Washington Gas Celebrates Black History Month

Washington Gas Celebrates Black History Month

We are honored to celebrate Black History Month. Get to know our outstanding employees as they share in their own words what Black history means to them.

Washington Gas profile photo for Honore DzisamHonoré Dzisam, Senior Paralegal
"True diversity reflects a team created with all people in mind."

For several years, you probably have heard the phrase, “Black history is American history,” and that is truly how I view our input. Even though February is designated as Black History Month, we must develop a mindset that every day honors  Black history. I celebrate by attending programs at church or other venues, watching various documentaries and, of course, reading books. 

Black people have massively contributed to the formation of America and the world in a myriad of ways, such as through our inventions, building many famous landmarks and building trade and commerce throughout America and the world. Some inventions that have enriched society include traffic lights, GPS systems, home security systems and even potato chips!

In all truth and accuracy, we cannot deny or diminish these facts. Black History Month is one of the mediums used to continuously remind current and future individuals domestically and internationally about our contributions on a grand scale. 

When I was first hired by Washington Gas, people thought I was younger than I was. I overheard one of my colleagues say, “What is she, all of 24?” I laughed and thought, “Why does that matter? My work speaks for itself.” I was very proud to be hired for a position that required experience, heightened intellect and a keen understanding of the law. 

In my current position as a Senior Paralegal, I have had opportunities to add real value to the company’s bottom line by showing my true talents and abilities along with my education and experience. What is inside is what matters, and as a result, I work well in diverse and inclusive environments. Everyone brings unique, valuable perspectives within collaborative teams. 

When I imagine the evolution of diversity and inclusion, I envision these becoming outdated terms because we no longer need formalized programs and nominal discussion. I hope it will become second nature for the workforce to hire, develop, and promote from all ethnicities, nationalities, skill sets, genders and the like.  

True diversity reflects a team created with all people in mind, while real inclusion values the inputs from that diversity. We must evolve in this direction to create a thriving, well-represented professional environment.

Wayne Jacas, Washington GasWayne Jacas, Manager, Director, Construction Program Strategy and Management
Time is the most valuable gift you can offer."

Black History Month is an opportunity for our country to bring attention to the contributions of the Black people who have helped shape the nation's history. It is a time to celebrate our rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities as we acknowledge key figures from our past and present. 

My own celebration includes learning something new about our history and teaching my kids about non-mainstream figures and their influence. Most recently, I have been researching the impacts Blacks made during World War I and World War II, as detailed in the documentaries "The Harlem Hellfighters" and "The Wereth Eleven."

I believe the best way to celebrate Black History Month beyond February is to proactively learn about our people's history. Then, use that knowledge to educate our children, ally with marginalized communities and discuss what you have discovered. Time is the most valuable gift you can offer, so find a local organization that needs support and volunteer your talents.

I have a particular interest in STEM educational access for Black youth in underserved communities so I often embrace hands-on outreach opportunities. I am the Vice President of Programs for the 100 Black Men of Maryland, Inc., and have held this role for the last two years. With the full support of the chapter, I developed a youth leadership program to reach male students from various areas of the state. I truly have a heart for mentoring young men, from building rockets and taking field trips to discover Maryland's Black pioneers to public speaking lessons and supporting parents through academic challenges.

As Co-Chair of the African American Resource Council at Washington Gas, I have the distinct honor of working with an amazing team to represent and advocate for our members and allies. I am grateful for the opportunity to move forward with our shared mission of creating a community that advances inclusion, cultural awareness, organizational equity and opportunities for African Americans.  

I am passionate about social action and legislative advancement, and I believe in a boots-on-the-ground approach to voter education, registration and mobilization. To support these goals, I have participated in several endeavors to increase the voting population across Maryland.

I look forward to continuing this important work.  Most of all, I am grateful that Washington Gas supports and celebrates cultural differences in our workforce and the communities that we serve.

Shreen Morrison, Washington Gas

Shreen Morrison, Manager, Corporate Accounting
"Small acts of kindness and involvement create a ripple effect that fosters a sense of community.”

Black History Month holds a profound significance for me, serving as an annual journey of reflection, celebration and advocacy. We are more than our past in this country as the enslaved. It is a time to emphasize the resilience, accomplishments and cultural richness of the African American community, acknowledging its pivotal role in shaping our collective history. Black History Month is an opportunity for introspection and a commitment to fostering positive change in both personal and professional spheres.

One of the fundamental ways I celebrate Black History Month is through education and community service. I believe that spreading awareness by educating all community members about the accomplishments of Black leaders, artists, scientists and activists is crucial in dismantling stereotypes and fostering a more inclusive society. Celebrating goes beyond acquiring knowledge; it involves active engagement in the community throughout the year.

