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Region 8 hosts virtual Black History Month event

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Ms. Shirley Jones (left), 15th National President of Blacks In Government, and Colonel Otis Jones, Vice Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, were the keynote speakers for Region 8's 20th annual Diversity Training Program.

by Richard Stebbins

Region 8 hosted its 20th annual Black History Month event virtually last Thursday to promote diversity, equity and inclusion within the region with a record audience of 320 attendees.

The Diversity Training Program, as the event is known as, featured keynote speakers Ms. Shirley Jones, National President of Blacks In Government, and Colonel Otis Jones, Vice Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“This event is an annual, long-term tradition for us in the region,” said Tanisha Harrison, acting Regional Commissioner for the Public Buildings Service. “ I think it provides a wonderful opportunity for all of us in terms of learning, understanding and self reflection.” 

The theme for this year’s event was The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity as established by Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the founders of Black History Month.

Ms. Jones spoke about her 33 year career and rise from a GS-7 to being selected as a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES). Jones is the first African-American woman in the General Accountability Office’s history to be appointed as Managing Associate General Counsel. She recounted her resiliency on her path to finally becoming an SES.

“I am an example that our agencies are making great strides toward greater diversity, greater equity and greater inclusion but more importantly recognizing that excellence is color blind,” said Jones.

Col. Jones' remarks focused on a time in his career when he offered a suggestion to a senior staff member about how to run a specific military operation more efficiently. His comments were dismissed outright but his message to the audience was to know your value and never let anyone stop you if you know you are right or have something to offer. 

“As leaders and managers in an organization, you have to hear every voice and understand the value of those inputs, although they are different from your own ideas,” Col. Jones stated.

Another story Col. Jones told was about growing up in an integrated yet socially segregated community where opportunities were missed on bringing ideas from different perspectives together.

“The importance of diversity is a strategic imperative for this nation. We need people who can engage with and relate to different cultures and backgrounds, people who can approach problems from a different perspective, and have diverse talents and skills,” stated Col.Jones. “Every individual, regardless of the value you place on them, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and you need to respect the value that individual has in this world.”

The program also featured a slideshow on key figures and events that helped shape the Black family in keeping with the theme.

Music videos of national recording artist Tony Exum Jr. were played that also highlighted the theme. Exum Jr.’s second song played was titled “We Are One” especially touched on the protests seen across the country this summer. 

“Black music is the indigenous art form that influenced the world culturally, artistically, politically and spiritually,” stated Exum Jr. “One message remains the same and permeates through the pain we as a people have demonstrated.....We Are One.”

The Rocky Mountain Employee Association sponsored the event and provided plaques as tokens of appreciation for the guest speakers. 

The planning team took a virtual group photo for Region 8's 20th annual Diversity Training Program.
The planning team for Region 8's 20th annual Diversity Training Program.