Today is the last day in our nation's month-long celebration of African American history. I want to share a few things, and issue a challenge. First, the sharing.
I would invite you to read two things. An opinion piece from Saturday's Washington Post, authored by Colbert King; and a message to southwest region employees, written by regional director, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle.
In his piece, Colbert King recalls and recounts the suffering oppressions of racial segregation as a child growing up in the Washington, DC of the 1960's. He says, he learned the Ten Commandments at Liberty Baptist Sunday School, but "the others" from the civil authority of that day:
"Among them: Thou shalt not attend Grant Elementary School on G Street NW, which was for white children only. Thou shalt not attempt to enter the Circle Theater at 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where only whites were allowed. Thou shalt never think about dining downtown. Thou can purchase sodas and sandwiches at the drugstore at the corner of 25th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. But thou shalt not sit and eat. Thou must stand at the end of the counter and wait patiently to be recognized."
Dr. Tuggle recalls growing up in the Georgia of "Jim Crow" days:
"When I was scarcely a boy of 10, I was with my grandmother in Georgia at a restaurant. It had two drinking fountains, one labeled “White,” the other, “Colored.” Since I had never encountered this before, my curiosity got the best of me. In a moment of innocence that only a child can know, I tested each fountain and reported to my grandma that the “Colored” fountain was mislabeled. The water coming out of each of the fountains was clear, not “Colored” as the sign said. She reluctantly had to explain to me what the signs really meant, which confused me even further. That, I think, was among my earliest memories of being treated differently because of my skin color."
I also grew up in Georgia. Benjamin is a few years older than I, but probably around the same time as he joined his grandmother in that restaurant, I was watching minor league baseball in the days before the Braves migrated to Atlanta, from Milwaukee. The Atlanta Crackers were a fabled team, known as the "Yankees of the minor leagues." Their fans, black and white, were separated by seating, restrooms, and yes, water fountains. Thinking back on the injustices of those times, it seems improbable that Benjamin and I would become great colleagues and friends. But we are.
All that segregation was ended by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By great sacrifice. By long struggle. By inspiring leadership. By enlightened politics and a political system that held to Martin Luther King's theory that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. It was a hard fought and well deserved victory. A victory for African Americans, but for all of us. We are better as a nation and as a people. We are better as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We will be better yet, tomorrow, but only if each and all of us are committed to the goal of growing diversity within our ranks. I am proud that the Service has found and nutured leaders like Benjamin Tuggle, Hannibal Bolton, and Jerome Ford, and is nurturing a new generation represented by people like John Heinz NWR manager Lamar Gore, and in HQ Shannon Smith, Charisa Morris, and Megan Reed. But we can, and must, do better.
And that leads to the challenge. As we are passionate in conserving biological diversity, we must be passionate in building diversity within our agency and our profession. Each and all of us must constantly reflect commitment to this goal. All our actions must demonstrate tolerance of diverse views among culture, race, religion, age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. We must find, recruit, hire and retain a workforce that mirrors America's expanding diversity.
Thank you, in advance, for accepting this challenge. Now, make it so!