“Never forget those from your past, as they will help to illuminate your future.”
They were among the powerful words of former Contra Costa College President Dr. McKinley “Mac” Williams, who served as keynote speaker at the 23rd Annual Chevron Richmond Black Employee Network’s (BEN) Black History Awareness celebration on Thursday, Feb. 15.
After recalling the monumental achievements of African Americans throughout history, Williams lauded the achievements of four current students from the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) who earned scholarships as part of the Dr. William F. King Scholarship Program. Since 2006, the BEN has provided college scholarships to 68 WCCUSD students in honor of Dr. William F. King, the retired longtime Chevron Richmond chemist, community mentor and advocate.
Student winners this year are Olana Abraham of Middle College High (1st place, $3,000 scholarship); Hillary Khuu of Hercules High (2nd Place, $2,000); Malik Jones of El Cerrito High (3rd Place, $1,750); and Irene Kou of De Anza High (4th Place, $1,250).
The celebration honoring their achievements sought to “embrace the past, educate the present and enrich the future.” In that spirit, Dr. Williams, along with the scholarship recipients and Chevron Richmond employees, including new Director Tolly Graves, took the opportunity to recall influential African Americans, including those who lack appropriate recognition.
Dr. Williams recognized inventors such as Benjamin Montgomery, who as a Virginia slave created a type of propeller for steamboats; Lewis Latimer, inventor of the carbon filament light bulb; Otis Boykin, inventor of a control unit for the artificial heart pacemaker; and Alexander Miles, who earned the patent for automatically opening and closing elevator doors.
Chevron Richmond employees who took part in Thursday’s celebration recalled the contributions of Albert Murray, essayist and social critic who challenged Black separatism and insisted that the Black experience was central to American culture; as well as Althea Gibson, the Harlem-raised tennis star broke the color barrier in the 1950s.
Meanwhile, scholarship students, who read from their essays required as part of the scholarship application process, spoke about the inspiring contributions of Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute; Ruby Bridges, who at age 6 courageously desegregated all-white elementary schools in Louisiana; and current influential Black leader Maurice Woods, a San Pablo resident and principal design lead at Microsoft.
BEN member Lucia Watson additionally lauded the many achievements of Chevron Richmond’s own Dr. William F. King, the namesake for the college scholarship program. Dr. King retired as a staff scientist in April 2004 after 27 years and numerous patents, including breakthrough technology in the thermal stability of newly synthesized additives. He was also active in the community, tutoring and mentoring local youth and recruiting future Chevron employees. A representation of both the past and present, Dr. King continued his legacy when he spoke during last week’s ceremony, congratulating scholarship recipients and encouraging them to consider a career with Chevron.
Chevron sponsors several employee networks such as the BEN as a way to listen to, learn from and embrace the diverse life experiences of its employees. The networks ultimately lead to a more productive workforce that encourages creators and inventors of the future. In fact, influences from Chevron’s Bay Area operations, including the Richmond Refinery, has made the company a global leader in diversity and inclusion. Today, the BEN network includes 13 chapters at Chevron locations and over 2,400 employee-members around the globe.
“Trailblazers like Dr. William F. King are a symbol and reminder of the importance of uplifting voices that have historically been underrepresented in our society,” said Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager for Chevron Richmond. “At Chevron, we believe that when everyone is given the opportunity to thrive, we all thrive. We’re proud to embrace the contributions of the inventors and leaders from our past, in order to inspire the inventors and leaders of our future.”