DoD, Military Participate in BIG Convention
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 1997 "While we haven't achieved our goal of full equality of opportunity, ... we're closer than any other organization in this country," William E. Leftwich III recently told attendees here at the Blacks in Government 19th annual national training and education convention.
Leftwich, deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity, highlighted DoD accomplishments to nearly 5,000 African-American employees from hundreds of federal, state and local government agencies at the BIG convention.
Leftwich vowed DoD will continue working hard "under motivated and encouraging leadership from the top to adjust existing equal opportunity programs and to develop new ones."
"Through the struggle for full equal opportunity, we not only become an example for the rest of the nation, we also become an example for the rest of the world," Leftwich said. "The composition of our armed forces and civilian work force is a statement about what is possible in a multiracial, multiethnic society.
"Most nations are multiracial, and many are separated along lines of race, religion or language," he noted. "When U.S. forces, including civilians, are deployed overseas, whether for warfighting or peacekeeping, they display the possibility of overcoming those sources of social division. They show that diversity can be a source of strength."
His office presented a "DoD Forum on Employment Policy Issues Affecting African Americans and the Work Force." Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard Bureau and the Defense Logistics Agency equal opportunity representatives also made presentations at the conference.
Leftwich said after years of struggle, Congress passed civil rights laws that opened public services and facilities to all. The laws provided for voting rights and equal opportunity in employment matters. They also provided for equal opportunity in housing, desegregated schools and made discrimination illegal in most forms of social interaction.
"We should remember the sacrifices of those like the freedom riders, Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others who struggled to overcome human suffering and degradation," Leftwich said. "They won a stressful engagement. Their opponents have retreated, but not surrendered."
He said African Americans need to identify today's barriers and dedicate themselves to removing them. Unlike a generation ago, Leftwich said, today blacks can buy a first-class airline ticket and receive the same service as everyone else in the section.
"But my true civil rights and those of others have not been fully achieved if a young white woman would choose to give up her first-class ticket and sit in the coach section rather than sit next to me -- the only person of color in the first-class cabin," he said. "Despite the significant victories of the past, the struggle for civil rights is not passe. Snubbing my presence is not nearly as egregious as a lynching, but it is still a reflection of the perception of others that I am not a full-fledged citizen or human being."
He questioned how any American can fully exercise his or her talent, achieve full potential or enjoy the rights of American life if others denigrate him or her simply because of race, sex or ethnicity.
"We must commit ourselves to maintaining the positive, unifying elements of affirmative action and equal opportunity programs," he said. "We must also commit ourselves to the reduction and eventual elimination of hate mongers and extremist views, who, with their reactionary venom, would divide and separate us from accomplishing what are truly common national objectives."
BIG has more than 300 chapters in the United States and overseas, including Okinawa, Puerto Rico, Guam, Italy and the Virgin Islands. It represents more than 2.5 million black public-sector employees.
The six-day conclave featured more than 100 workshops on major issues facing blacks, other minorities and the entire public sector work force. Keynote speakers included Oscar Eason Jr., president and chief executive officer of BIG; Michael Dyson, author of "Race Rules"; Earl Graves, publisher, Black Enterprise magazine; Hugh Price, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League; the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson of the National Rainbow Coalition; and Danny Glover, actor and producer.