DoD Observes African American History Month in Texas
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 25, 2006 In its fourth year of "taking the Pentagon to the people," the Defense Department held its official observance of National African American History Month here yesterday and today at the 130-year-old Huston-Tillotson University, one of more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country.
Clarence A. Johnson, the Defense Department's director of civilian equal employment opportunity, left, chats with Air Force Maj. Marvin Jordan, deputy director of military equal opportunity, during DoD's observance of African American History Month in Austin, Texas. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
With the theme "Reaching Out to Youth: A Strategy for Excellence," DoD held its observance with Huston-Tillotson University here in conjunction with HBCUs.
This year's national theme -- "Celebrating Community: A Tribute to Black Fraternal, Social and Civic Institutions" -- recognizes the African American groups that have worked to confront injustices and expand opportunities, President Bush said in his National African American History Month proclamation.
Clarence A. Johnson, DoD's director of civilian equal employment opportunity, said federal agencies are required to give a certain amount of business, grants and research and development to HBCUs as part of legislation for small and disadvantage businesses. "DoD has contracts, grants and research and development-type efforts that HBCUs are awarded," he noted. "DoD also has excellent employment opportunities for HBCUs."
Johnson noted that DoD has more than 700,000 civilian workers. "We're convinced that students in college are not aware of the DoD opportunities in the civilian work force," he said. "Research tells us one-quarter of our undergraduates in the nation think DoD is nothing but military service. They don't know that there are 700,000 workers out there supporting the men and women in uniform.
"So in addition to the business opportunities, DoD has excellent career opportunities, both on the military and civilian sides," Johnson continued. "In this forum ... we'll express those opportunities and make sure folks are aware of them. This is a special event, because it supports the executive order, which is a mutually beneficial thing to the schools and DoD."
President Bush signed an executive order in 2002 aimed at giving HBCUs the same opportunities other colleges and universities have for government contracts, research and development, grants and other benefits.
"We've had this program for four years, and each year there is competition because HBCUs want DoD to come and show the HBCUs in their region what DoD is about and how they can work with DoD to enhance their infrastructure capacity."
A year ago, Johnson said, Huston-Tillotson President Larry Earvin asked him to consider the university for this year's observance. Earvin made sure all the Texas HBCUs were represented.
"HBCUs from other states have also joined, and this conference will have about 20 HBCUs," Johnson said. "Getting 20 HBCUs presidents and their representatives in a room at the same time is a success."
And the observance's youth outreach efforts aren't limited to college students, Johnson said. Middle and high school students were invited to attend an exposition at the university, he noted, because they have less of an idea about what it takes to become a scientist or an engineer.
"We believe it's beneficial to have middle and high school students to talk about careers and what DoD can do in their lifetime," Johnson said. "It's important that we expose these young folks early to what careers are in front of them and tell them what kind of checkmarks they have to make to pursue a career."
At an evening function, Johnson explained to attendees that in addition to DoD having its official African American History Month observance away from the Pentagon, similar observances take place throughout the department.
"Observance events like this have and will be held on bases, forts, installations and ships at sea to honor the contributions of African Americans to our national defense," he said. "As part of our 'Take the Pentagon to the People' program, we also held key outreach activities and a leadership symposium where officials from DoD and the HBCUs meet on relevant issues of mutual support.
"We also conducted a transition assistance workshop where we informed HBCU faculty and staff on employment and business opportunities in DoD," he noted.
Johnson said DoD is working on policies to increase the representation of minorities and women in the flag and general officer and the senior executive service ranks. "We're not only being held accountable by Congress, we're being held accountable by the American people," he said.