COLUMBUS, Ohio –
The Defense Federal Community celebrated African American Heritage/Black History Month with an awards luncheon and panel discussion Feb. 22 at Defense Supply Center Columbus.
More than 150 attendees came together inside the Armed Forces Reserve Center on DSCC to hear a panel discussion featuring community leaders giving their thoughts on the topic, “Crisis in Black Education.”
The discussion followed a live jazz performance and buffet-style lunch and was part of the installation’s annual celebration of Black History Month.
The panel included Ronette “Roni” Burkes, a warden at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Ohio. Burkes holds memberships in the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, the American Correctional Association, and the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents.
She emphasized the importance of education in the black community and the common characteristic she sees in inmates throughout correctional institutions.
“There is a direct correlation between a lack of education and incarceration. This is a fact,” she said. “What we need in our prison system – and what I’m working on – are programs that encourage women to pursue their education even if they are in the prison system. For many of them, this is their pathway out of the cycle of incarceration.”
Low expectations for students also contributes to the educational crisis said Alesia Gillison, chief academic officer for Columbus City Schools. Gillison sat on the panel with Burkes and described her history of overcoming obstacles while she was a student.
“The social perceptions and stereotypes around me created a lower set of standards because of preconceived ideas, despite my actual abilities,” Gillison said. “My teachers didn’t push me like they should have, and I had to overcome the hurdle of what society expected of me. Once I did that, I was able to succeed.”
Derrick Shelton, superintendent for the Columbus Arts and Technology Academy, was the third guest panelist. He said a lack of motivation and clear goals held him back when he was younger, and now as an educational administrator, he sees many of the same problems affect students today.
He says in many cases, the best way to fix the issues facing education in the black community is a dose of tough love.
“I tell students to treat school like it’s their job – because it is,” said Shelton. “And just like at a job, they need to come dressed a certain way, they need to treat people with respect, and they need to be prepared to do the work.”
The Defense Federal Community’s Equal Employment Opportunity African American Employment Program sponsored the moderated panel and presented its annual Carter G. Woodson Awards.
Each year, the EEO office recognizes two individuals with a Carter G. Woodson Award. The first award goes to a military or civilian member of the Defense Federal Community who has made significant contributions to the African American community and the second award honors an individual from the Central Ohio community at large.
Dr. Jefferey Kee (Rev.) received the Ohio community award for his social justice advocacy and promotion of diversity and inclusion in the Columbus area. The Federal Community award went to Anthony Stone, a customer account specialist at Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime, for his volunteerism and mentoring efforts at local schools.
In his welcome remarks, DLA Land and Maritime Deputy Chief of Staff Don Schulze recognized the importance of diversity in both the workplace and the greater community.
“Diversity represents the very foundation of our strength,” Schulze said. “It reinforces our strength as a premier DoD workforce – but even more significantly – diversity cements our strength as a collective society.”
The EEO program encourages all associates to visit the display cases near the entrance to the Building 20 cafeteria during the month of February. The cases feature historic photos and artifacts highlighting African American history and additional information about Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History Month.”