Guest speaker reflects on diversity, education at AEDC African American Heritage Committee luncheon

  • Published
  • By Deidre Ortiz
The annual AEDC African American Heritage Committee Luncheon was held at the Arnold Lakeside Center Feb. 16 as part of Black History Month.

This year’s theme for Black History Month, which is established by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is The Crisis of Black Education, focusing on the crucial role of education in the history of African Americans.

As someone with a great deal of experience in educating black students, Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr. president of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in Huntsville, Alabama, was the guest speaker at the luncheon.

In introducing Hugine, Dr. Mark Mehalic, AEDC executive director, stated that out of all of Hugine’s many accolades, he was perhaps most impressed by the fact that he had once been a high school math teacher.

“To do that as a profession, is very, very noble,” Mehalic said. “It’s a very important part of education, the early part of education. That’s why we need to get to these students before they get to the college level.”

During his speech, Hugine began by noting the importance of having events such as these luncheons, recognizing the history, culture and achievements of African Americans.

“It is important that we take the time to reflect and acknowledge the immeasurable contributions that have been made by African Americans,” he said. “What would America be like today without the contributions of these African Americans?”

Hugine mentioned that African Americans were the creative minds behind inventions such as the traffic light, microphone, refrigeration trucks and guided missile components. He also said African Americans have largely influenced the American arts and culture in areas like dance and gospel music.

He stated that these accomplishments, most of which were achieved in a time of contention for the U.S., are to be celebrated.

“We celebrate and remember our ancestors who survived the worst period of man in humanity to man, that is slavery, to witnessing the inauguration of the first African American man as president of the United States, President Barack Obama,” Hugine said.

When speaking on education, he commented on the significance of free public education for youth in the United States.

“Our nation is great because of its universal availability of free public education,” he said. “Study after study has heralded the benefits of education, from improved economic status to a healthy style of living.”
“Education does not cost, education is an investment, for the individual and the nation, and it does in fact provide tremendous returns.”

He stated that, however, current statistics show that many countries are leading over the U.S. in terms of completing higher education and in degrees in science and engineering.

“Over two-thirds of the PhDs in engineering earned in this country are not earned by U.S. citizens,” he said. “These statistics should provide concern and alarm to all of us. Because of the decline in educational achievement… our nation is currently experiencing growing levels of income and wealth disparity.”

Reading from a report by the Robert Lynch Center for American Progress, Hugine stated that if the U.S. were to close the educational gap between black and Hispanic children and white children, the economy would be “nearly $2.3 trillion larger by 2050.”

He continued, “Thus investing in the nation’s educational achievement will provide future budget relief.”

According to Artious Walker, member of the AEDC African American Heritage Committee, the luncheon was a great success this year.
“Hugine was extremely impressed with AEDC as a whole and did a wonderful job of tying in this year's theme into the message he delivered,” Walker said. “He inspired us to continue working towards the ‘DREAM’ of equality for future generations.”

In honor of Hugine’s visit to the area, the City of Tullahoma also announced Feb. 16, 2017, as “Dr. Andrew Hugine Jr. Day.”

In addition to Hugine’s remarks at the luncheon, Tiffany Singleton sang the National Anthem and Andrea Payne performed a dance routine.
Willie Jo Taylor, a retiree of AEDC, received the AAHC Achievement of Excellence award and was accompanied by her husband of 37 years, Gregory Taylor, and her daughter, AEDC team member Dana Taylor Henry.

The event was organized and hosted by members of the African American Heritage Committee and Arnold Lakeside Center staff.