Celebrating Black History Month at Essential

Each year, the U.S. recognizes February as Black History Month, highlighting the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout history.  This is a time to reflect, recognize, and celebrate the social, political, industrial advancements made throughout history, as well as an opportunity to learn from the past.  At Essential Utilities, we celebrate our diverse workforce and strive to learn from each other through sharing, listening, and appreciating others’ perspectives and experiences to continue building a culture of inclusiveness and belonging.

Why is Black History celebrated in February?  February coincides with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, who, respectively, played pivotal roles in abolishing slavery and the emancipation of slaves.  What initially started as a week-long celebration of Black history with the goal of teaching Black history in public schools, grew to a month-long focus and celebration, and was officially recognized as Black History Month in 1976 by President Gerald R. Ford.[1]

In this month’s blog, we’re featuring two of our leaders, Larry Carson and Laura Montue, to share with us what inspires and motivates them, what Black History Month means to them, and what we all can do to help recognize and celebrate Black History.

Lawrence “Larry” Carson is the president of Aqua New Jersey and has been with the company for 3 years.  Prior to joining Essential Utilities, Larry worked for the City of Wilmington, Delaware for 15 years, with 8 of those years serving as Deputy Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections and 7 years as City Engineer.  He also spent 7 years serving as the Executive Director of a non-profit housing organization and was president of his own engineering consulting firm for 8 years.  In total, Larry has 26 years of managing employees and over 30 years of managing programs and projects.

Laura Montue is the director of Network/Telecommunications at Essential and has been with the company for 32 years.  She is responsible for leading the voice, data, and transport network teams, aligning them with innovative technologies which benefit the corporation.  Laura started with People’s Natural Gas, first being introduced to the company as an intern while pursuing her degree in Electrical Engineering at Hampton University. 

What or who has been your biggest inspiration?

LC:  My family – My oldest brother serves as a role model; five generations in my family have attended the Ohio State University, my oldest son graduated from the University of Delaware and my youngest will graduate this May; and my wife of 29 years.

LM: My mother – she has overcome so much adversity in her life and has always taught [me] core Christian values as the basis for success.  She raised three young girls to be independent and self-sufficient women based on two Christian principles: ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’; and ‘walk by faith not by sight.’ 

What motivates you?

LC: Leaving things better than when I found them.

LM: My family motivates me the most, but what also motivates me is my internal motivation, my spiritual connection.  I am here for a purpose.  My success is based on driving that purpose through my service.  If I cannot serve others, what do I gain?  I want to lead by example.  I am always learning and striving to be something that others can look up to, especially my family. 

Who specifically has served as an inspiration in your life?  

LC: My ancestors – it’s a collection of wonderful stories of clever, resilient, and perseverant folks.

LM: In every phase of my life, there have been different individuals that have attributed to my success and overcoming my shortcomings – from family to close friends, to coworkers.  So many have provided me wisdom during a specific time in my life. 

Why is it important to take time to reflect, think back, and celebrate Black History Month? 

LC: Black history is misunderstood.  We need to do better to understand our history so we don’t repeat it.

LM:  As a graduate of an all-black high school in western PA (George Washington High School) and a Historically Black College and University (“HBCU”) (Hampton University) in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I was afforded the opportunity to not only be exposed to black history more often than our children and youth today, but it was integrated in our day-to-day academics.  Is a month long enough to celebrate?  Absolutely not.  There are so many contributors, from mechanics, to modern day technology, processes, to politics – it warrants exposure much longer than a single month can provide. 

What does Black History Month mean to you?

LC: It’s a time to reflect and challenge our preconceptions of our knowledge of history.

LM: It means a lot.  It recognizes that this country, although “founded” by Europeans, was built on more than that, but by many contributors within the black race.

What can others do to help celebrate Black History Month?

LC: Dig into the history of blacks in the United States.  I recommend three books for those who want to challenge their understanding of our history and the environment that shaped it:

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
  • Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom by Ilyon Woo
  • Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule

LM: Not just recognize the major “limelight” contributors but do the research and understand that some of the day-to-day tools we use were designed or invented by members of the black race.  Examples include:

  • Osborne Dorsey – invented the doorknob and stop
  • Paul Downing – invented the mailbox
  • John L. Love – invented the pencil sharpener
  • Thomas W. Stewart – invented the mop
  • Nathaniel Alexander – invented the folding chair

How can we all improve upon inclusion and equity in our own lives?

LC: Be open-minded to the abilities/capabilities of those who are diverse.  Simply hiring the same employee profile year over year will not inform different points of view or skills and abilities.   

LM:  To focus on yourself, and not others.  We are all human beings and bring something to the table.  I’ve learned that I can only focus on what and how I am involved, while looking at what others can bring to the table.  It starts with understanding we are all different, but we bleed the same.

What has the company done to foster a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

LC: It has embraced diversity in hiring, procurement, and holding leaders accountable to do so.

LM: We must continue to provide the resources and information.  It’s not an easy task to change people’s minds.  Change is hard to begin with, let alone, breaking down barriers that have been in place for many years.  Information sharing is key, as well as leaders providing the examples for those to follow.

What is the best part about working at Essential Utilities?

LC: Working with Colleen [Arnold, president of Aqua], Mark [McKoy, vice president, Aqua Operations], the other presidents, and our great staff in New Jersey. 

LM:  Throughout my career at Peoples and now Essential, I have been challenged at each level.  I’ve also been able to interact with so many different people with different backgrounds, roles and skillsets.

What keeps you at Essential?

LC: More work to do!

LM: I started with People’s Natural Gas over 30 years ago, first as an intern, then upon graduating, joined the communications department.  I’ve held many roles since then, spending time as an engineer and managing major projects.  When we were acquired by Steel River over 10 years ago, I was introduced to a management role on the transport side, which still allowed me to be in the trenches.  Now as a director of Network/Telecommunications with Essential, I see how much opportunity I’ve been able to have not only with People’s but with Essential Utilities as well.  The growth opportunities I’ve had throughout my career is what has kept me here.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2022/02/01/1075623826/why-is-february-black-history-month