Volunteer events play a crucial role in translating understanding into action. Alongside my family and friends, I volunteer for community service projects that inspire a sense of responsibility, empathy and motivation and specifically emphasize the transformative potential of collective action to contribute to a more equitable and united society. It is essential to encourage allyship as we actively work towards a more inclusive future. When multiplied, small acts of kindness and involvement create a ripple effect that fosters a sense of community.

In the workplace, initiatives promoting inclusivity are vital for fostering a diverse and equitable environment. Employee resource groups (ERG) provide a platform for networking, mentorship and cultural exchange. In 2018, I was one of the co-founders of the African American Resource Council (AARC), I understand the significance of ERGs in driving positive change. AARC’s founding mission, centered on creating a cultural shift that fosters trust, transparency and better inclusion, has been instrumental in promoting cultural awareness and providing opportunities for African Americans within the company. 

AARC’s core values, encapsulated by the 4Cs–culture, community, communication and cultivation–drive the initiatives for its members. These values emphasize the importance of building a workplace culture that values diversity, creating a supportive community, fostering open communication and cultivating opportunities for professionals to reach their full potential. Additionally, I believe companies should implement policies that address unconscious bias and promote equal and fair opportunities in leadership.

Black History Month is a time for reflection, celebration and action. By educating ourselves and others, engaging in volunteer events and actively promoting inclusivity in the workplace, we can collectively contribute to a society that values diversity and equality. Let us embrace Black History all year, not only as a commemoration of the past but as a catalyst for positive change in the present and future.

Walter Pinkney, Washington GasWalter Pinkney, Senior Gas Controller
"Black History Month is similar to viewing history through a filtered microscope."

To me, Black History Month is similar to viewing history through a filtered microscope. Like any focused lens, this perspective helps shed light on an area to highlight and magnify items that normal eyesight may not have gleaned.

Black history enhances the common lore of humanity and reveals that all races have contributed to the story of mankind. I celebrate by attending various local exhibits and concerts that show how diversity and inclusion have contributed to growth and development in America.

As a person of color, I have faced the usual challenges in my career. When I first applied for a job as a janitor, I was reminded that I needed a car to get to work. When I pointed out to the interviewer that I did not need a car without the job, he hired me anyway. I became the first Black person to go beyond the trial period and become a gas dispatcher. 

In my career, I’ve seen many firsts for Blacks as they achieved positions such as supervisors, engineers and electricians—not to mention James H. DeGraffenreidt, Jr., who served as chairman and CEO of Washington Gas. But all of these “firsts” were only the beginning, and companies must continue to invest in ongoing efforts to build diversity and inclusion.

Tracye Funn, Washington GasTracye D. Funn, Manager Corporate Contributions
"Both of my parents were educators, having taught a combined 101 years."

I believe the celebration, reflection and legacy of Afro-Americans should be recognized year-round and not just in February and I make every effort to always honor my ancestors. Both of my parents were educators, having taught a combined 101 years.  They instilled in me a sense of pride about my race and our accomplishments despite cultural, political, social, and economic challenges.

My father, Carlton A. Funn, Sr., was particularly concerned that his students did not have that pride due to a lack of curriculum. While teaching a history class to Alexandria seventh graders in 1957 — three years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed public school segregation, he was shocked to see the school system using a dated and racially offensive textbook on Virginia history. It depicted slaves as cheerful and docile. It was also the same book the Alexandria school system had used when he was a student. He complained to the principal but was ordered not to make waves.

Instead, he acted and founded the National International Cultural Exhibit (NICE) in the 1960s, a travelling collection of pamphlets, books, artifacts, and teaching resources. It was shown more than 500 times in 13 states and included 287 tables and 1,500 display boards. The collection is now permanently included as part of the Alexandria Black History Museum collection. I was always most proud when Dad lectured at every school I attended – from elementary to Hampton University, my alma mater.

Today, the internet provides a wealth of learning opportunities, and there are games that help teach us about our heritage. Sadly, there are those who seek to diminish our contributions and prevent the next generation from not only learning about their ancestry but depriving them of their legacy.

I remain diligent by joining organizations that help bridge the gap for cultural exchange and I volunteer and serve in spaces that help address diversity and build inclusivity. I am fortunate to support organizations in both my professional career and personal life that bring voice to the call to promote awareness, human dignity, and cultural understanding – the 3 teaching mantras incorporated in the NICE curriculum. I have held leadership positions in philanthropy, community outreach, supplier diversity, and advocacy and all have been opportunities to reinforce what my Dad taught me. I encourage individuals and societies collectively to learn about each other, respect the differences and acknowledge and appreciate who we are and our cultural contributions. 


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