By Jason B. CutshawFebruary 18, 2011
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Team Redstone came together Wednesday to celebrate Black History Month and learn about the past as well as look to the future.
With the theme of "African Americans and the Civil War," Redstone Arsenal held its annual Black History Month program at the Bob Jones auditorium. For the program, the installation brought in star power in the form of speaker Dr. Tonea Stewart, actress and dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Alabama State University. Stewart shared stories, not only about her personal experiences during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, but also about the progress the nation has made.
"I wonder if we understand who the African American really is," Stewart said. "Who is the African American' Who were these people who came in bondage, chained together, crossing the middle passage' Who were these people who some saw as not human'
"How in the world can 1,001 inventions come from a people who were viewed as less than human'" she added. "Who is this African American whose name we call out in history to be the first to fall to his death in the American Revolution' It was Crispus Attucks in 1770. Who were these African Americans who became known as a Tuskeegee Airmen and never lost a bomber they were escorting' As we gather here today, we are not celebrating African American history, we are celebrating history."
As an actress, Stewart is best known for her role as Aunt Etta in the television series "In the Heat of the Night" and as Gwen Hailey in the movie "A Time to Kill." Stewart also has performed on stage and screen in "The Rosa Parks Story," "Walker, Texas Ranger, "ER," "Touched by an Angel," "Memphis Beat," "Matlock," "Mississippi Burning," and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," as well as several Lifetime movies.
"It feels like there is so much more to be done," Stewart said about educating people on African American history. "We don't know the role that our ancestors have truly played because our history books have left a void and we are all trying to gather that information.
"We have no true beginning to our existence today, and of course none of us know our ending, but if we can learn where we are from, whether it is Ghana or Liberia or Nigeria, we can gain a sense of purpose and of place," she added. "Like the song says, we are 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,' and I have interpreted that to mean there is a void and we need to continue to celebrate, continue researching, continue to study, continue to read. We need to continue to sit at the feet of our ancestors and of our elders and find out from them, while they live, what all they can tell us and try to make our history have its bridge to today."
Stewart also said that one of the reasons for her to come to Redstone Arsenal was to give back to the Soldiers and civilians who are serving the country.
"My respect for the armed services brought me here today," Stewart said. "I am glad that I came because I don't believe we say thank you enough.
"Team Redstone has treated me grand, everyone has been wonderful," she added. "I hope everyone working here, either a civilian or a servicemember, knows how much I salute and hail our military forces. Thank you all for what you do for all of us."
Inspired by the guest speaker, several members of Team Redstone remarked how Stewart sharing personal stories of joy and pain helped give insight from someone who witnessed many historical changes both personally and professionally.
"Today was just a great celebration of Black History Month and it was something I am glad I was here for," said Col. Daniel J. Shanahan, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command chief of staff. "Miss Stewart is such a great talent. She shared with us so much of her life and the struggles she has been through, and she is an inspiration for so many of us."
Others at the program said Stewart's presentation brought something different to this year's celebration.
"Today's ceremony was absolutely fantastic," said Robert Moore, U.S. Army Security Assistance Command deputy commanding general. "Dr. Stewart was entertaining, inspiring and educational. It was a wonderful, wonderful program."
Not only did Team Redstone's equal opportunity team bring in a famous actress, but they also brought in world-renown musicians Mark Bynum and Tony Gentry, who most recently toured with the soul, rhythm & blues and funk band, the Bar-Kays.
"I've traveled all around the world but this was the first time I think I have been this nervous," said Gentry, a guitarist, songwriter and vocalist who has played for nearly 40 years with numerous musical bands including the Dazz Band, Con-Funk-Shun, S.O.S. Band, Gap Band, Lakeside and George Clinton & Parliament. "But it was my pleasure and my honor to perform here for Redstone.
"No matter if I have played in Japan, China, Indonesia or Los Angeles, music is the same and everybody understands it," Gentry added. "As a musician, I have seen changes that have led us to today and I can't wait to see what the future brings."
After the program ended, Sgt. 1st Class Lance J. Green, Redstone Arsenal Equal Opportunity Program manager, commented on how well everything came together.
"By far this was one of the most cohesive programs that we have had since I have been an equal opportunity adviser," Green said. "This opportunity came about when we looked to utilize the full Team Redstone concept. The whole workforce came together to make this a very successful event."