Who was the first African-American elected to Congress?
Who was the second African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University and helped create Black History Month?
Those questions were among many that were answered during a Black History Month event held Feb. 27 at Aera’s Bakersfield headquarters.
Celebrating with a theme of “Resilience and Renewal: Together We Rise,” the Aera Black Employee Network recognized the achievements of past and present black Americans, including two Bakersfield leaders.
Dr. Horace Mitchell, president of California State University, Bakersfield, and Morgan Clayton, president of Tel-Tec Security Systems, were honored during the annual event.
An award for ‘distinguished leadership’
Aera presented Mitchell with a special award for “his 14 years of distinguished leadership at CSUB, support of Aera and local business, and numerous community contributions.”
Mitchell, who will retire from his university post in June, became the fourth president of CSUB in 2004.
Under his leadership, the university has achieved national recognition by extending the excellence and diversity of its faculty and academic programs. Mitchell also has worked to enhance the quality of the student experience and strengthen community engagement.
“It has been my privilege and honor to serve our community as CSUB president,” Mitchell said in accepting his award.
Mitchell singled out a “Partnerships for Excellence” program, in which CSUB collaborates with community partners to increase the region’s overall educational attainment. It also aims to enhance the area’s quality of life and support its economic development.
Mitchell thanked Aera, Chevron, Tel-Tec, Kern County Superintendent of Schools and the Kern High School District for their efforts in the program.
‘Hope is not a plan’
Keynote speaker Clayton shared his leadership journey from restaurant dishwasher to founder and head of a Bakersfield-based security company that today serves 20,000 California customers, including Aera.
Along the way, the Bakersfield native learned to sustain his ambition in the face of adversity. “How we weather the storm makes us better,” he told the crowd.
At a low point in his career, Clayton visited his grandfather in Arkansas and told him he was considering quitting. That angered his grandfather, who pointed out that Clayton had choices in life, unlike his ancestors. The older man also urged him to remember that hope is not a plan, and that he must have a strategy for taking care of himself and his family.
When he founded Tel-Tec in 1982, Clayton made sure the company operated under the philosophy of never putting costs before margins and of bringing in the right people to help him carry out his plan.
“I don’t let the ambitions of others take me to a place I don’t want to be,” he said.
The event also honored black Americans who played key roles in U.S. history. Through a table trivia contest, audience members learned key facts about:
- Carter G. Woodson, the Harvard-educated historian known as the “father of black history” for founding Black History Week, which led to Black History Month;
- Madame C.J. Walker, who created specialized hair products for African-Americans and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire;
- John Mercer Langston, the first African-American lawyer in Ohio and the black person to be elected to public office in the U.S. He assisted many runaway slaves along Ohio’s Underground Railway;
- Jackie Robinson, the first African-American baseball player in Major League history. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 1947 and became a six-time All-Star player;
- Shirley Chisholm, who, in 1968, was the first African-American elected to Congress. She served seven terms in the House. In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the U.S.
Aera’s commitment to inclusion and diversity
In welcoming the audience, Aera President and CEO Christina Sistrunk emphasized the company’s commitment to achieving diversity and inclusion.
“Externally or internally, diversity is here and part of who we are,” Sistrunk said. “It’s vital that we recognize that for Aera to be successful, we must embrace other points of view and experiences.”
The annual event drew 150 Aera employees and community guests, including Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh and representatives of Kern County legislators Kevin McCarthy, David Valadao, Rudy Salas and Vince Fong.