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Posted 3/7/2014

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By Erica Skolte


This year’s African American/Black History Month theme, “Civil Rights in America,” highlighted the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This landmark piece of civil rights legislation outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities and women. It ended voter registration inequality and racial segregation in schools, workplaces and facilities that serve the general public.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Office and the African American/Black Employment Committee held several events in observance of Black History Month. 

Opening Event

The opening event featured Dr. Alan Bliss, a University of North Florida professor who teaches a course titled “Civil Rights in America.”

Before introducing Bliss, committee chair Murika Davis acknowledged the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who served as South Africa’s first black president from 1994 to 1999.

“This month, let us embrace the characteristics of the leaders from the civil rights era as well as Mr. Mandela – people who had courage, who had tenacity, who were fearless, who looked out for others, who took up the charge and moved forward,” said Davis. “So as you are listening today and throughout the month, I encourage you to take up the mantle…Be fearless, display courage, cross boundaries and make a change.”

Bliss acknowledged the role of the Corps in the history of the United States. “The Corps is an institution whose people and whose work I have long admired,” he said. “I actually teach about the Corps and its work in most of my classes on U.S. history.”

Bliss said that many believe the civil rights era took place between the 1950s and the late 1960s, with a few key players such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. He shared one college student’s short, tongue-in-cheek summation of how many people view the civil rights movement: “Rosa Parks sat down, blacks everywhere stood up, Martin Luther King, Jr. made a speech, the laws changed, end of story.” The implication was that the civil rights movement came and went; “Mission Accomplished.”  

Bliss stated that nothing could be further from the truth - the civil rights movement began well before the 1950s and continues for blacks and many other groups to this day, for “this is a country that was founded on the premise of offering the full and equal rights of citizenship to everyone.”  He cautioned that acknowledging only the contributions of the well-known personalities undersells “the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of other people, black and white, who risked their careers, their livelihoods, their homes, their family relationships, their health, in some cases their lives.”

Black History Month Brain Brawl

Bliss’ talk set the stage for the eagerly anticipated annual event, the Black History Month Brain Brawl. Gerald DeLoach, electrical engineer in the mechanical and electrical section, a Brain Brawl participant and team captain in the past, has been the executive producer and host of the event for the last five years.

Brain Brawl questions included those based on this year’s theme, “Civil Rights in America,” and highlighted important groups and events.

Last year’s champions, Contracting Division, joined four other teams in the battle for bragging rights: Regulatory Division and Engineering Division as well as newcomers Prudential 1 and Prudential 2.

After fierce competition, Engineering Division team members Laureen Borochaner, Murika Davis, Quatina Austin and Robert Rene took home the trophy.

"We were behind in the beginning but we made a strong come back. Everyone on the team played an important part in our success,” said team captain Robert Rene. “The beauty of the competition was that it brought out the passion and excitement in everyone. We all had tons of fun and I can't wait until we win again next year!"

“We were happy to welcome [teams from] the Prudential building, which came out in full force with two teams, to our competition this year. The enthusiasm for the brawl was on display in abundance from both participants and spectators alike,” said DeLoach. “There was a great turnout and we hope everyone joins us again next year.”

“The Brain Brawl is a spirited, competitive way to enrich understanding of African American/Black History Month,” said DeLoach. “We invite everyone to participate in some way, whether as a captain, a team member or in the audience. You are sure to learn something you didn’t know before, and will have fun doing it!”

DeLoach plans to host the Brain Brawl again next year, and at least one team already has plans to participate. “We'll be back next year to reclaim the trophy,” said Contracting Division’s Carlos Clarke.

African American History Month Black History Month civil rights Dr. Alan Bliss Jacksonville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers USACE