by Gene Marrano
The U.S. Postal Service held its 22nd annual Black History Month program in the Roanoke Valley last Sunday, where the focus was on the continuing role of diversity in the workplace. Entitled “Lights, Camera, Action … for Diversity,” it was also a nod to pioneering African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, who had an office in Roanoke in the 1920s and made movies here.
An old studio and theater where his films were shown is now home to the Claude Moore Education Center and Virginia Western’s culinary arts program. A stamp recently released by the Postal Service was also on display at Roanoke’s Black History program, held at William Fleming High School.
Attendees sampled foods and visited booths that displayed Afro-centric clothing and jewelry, and information on one of Roanoke’s Sister Cities, Kisumu (in Kenya). Donations were also collected for school supplies that will be distributed through the Boys & Girls Club of Roanoke.
In the Fleming auditorium choirs and dance teams kept people entertained; participants included the Northwest Child Development Choir, the Virginia Western Community College drama team and Bibleway Pentecostal Church.
Meanwhile in the cafeteria as people ate, a panel discussion on diversity held sway. Panelists included USPS District Manager Robert Cavinder, William Fleming principal Gene Jones, mail carrier Robert Perkins and Roanoke assistant city manager (for budget) Sherman Stovall.
“Our diversity may be our greatest national asset,” a quote from Colin Powell, was read aloud to help kick off the discussion. Cavinder claimed that the Postal Service “is very much involved with diversity,” hiring a workforce that looks like the communities it distributes the mail in.
Cavinder said young people, no matter who they are, should “never regress – always progress. Go forward, with what you dream of doing.” Perkins agreed; the mail carrier said that, “you can go anywhere- if you have the education and the experience. It’s up to you once you get the opportunity.”
Stovall mentioned Roanoke City’s Diversity Advisory Council, which aims to “provide diversity within the entire city’s workforce.” The budget director said Roanoke had made big strides on the diversity front over the past several decades when it came to the hiring process, which he also called “evolutionary. We will continue to make progress.”
As for making diversity a reality within the workplace locally, Cavinder, who rose from the ranks to become a district manager, said it was evident “whenever you go into the post office.” The USPS holds diversity training sessions on a regular basis, he added.
Jones noted that the staff at William Fleming “looks like the [surrounding] community.” As for students, they recognize the differences in each other said Jones, “[but] it’s like normal. They are all working together for a common goal.” All kids are equal in his eyes said the first year Fleming principal, “[they] are all students of one environment.”
Perkins sees “a mixture…a diversity,” when he’s on the job. Stovall said diversity in the workplace was necessary “to ensure there will be a mix of ideas [and] the perspective of another person.”
Jones said programs like the Postal Service’s annual Black History event were important, to “expose [attendees] to different lives and different groups of people.” Acknowledging that his athletic skills may have helped open doors for him in high school and college (Jones was a star basketball player and a track standout), he maintained that education “will take you further than anything else.”
He also urged young people of color to take heed of those that had fought for equal rights in the past: “you are really walking on a path … on the backs of others. [Now] you have to make it better for the next generation.”