By Giselle BodinFebruary 27, 2009
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. --In a room full of employees of different races, ages, and backgrounds, with men and women working in a variety of career positions, knowledge was shared and the need for cultural recognition stressed to bring the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT) together during the month of February for African American history month.
On Thursday, Feb. 12, USASMDC/ARSTRAT employees gathered to listen to speaker Robert "Bob" Harrison, the Madison County Commissioner for District Six in Huntsville. Overall, nearly 70 attendees gathered to recognize the importance of African American history through the theme of "The Quest for Black Citizenship."
Kicking off the program was Col. Cheryl Lewis, the USASMDC/ARSTRAT staff judge advocate. Lewis began by discussing the founding of African American week in February of 1926 by Dr. Carter Woodson, a famous African-American historian. Lewis stressed that while the theme centered on black citizenship in America, the program was made to educate all people.
"It's important to raise awareness and inform all people, not just black people, on cultural differences, on learning and celebrating different cultures," said Lewis.
Following Lewis, Mary Peoples, the USASMDC/ARSTRAT Black Employment program manager, spoke, thanking everyone-particularly members of the Senior Executive Service-for attending the event. She then introduced Commissioner Harrison as the guest speaker for the day.
Commissioner Harrison, a native of Little Rock, Ark., was elected Madison County Commissioner for District Six in November 2004 and was re-elected in June 2008. His district represents approximately 48,000 people residing in the northern section of Huntsville. He is the second African American Commissioner elected into this position since a reapportionment lawsuit was filed in 1988. As commissioner, he supervises six departments and more than 900 employees, with responsibility for millions of dollars of county equipment, land, and buildings.
Harrison has worked in a variety of professions-a chemist, an engineer, an entrepreneur in engineering consulting, owner of a vehicle dealership, and an entrepreneur in real estate. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and achievements throughout his life and during his time in Huntsville. He has served as an advocate for education, creating community services and organizations; has developed programs to advance harvest and produce capabilities; and is an active and dedicated member of his local church. With his various background and diverse experiences as an African American commissioner in Huntsville, Harrison provided a wealth of insight to SMDC/ARSTRAT employees as a speaker at this event.
"This is a great opportunity to reflect on the past and examine the present of where we are as African American people," said Harrison. "We have a past of trials, tribulations, and testimonies of triumph. Now we are armed with hope and continue to press for equality."
Harrison also spoke about the great past of Woodson and other dedicated leaders who shared a strong vision.
"It's not enough to have vision, framed by inspiration and filled by conviction. It takes any means to fill and a sense of determination over naysayers," Harrison declared. "There is a need for a completion of the vision, a need to accomplish things others have not."
Harrison reminded attendees about the historical path of African Americans, from slavery to the Civil War, emancipation to lynching, and through the Reconstruction period. He pointed out, however, that the journey was not finished.
"The greatest bound of hope has come during American economic shakiness, with the election of an African American man [as president]," said Harrison. He spoke of ensuring a seat at the table of opportunity and remembering to not let complaints overshadow opportunities.
Harrison closed saying that "there are victories still left to win and a potential of hope filled with promises yet to come."
After Harrison's speech, Melvin Kelly, the command's Equal Employment Opportunity officer, thanked Harrison and presented him with a plaque of appreciation. He encouraged attendees to continue to build their knowledge and awareness through programs like this.
"It is important to respect one another by knowing more about each other," Kelly said. "Understanding cultural backgrounds helps us all do our jobs better together."