The Hill Air Force Base Black Heritage Committee held its annual luncheon Feb. 16 at Club Hill to honor this month as Black History Month and explored the national theme of this year's tribute, "The History of Black Economic Empowerment."
This theme, selected by a joint group of federal organizations which spearhead the annual historical celebration, recognizes the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society and helped invigorate the nation and its economy. Additionally, this year marks the centennial celebration of the National Urban League, a civil rights organization established in 1910 that addressed the needs of African Americans who migrated to the United States, and it has since worked to develop the economy in underserved urban communities. The African American History Month organization reports several instances of racial solidarity and economic empowerment for minority citizens in the twentieth century.
However, current statistics reveal a decline in today's economic situation in the black community, noted the luncheon's guest speaker, Maj. Gen. Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr., vice director of Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Va.
"The theme of black economic empowerment is an oxymoron in many regards today," the general officer said, citing the tripling of unemployment rates of black Americans compared to decades prior to today. Hawkins also noted the rising income gap between white and minority wage earners, a gap that has increased by several percentage points since the early 1960s.
Hawkins attributed these statistics to the fact that more than half of all African Americans and Hispanic Americans do not graduate from high school, which causes a series of economic consequences such as lower earning potential and a tendency to perform criminal acts for money.
"You cannot have economic empowerment in the African American community when less than 4 percent of African Americans that do go to college actually qualify for a scholarship," Hawkins added.
The solution to this "silent epidemic," Hawkins said, which is hindering the economic empowerment of the black community, is to mentor young minority Americans. "I challenge you all to take part in a mentorship organization to help eradicate the apathy, ignorance and intolerance of this silent epidemic ... When we do that, then we can talk about economic empowerment and diversity in the United States."
Hawkins is the president of the Air Force Cadet Officer Mentor Action Program that promotes professional and leadership development for all Air Force officers and supports the retention of minority officers in the Air Force. Membership in the program is open to all active duty and Reserve component officers, as well as cadets at Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps detachments, officer training schools and the Air Force Academy.
In addition to the luncheon, the Hill AFB Black Heritage Committee recognized Black History Month with a series of events that included the "Gospel Extravaganza," a children's reading activity at the Hill AFB Child Development Center and a free seminar on credit counseling.