The annual African-American/Black History Month celebration was held Feb. 22 at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Community Center, Bldg. 405. This year's theme was black women in American culture and history. Tables around the center displayed posters, books and photographs which showcase achievements of African-American women in education, business, civil rights, law, government, politics, art, music and literature.

1st Lt. Jessica Nestor from 289th Military Police Company (The Old Guard), served as the announcer for the ceremony. Following the singing of the national anthem by Sgt. Maj. Robert Patillo, U.S. Army Chorus and the invocation by Chap. (Maj.) David Santiago-Cruz , Col. Carl R. Coffman, commander of JBM-HH gave opening remarks.

"Each February, Black History Month is celebrated to recognize the past and present contributions and achievement of African-Americans and what they've done for this great country," said Coffman. "From the Revolutionary War to the present, African-American women have played a myriad of critical roles in making our nation. We join the nation in honoring African-American women who have played a role in the history of our nation and our Army as well."

Coffman said it was an honor to have guest speaker, Carla J. Grantham at the ceremony "who is a skilled communicator, from complex information to a diverse range of audiences and has excelled in high leadership positions."

Grantham retired in 2007 from the United States Coast Guard after completing more than 22 years of military service. In her last position with the Coast Guard, she performed as the deputy director of their Leadership and Professional Development office. She was certified by the American Society of Training and Development in Advanced Designing for Learning and by the Diversity Training University International as a certified diversity professional.

As an accomplished coach, public speaker, facilitator and trainer, Grantham has worked with senior executive servicemembers, mid-level supervisors and junior administrative professionals. She has worked as director, White House and budget management; as conferences and special events director for the U.S. Coast Guard senior executive leadership cadre; as an organizational liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives, and as the chief of human resources for one of the Coast Guard's most geographically and ethnically-diverse operational districts.

Grantham's speech included a PowerPoint presentation, paying tribute to the accomplishments of a diverse group of African-American women throughout history.

She said Black History Month is about "learning the details of different things that happened in history so we can become more knowledgeable and making sure that absolutely everyone feels as if they're valued and has a place in our society."

Grantham talked about Sojourner Truth, the self-given name of Isabella Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist, known for her oratorical gifts. The speaker explained how Truth delivered a speech in Akron, Ohio in 1851 on racial inequalities, later known as "Ain't I a Woman." She also talked about Harriet Tubman, African-American abolitionist, humanitarian and Union spy during the Civil War; Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American poet and first African-American woman to publish her writing.

Other African-American women Grantham discussed were: Elizabeth Freeman, known as Mum Bett, who was among the first black slaves in Massachusetts to file a "freedom suit" and win in court under the 1780 constitution, with a ruling that slavery was illegal; Jean Blackwell Hutson, responsible for organizing the Schomburg collection, a research library of the New York Public Library and archive repository for information on people of African descent worldwide; Althea Gibson, tennis pioneer and African-American athlete; African-American actress Cicely Tyson; Willa Mae Ford Smith, African-American gospel singer ; Elizabeth "Bessie" Coleman, first female African-American pilot and the first person of African-American descent to hold an international pilot license.

In one of her multiple-choice trivia questions, Grantham asked which JBM-HH employee could be seen walking around the installation each morning between 6:45 and 7:15 a.m. Of course, the answer the audience all called out simultaneously was Linda Williams, a mail clerk. Grantham said she liked to include a local person from wherever she speaks to include as a role model. Williams was chosen for her dedication to physical fitness.

Grantham included her mother "Rosebud," and the influence she had on Grantham's life in her speech. "She taught me the value of education, the value of being considerate and kind, the importance of manners and most of all, why inclusion is so important within the world," said Grantham.

"All of these women played an important part in making sure history and education was advanced, that changes were made in society and events," said Grantham.

Grantham concluded with a quote from Gloria Scott, the eleventh president of Bennett College, Greensboro, N.C. "I see on whose shoulders we stand. Some of us only got through because they didn't. That's a critical responsibility for the generation we're in. We have to help provide the shoulders, the direction and the support for those generations to come behind us. You can focus on the obstacles or go on and decide what you want to do about it. To me, it breaks down to that. You can do and not just be. I hope each one of you provide a set of shoulders for someone to stand on and to be the best that they can be."

Following Grantham's speech, Master Sgt. Natalie Noland, U.S. Air Force, sang "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera. Guests were invited to sample food after the ceremony, including: hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice), macaroni and cheese, collard greens with smoked turkey, barbecued chicken, Carolina-style pulled pork, corn pudding and banana pudding.