Black History Month program focuses on role of African American women in history

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — The Equal Opportunity Office of the Virginia National Guard presented an African American History Month Program Feb. 4 to Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division at Fort Belvoir. The program included a presentation by Jacqueline Ray-Morris on influential black women throughout America’s history.

“There are specifically, nine Department of Defense recognized observances,” said Lt. Col. Darryl Winston, 29th Infantry Division equal opportunity advisor. “Last month was Martin Luther King’s birthday observance and this month we celebrate African American/Black History Month and we are focusing on the theme of black women in American culture and history this month.”

The guest speaker, Ray-Morris, gave the Soldiers of the 29th a brief lesson on the history of several influential black women in history who have made significant contributions to the diversity of the nation. She posed the question, “Whose footsteps are you walking in, and what footsteps will you leave for other to follow?” to the Soldiers. She noted that the roads we walk in life are not always easy, and that like the women who paved the way to social and cultural equality we experience today, “We too must take the road less traveled.”

Traditionally, these types of events are presented during the week to the full-time staff of the Virginia National Guard, which only makes up roughly 20 percent of the total force. The Virginia National Guard EO office recognized that they were only reaching a small percentage of the force and collaborated with the 29th to reach out to the traditional units who drill one weekend a month to present the program during their drill weekend.

“We have these monthly programs for all of the cultural holidays, and we have them normally at Fort Pickett or in Richmond, so we have asked them over the last few years to bring these programs to us here at the 29th so that we have an opportunity to benefit from the programs as well,” said 29th Infantry Division Commander, Maj. Gen. Frank E. Batts.

“Our big push right now is the weekend Soldiers”, said Equal Opportunity Officer Capt. Kervin Sider. “They never get this training because no one ever comes to them, so our biggest thing was to bring it to the weekend Soldiers to make sure they know we haven’t forgotten about them. We want to educate them just like we educate the full-time force.”

The program pointed out the importance of celebrating diversity among the ranks of the Army National Guard. The 29th Infantry Division is comprised of a diverse group of Soldiers. Within the Division, the majority of Soldiers come from minority populations according to a survey conducted in 2010.

“It is through our diversity that the military is as strong as it is today,” said Batts. “We must be able to look through other people’s eyes and to accept the contributions and different approaches of other groups whenever we solve problems and that is what makes the U.S. Army the greatest Army in the world.”

Black History Month found its origins in the summer of 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian, travelled to Chicago to participate in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation there, according to Sider. Ten years later, Woodson created Negro History Week, which by the early 1970s had grown into Black History Month.