Reflections on Black History Month

Many influences shape who we are: our family, our education, our experiences, our history. In honor of Black History Month, we asked some of our nuclear workers to share how this month and those it celebrates impacts them.

 

Cecil Alexander Fletcher II, manager, Nuclear Regulatory Affairs, Catawba Nuclear Station

Black History Month is a reminder that African-Americans weren’t always free. It’s a reminder that my ancestors fought, suffered and sacrificed, so I could be what I wanted to be. It’s a month of celebration and a time for reflection on the contributions of black people throughout our nation’s history. It’s a time to recommit, to realign to the core values of my ancestors that are rooted in perseverance.

 

Ivan T. Jenkins, nuclear engineer, Oconee Nuclear Station

Black History Month changed my mind, and thus changed my life. I grew up in a small town in rural South Carolina. My hometown and surrounding areas were economically depressed, and most people I grew up around suffered from a “just enough” mentality. My community had families that were full of love and sacrifice, but struggled to make ends meet on a regular basis. Without intervention, I would have been bound to repeat the same cycle. 

After my freshman year in high school, I was accepted into the Federal TRIO program, Upward Bound, at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. Upward Bound provided cultural enrichment, counseling, mentoring and academic services to first generation, college bound students. At Upward Bound, I experienced my first substantive view of black history.

For the first time, I learned about seemingly normal black Americans that became extraordinary people, like G. Gaston, a prominent black businessman and activist in Birmingham, Ala.; Samuel B. Fuller, door-to door salesman turned owner of cosmetics company Boyer International Laboratories; Alonzo Herndon, slave turned barber, real estate investor and insurance enterpriser.

The lives of these black Americans and many more that I learned about during Black History Month changed the trajectory of my mind and put me on a course to seek much more from life. Learning more about the significant contributions of Americans that look like me was a tremendous inspiration that I enthusiastically pass on today. That’s what Black History Month means to me.

 

Bertrand Wilder, nuclear engineer, Brunswick Nuclear Plant

Black History Month is a time of special focus on accomplishments and contributions black people have made to our culture, our country and the world. To see the many marvelous things our ancestors have invented is phenomenal. It is paramount that all people understand the sacrifice and hardship endured in the era each accomplishment was made. Reflection on our great history should ignite excitement and hope for a great future for all people because of its far-reaching impact on society. The path of the future is well lit, with men and women currently making discoveries and reaching milestones no one can imagine.

 

Thomas E. Hunter, nuclear maintenance technician, Oconee Nuclear Station

Growing up in the 1960s was quite an experience, going through racial division and not really knowing what it meant. Because I attended an all-black school from first to fourth grade, I had not been subject to racism or aware of social injustice. During this time, the Civil Rights Movement was in high gear but it was not until 1968, after Martin Luther King's death, when “Black History Week" and the importance of black history came to my attention.

Becoming fully aware of the struggles of African-Americans to take our places as American citizens, I realized I couldn’t forget where we come from, because if you forget, you are doomed to repeat the cycle. When schools integrated, life as I knew it would never be the same. I was the first to champion black history at my high school, which kept me in trouble. In 1976, we finally got a month – February – dedicated to black history, but I knew this was a 12 month, 365 day-a-year way of life.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I began my quest for a piece of the American Dream, only to find out racial and social injustice would make things harder than it should have been. As an African- American male, I had to be twice as smart, perform at a higher level at all times and remain humble. This made me the man I am today, and set an example for my children and community that through hard work and determination you, too, can be a part of black history.

Now, at the turn of the century, we have seen an African-American president. I hope this next generation can learn from our mistakes and rise above them.

 

Kevin Houston, manager, Nuclear Fuel Supply, Nuclear Corporate

Black History Month certainly highlights figures from a much broader geography and period than simply the civils rights era in the Deep South. However, because I grew up in Montgomery, Ala., which was “ground-zero” for much of America's civil rights struggle, my personal connection to Black History Month is rooted and shaped by that era. 

Rosa Parks' bus route was two streets over from my grandparents' place, protesters marched across the Pettus Bridge from Selma (less than 50 miles away from my house) to the state capitol, my parents were acquaintances of some of Martin Luther King's cadre, and the Birmingham church bombing was only a short trip up the highway. I only mention this to highlight that while for many of us, these events are only conveyed in documentary films and history articles, they were part of the daily fabric and routine for my parents and community role models.

Oddly, though, while one could easily presume this would give me a very negative view of things now, it mainly serves as a positive inspiration to me, and a sense of hope. In spite of all they experienced and endured, my parents and role models did not plant seeds of hostility due to those experiences, and they instilled in me the idea that I could achieve whatever I desired if I worked hard and smartly enough. While things are not perfect now, and there is still a lot of room for improvement, reflection on that aspect of history is a strong reminder of how far things have come and how the views and fabric of society have evolved and progressed in the right direction. 

The historical achievements and contributions of many of the icons depicted during Black History Month were considered unusual and anomalous for their time. When I consider many similarly awesome contributions are being made and exemplified by African-Americans on a daily basis now, I get a sense of hope for the future state because this is now becoming more and more mainstream and not considered so unusual, but almost expected and par for course … signs of progress.

At Duke Energy

Duke Energy is committed to supporting diversity and equality in the workplace and the communities it serves. The company works to create an environment of advocacy that supports Duke Energy's effort to attract, develop, engage and retain a diverse workforce. The company has a strong network of Employee Resource Groups, including Advocates for African-Americans (A³), which provides educational and recruitment support to attract, retain and engage African-American talent. 

 

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