By Spc. Alun Thomas, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsMarch 3, 2009
FORT HOOD, Texas - As a photo of President Barack Obama beamed across the screen at the Community Event Center, an overwhelming sense of pride was evident on the faces of those gathered as they celebrated Black History Month, Feb. 26.
The 1st Cavalry Division's Black History Celebration, presented by the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, was dedicated to the strides made by black Americans during the course of their history in the United States.
During the welcoming remarks, Staff Sgt. Sherlie Erilus, from Dorchester, Mass., Rear Detachment for 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div., said she hoped those in attendance would find the program educational and entertaining.
"This is a celebration of African-Americans throughout the country who have paved the way for all of us," Erilus said. "Their significant sacrifices and struggles to fight for freedoms and rights have made our lives greater."
Staff Sgt. Willette Blackman, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div., performed the national anthem and Staff Sgt. Catrina Dorsey, Headquarters Support Company, 615th Aviation Support Battalion followed her rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
Sonia Simmons of Johnson's School of Performing Arts, based in Killeen, Texas, read a poem titled "Killeen: The City Outside Fort Hood," first performed in 2007 during Killeen's 126th anniversary proceedings.
"Killeen was a city with a reputation and not a city to dwell for people of color," said Simmons. "When the Army came, they helped open a door that had been closed for so long and helped create services and provide education for everyone."
Simmons said schools in Killeen eventually became integrated and black communities expanded, with black children able to receive proper education and be allowed to thrive.
"Nothing is ever perfect, but we now have dignity and respect and we let our truths speak for themselves," Simmons said.
Col. Theresa Gonzales, from Charleston, S.C., the commander of the 502nd Dental Company Area Support, gave the keynote speech.
"You may be wondering why a Southern, Jewish woman, who grew up in the segregated South is today's guest speaker," Gonzales joked. "I was reared by an African-American female and subsequently married a Hispanic catholic man, so I think that's a good background."
Gonzales explained the importance of Black History Month and how racism played such an important part in the nation's history and should never be forgotten.
"We must continue to this day to challenge racism and welcome each other as people," Gonzales said. "African-American history is America's opportunity and this Army's to say that racism has no place in our society."
Lt. Col. Shawn Perry, deputy commander, 1st. Cav. Div.'s Rear Detachment, presented awards to Gonzales and Simmons for their contributions to the program.
Sgt. 1st Class Edmond Vallarde, from the Virgin Islands, an aviation maintenance platoon sergeant for Company D, 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div., said the program meant a lot to him, especially coming from the Virgin Islands at the age of 15 to live in the United States.
"In the Virgin Islands, we only deal with one color. So when I moved to the United States, I started interacting with other nationalities," Vallarde said. "It was then I started to understand the term racism and after growing up in America, I can see the changes from when I first arrived ... to now."
Vallarde said events such as this program are the icing on the cake for him when he sees how far African-American's have come in recent history and felt the program was handled excellently.
"Even though a lot of Soldiers are deployed and are getting ready to, we were still able to come together as a team and today we had a great turnout," Vallarde said.