More than just American History: Celebrating Black History at Essential, Aqua and Peoples

More Than Just American History

Throughout the month of February, we’re celebrating Black History Month and honoring individuals who have been instrumental in shaping American history.

Throughout the month of February, we’re celebrating Black History Month and honoring individuals who have been instrumental in shaping American history. Beginning as a week in 1926 to coincide with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays, Black History Month has since inspired communities across the country to celebrate, appreciate and learn about past and present Black history. Other countries have also adapted their own versions of the month. The official beginning of Black History Month was in 1976, and since then, every U.S. president has declared February as Black History Month.

In this month’s Careers and Culture installment, we interviewed two employees, Derrick McBride, and Lesley Dix to discuss what Black History Month means to them and hear what inspires and motivates them. 

Derrick McBride is an information technology administration manager for Aqua and has been with the company for 19 years.

Lesley Dix is a customer care coordinator for Aqua and has been with the company for 18 years. She is also a member of the Women International Network of Utility Professionals and part of the Women in Leadership branch of the National Diversity Council.

What has been your biggest inspiration? Who serves as an inspiration in your life?

DM: “My two children have been my biggest inspiration. Both have unique personalities and preferences. As they become young adults, their recognition and contribution to others continues to amaze me. In an era of individualism and egotism, they continue to build relationships and flourish despite personal and professional challenges. Of course, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has had the biggest impact on the Black community. His commitment to social justice through non-violence resonates today. Despite being ostracized, tormented, and jailed, he remained vigilant in his quest for civil rights for all people. Often beleaguered by his own trusted advisors, he continued to fight for equality in societal, political, and financial affairs. There is an opportunity for change.”

LD: “When I reflect on my childhood and how I was raised, a lot of credit goes to my maternal grandmother, June, and the women in my community. It takes a village to raise a child, and I am the product of one village. One of the things I love most about Aqua is that it feels like a work “village.” In addition to my grandmother, my junior high school teacher, Mrs. Hamilton, taught me about character, integrity and the type of service I should expect and give in both my work and my personal life. It’s one thing to get that from family, but to have someone in the community reinforce this, it helped me learn to be selfless. I saw Mrs. Hamilton a few years ago and was able to tell her how much of an inspiration she was to me. She always inspired me to do more. We need more Mrs. Hamiltons in the world! Personally, being involved in the community and knowing what is going on, being an inspiration to my daughter and other young girls in the community inspires me.”

Why is it important to reflect on and celebrate Black History Month? What does it mean to you?

DM: “The legacy and contributions of Black citizens to the fabric of America cannot be overstated. The term black is a misnomer, and a simplistic aggregator used to define a racial identity. The native African arrived on these shores long before the establishment of a nation. Black History is more than American history, it is the cumulative pre/post contribution of a vast representation of diasporic people. Black History Month is a time to reflect on the contributions, toil, and achievements of our ancestors, and realize there is much more collective work to be done.”

LD: “Personally, I think of my family when reflecting on the importance of celebrating Black History Month. I come from a family of African American men who were proud to serve this county; a family who contributed to part of this. I am most proud of my great uncle Eddie (Edward N. Smith) who served this country during WWII as a Tuskegee Airman, 2nd Lt. pilot.

History is history – and history includes all backgrounds – so we are all connected to history.

How can we learn from history to build a more inclusive future together? This takes effort. We all have something to learn from each other.”

What has been your experience at Essential regarding the culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

DM: “Essential has supported ongoing initiatives and defined objectives that support diversity, equity and inclusion. Our Employee Resource Groups allow us to share our experiences and provide us with educational and community service opportunities. I am proud to work for a company with ample opportunities and a bright future. I love the direction we’re headed and how transparent leadership is with where we’re going.

LD: “The company has fostered a culture of DE&I by facilitating inclusive resource groups. Every employee is welcome in every group, which creates a culture of inclusivity, leading to retention and employee satisfaction. Who said water and oil couldn’t mix! Essential also encourages a culture of volunteerism, which is important to me to be able to give back to my community.”

Any final thoughts to share?

DM: “If you’re interested in learning more, get involved in local events that celebrate Black History in your community. Start a dialogue. Initiate meaningful conversations with someone who may have a difference historical perspective. Be willing to have these difficult conversations and remain open and respectful.”

LD: “Make a conscious decision to educate yourself. Take a class on diversity, learn about your personal biases, remove your blinders. An African American activist, Ella Baker, once said, ‘Give them light and people will find their way.’ We can be each other’s light. Just turn your light on.”

Thank you to Lesley and Derrick for sharing their stories and serving as invaluable leaders and mentors at Aqua. Together we can celebrate, acknowledge, learn and empower during Black History Month.