Black History Month: Real-life coal miner's daughter makes positive impact
February 9, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Actress Sissy Spacek starred in the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter," but Vonzetta Davis-Lewis , brings new life and meaning to this real life story of a woman who overcame a meager beginning to become successful. Davis-Lewis says that it was her father, a former West Virginia coal miner, who had the greatest impact on her life because he was humble, patient, peaceful and a hard worker. Adopted, along with her sister as a toddler, she affectionately refers to her dad as the "nicest person you would ever want to meet." He made sure that his girls always felt special and stressed that not everyone would like them because of their brown skin, but they, in turn, had to treat everyone fairly and with respect.
Today, this retired Army Soldier, whose roots began in a town that lacked diversity, is now the Equal Opportunity Employment Officer for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer, she and her staff service approximately 3,600 civilian employees by helping to promote equality in the civilian workplace. You may ask yourself, what peeked her interest in this field. She says that she did not give equal opportunity much thought until she was selected to attend a 16- week course while in the military. "I always wondered what EEOC did because it never crossed paths with Equal Employment. I thought EEOC was there to resolve discrimination cases, and, of course, they are not. The EEOC is the guiding authority when it comes to laws and regulations pertaining to EEO. The EEO is for every single civilian employee." As she explains, EO works with Soldiers and Family Members, while EEO works solely with employment related issues involving civilians only. She had to learn extensively about employment laws, civilian laws and the EEO Commission which was entirely different from EO.
Davis-Lewis began her career with EEOC 9 years ago as an equal opportunity assistant with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after retiring from the military in 2002. While living in Pittsburgh, Pa., she jumped at the opportunity to start out as an assistant in this field. This trailblazer worked as an assistant for only nine months before being promoted to a specialist position, which opened the door for her in the field.
With a degree in Human Resource Administration, Davis-Lewis knew before retiring she wanted to go into in management and employee relations, which would later prove to be a perfect match in her chosen career field. "I love working in the EEO area because it's just by the law, there is no gray area," says Davis-Lewis. "There are timelines you must abide by. There are certain things that fall into the EEO category and there are things that do not. I feel as though I'm assisting, not just the employees but managers as well. You are not telling them what you think or what they want to hear. You are telling them what the law says."
When asked for an example of a practice that is not allowed or authorized by EEO, Davis-Lewis quickly shares what you can and cannot ask during an interview. She says that when it comes to hiring, there are certain things that you cannot ask a person, unless it is a bona fide occupation qualification, such as age. There are certain ways that you have to ask the question. You can say something like the job requires that the person carry 50 pounds. Are you able to lift that' So, the next time you go for an interview, remember that nugget of information as it is the law.
Davis-Lewis wants every single employee to know here at the installation that all civilian employees can use the services provided by EEOC. Her team takes pride in educating the workforce about equal employment opportunities. The goal, of course, is to strive for equality in the workforce. On a daily basis, Davis-Lewis handles fact-finding and fostering relationships with other supporting agencies to help resolve employee-related issues before they escalate. Whether or not she is ensuring that complaints are processed in a timely manner or making sure that training is completed, one thing for sure is that she stays busy.
Davis-Lewis believes in staying physically fit and attributes the army for that core discipline. Her love of pound cake keeps her motivated to work out. This physically fit grandmother of two also loves to bake and strongly believes in living a stress free life. She and her husband also enjoy traveling and taking full advantage of relaxing on the weekends.
Her favorite classic movie of all time is "Imitation of Life," which is not surprising when you think about it. In the movie, a bi-racial eight-year-old girl rejects her mother by trying to pass as white because of her own internal struggles. Davis-Lewis believes that individuals must stay to true to themselves and their core beliefs and that is just what she and her staff strive to do each day. After all, it was her father that taught her the importance of staying true to one's self, and it is now her job to ensure equality in the workplace.