In February, the United States honors the extraordinary contributions made by African Americans throughout the history of our Republic. We celebrate the heroes, pioneers, and everyday Americans who tirelessly fought for the promise of racial equality enshrined in our Constitution and enacted into our laws. Learn more in the Presidential Proclamation.
On February 20th, the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) hosted a celebration of Black History Month at the Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters in Washington, D.C., that was live-streamed via energy.gov.
The celebration kicked off with saxophonist Eddie Baccus Jr. setting the tone for a fun and engaging event. Kelly Mitchell, Senior Advisor to ED, opened by highlighting the various fields in which African Americans have contributed to American history, and Director of ED, the Honorable James E. Campos, emphasized DOE’s commitment to foster an inclusive work environment. Under Secretary of Energy, the Honorable Mark W. Menezes, highlighted how interwoven the accomplishments of African Americans are into our daily life. For instance, just up the street from DOE on L’Enfant Plaza is a park dedicated to Benjamin Banneker – a free black man that surveyed the original boundaries of Washington, D.C. in 1791.
Our guest speaker and keynote speaker discussed the importance of education being the cornerstone for success in our communities and our country. Dr. Harry Williams, President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, shared the three books that impacted him the most: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight, Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley. Dr. Williams said the stories exemplify an indomitable will to not just survive but excel through academics. President of the Heritage Foundation, Kay Coles James, emphasized learning the depth of the African American history. Mrs. James encouraged those in attendance to read passages from Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938. The narratives proved to her that the intelligence, tenacity, skills, and financial resources necessary to succeed exist within the African American community.
We cannot sit idly by and watch people sit on the sidelines.
Director Campos moderated a fireside chat between Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette and former Congressman Julius “J.C.” Watts, discussing workforce development in the African American community. Secretary Brouillette’s goal at DOE is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to join the energy industry. He is aggressive in establishing Historically Black Colleges and Universities as employment pipelines and also hiring underrepresented professionals early in their careers to help them flourish in STEM fields.
Congressman Watts expressed frustration that the stories of black doctors, engineers and lawyers are not shared as widely, and pointed out that young people tend to aspire to go into the professions that they’ve seen. His hope is that his recently launched Black News Channel will be platform for greater awareness and pride in the possibilities for young African Americans. He praised DOE’s outreach to the black community. Additionally, he daughter began her career as a petroleum engineer with a scholarship from the NAACP and DOE to attend the University of Oklahoma.
Thank you to Secretary Brouillette, Under Secretary Menezes, Congressman Watts, Director Campos, Dr. Williams, and Mrs. James for sharing your time, experience and wisdom.