Celebrating innovators who shaped workforce development
February 12, 2021 | By Carrie Rosingana, Lansing State Journal
As we celebrate Black History Month, I would like to celebrate the work of Black innovators and professionals who have integrally shaped our work in workforce development. Today, we celebrate just a few and hope you’ll take the time to learn more about the many contributions beyond this column.
Let’s start with a truly under-celebrated individual in our industry. Dr. Abram Lincoln Harris, Jr. is among the first nationally recognized Black economists, and his contributions to workforce development are broad and deep, dating back to the early 20th century. According to Black Past, “Harris was highly respected for his work that focused primarily on class analysis, Black economic life and labor to illustrate the structural inadequacies of race and racial ideologies.” From the 1920s to 1950s, he authored books and thought-leadership pieces on labor movements, labor trends and economic reforms that would lead to a workforce more inclusive of Black people.
By flipping the too-common question of why Black students struggle academically from what is wrong with Black children, to asking what is right, Ladson-Billings continues to challenge schools, administrators, teachers and pedagogical norms to create equitable education systems.
Just down the road from us, as Western Michigan University’s ninth president, Dr. Edward B. Montgomery brings to our home state a deep background in economics, including a wide range of experiences within the United States Department of Labor, with whom CAMW! works closely. He is now shaping equity and college access for Michigan’s students, telling the Western Herald when he started at the university in 2017, “University is both about education and knowledge, but it’s also about character and finding something that will sustain you as a citizen, and as a human being for the rest of your life.”
And there’s more history in the making to celebrate: A modern pioneer advocating for women in STEM, Dr. Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe co-founded the Diversity Initiative for Tenure in Economics, and founded WISER, the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity, and Race, where she also serves as president.
“This profession is what we make it… therefore, it’s going to take all of us to be responsible to make it a better profession,” she said on a recent Women in Economics Podcast. CAMW! echoes this sentiment. We actively partner with Women in Skilled Trades, an organization that provides resources, training and advocacy to women interested in exploring and accessing careers in the construction trades. And our Capital Area IT Council, under the leadership of executive director Jordan Davis, localizes Sharpe’s focus by facilitating a Women in IT Peer Group, among other efforts to help educators and employers diversify the IT workforce in greater Lansing.
And today, CAMW! continues to work to dismantle structural barriers to achieve an equitable workforce. We strive to carry on the work innovators like Harris fought so hard to have heard and respected. Through programs such as the Partnership. Accountability. Training. Hope. Program and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Program we look to break down barriers that disproportionately affect our Black clients and provide access to education, financial supports, training and other resources to help reduce wage and wealth inequities.
Similarly, all of us in workforce and talent need to know and understand that educational resources and college access are pillars to ensure equitable access to career opportunities for Black Americans. Through dozens of partnerships, initiatives and programs, we work to ensure everyone in our region has access to quality education. By embracing Ladson-Billings’ challenges of antiquated thought processes, we can be more effective and supportive in reducing racial disparities in post-secondary enrollment.
At CAMW!, we believe college IS for everyone, and we believe “college” is any post-secondary education beyond high school. Post-secondary education not only prepares individuals for careers in high wage, in-demand careers, but in turn, it lifts our communities and strengthens our workforce. Montgomery’s contributions to one of our state’s major universities are history in the making.
Today, I celebrate a mere four professionals of the countless Black individuals whose contributions to economics, education and workforce development impact the work we do every day. Because of these industry leaders, we continue to provide programs and participate in partnerships that increase access to education, training and work for Black individuals. It is an honor to continue their work on the ground throughout the years, and next week I look forward to celebrating those making an impact locally.