Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black History Month Blog Series (Part 1 - AJay Thornton, ECBC Director of Engineering)

In honor of Black History Month, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) is hosting a special blog series, featuring insights and candid narratives from several of the Center’s African-American leaders. We invite you to follow the series this month here on ECBC’s official blog site.The first installation of this series features AJay Thornton, ECBC Director of Engineering.

What is one word that characterizes Black History Month for you?
To me, the one that is most significant is “enculturation” or “culture.” Black History Month is not simply for people of my own race, it is the genesis of an opportunity to allow others to know more about us as a people. I think we’ve missed the boat when we look at this month as a celebratory time that is just for black people. When we were in school and went to history class, the teaching was inclusive – it was history for everybody, not just for black people. While the celebration of Black History Month is an opportunity to dispel some of the remaining historical inaccuracies, I look forward to when we celebrate history and it is inclusive on all fronts. American history is a story that we are all a part of, whether we are Asian, Latino, White or Black. We are all American despite our many different backgrounds and heritages. It is our differences that make us great. If it weren’t for our diverse culture, I don’t think we could have grown to be the nation we are today.

What moment in black history do you find to be the most significant moment for you, the community, or the Nation? Why?
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most significant historical moments for the black community in America.

Dr. King was the ultimate uniting factor for the black community during the Civil Rights Movement; his messages went beyond any racial barriers. If you were a decent individual, regardless of your race, you could relate to the universal messages he had to offer. Even Dr. King’s persona was one that the masses could relate to; his words spoke volumes of who he was as a person – not just a black person, but a person. Although his speeches focused on black people and equality, he consistently used inclusive vocabulary with phrases like “all people.”

During that time, the black race was united towards one end. The plight was consistent across the race – one goal and one focus. Since his assassination there have been other significant leaders, but I believe there has been no one to measure up in total with what he had to offer, again, not just for black people, but to all people. Immediately following his death it was a despairing, terrible time for many. Some were in a complete state of loss; their hope for equality had been snuffed out and they thought everything they worked for as a people and a community would also die with Dr. King. His messages were timeless however – “...I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land– and it became evident that the ultimate sacrifice he had given could not be in vain. We all had a role to play, and in the end it wasn’t just Dr. King and his closest affiliates, it was all people, of many races that stepped up to the plate for righteousness.

I truly believe that time is when we were greatest as a race. That is not intended to take anything away from where we have come today. If it were not for the efforts of Dr. King and the many other Civil Rights fighters, I would not have had the favor in my life to be where I am at today. The entire heritage that emerged has served to shore me up. I know what perseverance is all about.

What are your thoughts about the significance of Barack Obama's election as the first black Commander in Chief?

I did not think I would live to see a black president in my lifetime. His election had a personal significance to me. When Obama was elected as the first black President, I received a promotion and became the first black ECBC Engineering Director. Obama’s election has afforded other kids to be able to dream, but to dream with some sense of reality, believing that things can happen. Anyone that is looking at what Obama has done and what he has tried to do during the short time he’s been in office can like or dislike it, but at the end of the day I believe he is trying to do the right thing for the right reason, representing underprivileged persons that can’t represent themselves. His presidency sets the stage for other positive things to happen for all that dare to dream; it further opened the doors of opportunity for all for generations to come.

What can the ECBC workforce do to support diversity at the Center?
I think the best thing we can do is to seek out and endeavor to understand what makes us different. Understanding our differences, where it alleviates any untruths, can help to make us more comfortable with one another. Many times we form our perceptions of one another based on our fear of the unknown. To reflect on Dr. King’s words – “…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character – if people had been in fear of me because of what I looked like and not because of my accomplishments or commitment towards excellence, I may not be in the position I am today. People have been able, I hope, to see me and not just my packaging. So when you are walking down the halls of your workplace, or in meetings with people that are different than you, at the end of day it is imperative that we remember we are all people. We may have things that make us unique, but we strive for many of the same things in life.

Mr. Alvin D. Thornton entered the Senior Executive Service in November 2008 and serves as the Director for Engineering Directorate at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC).  In this position, he serves as Client Manager to multiple Joint Project Managers of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical Biological Defense (CBD). Among his responsibilities are policy development, management and direction of the Center’s program involving engineering development and technical support for CBD systems program lifecycles. Formerly, Mr. Thornton served as Team Leader for Biological Detection Manufacturing, Office of the Project Manager for Nuclear Biological Chemical Contamination Avoidance.

This content on this blog does not represent the views or beliefs of ECBC, its employees, its management or the federal government.

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