By TERRI MOON CRONK
American Forces Press Service
This year’s National African-American History Month observance celebrates 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, the Defense Department’s director of diversity management and equal opportunity noted in an interview with “American Forces Press Service” and the Pentagon Channel.
Clarence Johnson added that the commemoration, which began Saturday, also offers the opportunity to recognize contributions African-Americans have made to national defense.
“This country was founded on hopes, dreams and aspirations,” Johnson said. “The hopes, dreams and aspirations of African-Americans have contributed to the nation and the (Defense Department),” he said.
The Civil Rights Act, signed July 2, 1964, was “landmark legislation” that outlawed discrimination based on race, gender and national origin, he said, and DoD has led the way in creating diversity in the workplace.
“From the Civil Rights Act through today, we continue on that diverse journey,” he added. “We look for the best and brightest to serve our country.”
The Civil Rights Act is important to DoD because of the department’s “respect for each (person) in military uniforms and in the civilian workplace,” Johnson said, and African-Americans “have contributed mightily” to the service of the nation since the Revolutionary War.
Today’s active duty officer corps includes about 200,000 African-Americans, or 9 percent of officers in the total force. Among enlisted service members, 200,000—18 percent—are African-Americans, he noted. On the civilian employee side of DoD, African-American employees in grades GS-13 through GS-15 and the Senior Executive Service have increased, Johnson noted.
Even with more African-Americans serving DoD as in uniform and as civilian employees, Johnson said, recruitment for both groups continues. DoD and the military services are in the third year of putting a diversity and inclusion strategic plan into place, he added.
The plan will enhance three areas, Johnson explained: leadership commitment to sustain and make diversity efforts accountable, outreach to inform the community about DoD’s mission for potential service members and civilian employees and an “inreach” strategy to develop DoD personnel professionally.
The Defense Department is committed to a diverse workforce, Johnson said.
“We have a dynamic opportunity to make sure diversity continues,” he added, “because we see it as strength.”