By Kari HawkinsFebruary 7, 2018
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Through drawings and paintings, Master Sgt. Clifton Williams is teaching local students about the culture and heritage of the nation's diverse population.
But, Williams is not using a pencil or a paintbrush to emphasize diversity. Rather, it's his administrative skills that are ensuring local school-age children have the opportunity to share their artistic ideas of diversity each month during Redstone Arsenal's cultural observances.
"Historically, Team Redstone ties local children into the monthly observances through an arts educational program," said Williams.
"The program includes art contests that give children a way to share with us what it means to be Hispanic, African American, Jewish, Asian American or other ethnicities. It gives them a way to honor diversity and to show us what a specific observance means to them. It also gives them a way to share their art with others."
Since being assigned as the Army Materiel Command's Equal Employment Opportunity Program Manager, Williams has worked to ensure the arts educational program is part of every monthly observance at Team Redstone. For his efforts, he was recognized with a Community of the Year Award at the 16th Annual Black History Enrichment and Enlightenment Festival Feb. 3 at Trinity United Methodist Church.
A few years ago, the Team Redstone arts educational program was omitted from the monthly observances due to the difficult and time-consuming task of coordinating with the art teachers in local city, county and private schools as well as after-school programs. Williams was able to restart the program by working with school volunteer Rosie Douglas, who serves as a liaison between Team Redstone and local art teachers in Madison County.
"We want this program to succeed because we want to keep students involved in our monthly observances," Williams said. "We can learn so much from young people and they can learn from us. We want to give them a way to celebrate and honor diversity in our community and our nation."
Each month, Williams provides information on the designated Army observance and the theme for the month to Douglas, who distributes the information to art teachers, coordinates submissions and judging for winners in the elementary, middle school, high school, magnet school, youth centers and after school categories. Williams readies certificates for the winners, and ensures they and their parents have the proper credentials to visit Redstone Arsenal to accept their award at the monthly observance event.
"It can be an eye-opening experience for the children because it may be their first time to be on a military installation or part of a military ceremony," Williams said.
"It's a good experience for the students to get recognized in front of an audience of elders and military who they don't know. I love to listen to the kids as they are waiting for the program to start. I've heard a repeat winner explain what is going to happen to a new winner, telling them that a general is going to give them an award. And, the new winner will ask something like, "What's a general?' This impacts them a lot."
Williams said the recognition has a lasting influence on the students well beyond the actual observance event.
"They go back to school excited about their award and visiting Redstone Arsenal," he said. "The program impacts not only the winners, but their parents and teachers. It shows them they can be successful and involved in something that is bigger than themselves."
Douglas has seen the change in the students in the classroom as they work to come up with artistic ideas for each observance. Each month, her judges review 50 to 200 pieces of artwork to select the winners.
"Master Sergeant Williams has given students of the arts the opportunity to express cultural diversity and history through their art," Douglas said.
"This program gives students a chance to meet and greet military Soldiers and civilians. Some of these students never had the opportunity to shake hands with a Soldier, to laugh with a Soldier, or to ask a Soldier questions. Master Sergeant Williams has given these students that opportunity."
In accepting the Community of the Year Award, Williams said that art is a tool through which children are reminded of the struggles, challenges and celebrations of different ethnic groups.
"We can't afford for our history to be lost or denied or overlooked or swept under the rug of time. The people who came before us are part of the history that paved the way for us to live and strive for the impossible to be possible today," Williams said. "The children of today will continue to break new barriers and scribe tomorrow's history into existence."