am glad for what I have accomplished with that name, and I feel I am leaving behind a respectable legacy with that name; turning a negative to a positive," said Luckett.
For Luckett, this change is a rebirth and a start to a new legacy that he hopes his children will follow.
"It was time for me to get back to my roots and heritage. As a man with children, I want to start a new legacy," said Luckett.