On February 14, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) hosted its 2023 Black History Month (BHM) Observance Ceremony, in honor of the many contributions and achievements of Black Americans in the energy sector and Department-wide. This year’s ceremony recognized the gains achieved by Black Americans in the face of discrimination, through the dedicated efforts of individuals, organizations, and communities.
In A Proclamation on National Black History Month, 2023, President Biden reflected on how the tenacity of Black Americans helped lay the foundation for other minority communities to thrive: “Black Americans have made a way not only for themselves but also have helped build a highway for millions of women, immigrants, other historically marginalized communities, and all Americans to more fully experience the benefits of our society.”
During DOE’s BHM Observance Ceremony, Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm and Director Shalanda H. Baker emphasized the need for the Department to be intentional about ending discrimination in the energy industry by ensuring that all people of color and low-income communities are included and considered in our energy transition.
“As a Department it is our goal to place Black, Indigenous, people of color, and low-income communities at the core of our energy transition,” said Director Baker. “It is our goal to continue to build on the history of those who have come before us to continue the fight to tackle the climate crisis—we are all in this together.”
Secretary Granholm expounded on that history by highlighting the work of Dr. Samuel P. Massie, Jr., a Black chemist and one of the pioneering scientists on the Manhattan Project in World War II. “Despite his obvious brilliance, Dr. Massie was kept down—quite literally,” said Secretary Granholm, who described how Massie worked on this government-backed project under far worse conditions than his white colleagues, in the building basement.
“We have to sit with that legacy. Reckon with it. And grow beyond it,” said Granholm. “Then as now, we need the best and brightest. We need a scientific community that looks like America. And we need them not only on the same floor, but at the same table.”
Growing beyond that legacy includes DOE partnering with the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to implement two programs funded by the President’s Inflation Reduction Act: the Low-Income Communities Bonus Credit Program 48(e), and the Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Credit 48(c). Such programs underscore the Biden’s commitment to leading an equitable clean energy transition and supporting the goals the Justice40 Initiative and provide direct benefits to disadvantaged communities.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Robert D. Bullard—Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at Texas Southern University and affectionately known as “The Father of Environmental Justice”—gave a presentation entitled “The Quest for Environmental and Climate Justice: Why Equity Matters” that covered the history of the environmental justice movement through the lens of Black activists and scholars. Dr. Bullard was followed by a virtual presentation on Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune by Ranger John T. Fowler, II of the U.S. National Park Service, National Capital Parks-East Historic Homes.
Other highlights from the BHM Observance Ceremony included remarks from Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Tara Fuller and Jenene Lee, President and First Vice President (respectively) of Blacks In Government Energy Chapter; Trina Bilal, Program Manager in the Office of Minority Educational Institutions, and Patricia Zarate, Deputy Director for the Office of Civil Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity.
February is a time to celebrate and commemorate Black history, Black stories, and Black voices. But, at the Department we make an effort to applaud and recognize the contributions of African Americans every day.
DOE is committed to advancing energy justice, increasing access to equal employment opportunities, creating jobs, and climate action. Learn more about our work via the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity and follow @ENERGY on Twitter for spotlights about Black Americans impacting the energy sector.
Also, join us Monday, February 27, 2023, at 1:00pm EST as we host a fireside chat with ED’s Director Shalanda Baker and Colette Pichon Battle, Founder and Co-Executive Director of Traproot. They will talk about equity for underserved and overburdened communities in the context of energy and climate justice. Be sure to tune in here.