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Celebrating Black History Month with virtual program on innovators

By KATE MOSTACCIO

Created by PEF member Samantha Dreher to promote Black History Month.

Did you know 46-year-old inventor and newspaperman Garrett Morgan patented the three-position traffic signal in November of 1923? Morgan’s design offered more than just the traditional “stop” and “go” signals, regulating vehicles more safely than earlier signals.

Morgan is just one of the Black innovators that PEF members in New York State Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Region 11 will feature during a virtual Black History Month celebration. The stories of Jan Ernst Matzeliger, the inventor of the Shoe Lasting Machine; Philip Emeagwali, who created the world’s fastest computer by emulating the honeycomb construction of bees; and Sarah Boone, the inventor of the ironing board, will also be featured.

“Region 11 has an annual Black History Month celebration,” said Coffy Andrews-Guo, an assistant engineer at DOT and a PEF member for 22 years. “This year, the theme is Black innovators and how they contribute to America and worldwide in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM). We want to emphasize their contributions from the beginning in those areas.”

The virtual program will consist of a series of PowerPoint presentations, released each week during February. During the final week, there will be a live presentation featuring Region 11’s DOT director, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) regional director and former longtime PEF member Adam Levine, who was promoted to regional traffic engineer, an M/C position, after 26 years with PEF.

This is Andrews-Guo’s second year working on the Black History Month celebration and Levine’s first. With the social justice movement sweeping across the country, they were inspired to be a part of the conversation.

“I want to bring it onto a broader pla­­­­tform,” Andrews-Guo said. “Collaborating with DEC, we have two designers who created designs that were breathtaking. I think showcasing our diversity in the region, our artwork and our commitment to building a platform for Black History Month speaks for itself.”

For the past two months, a committee consisting of PEF members Andrews-Guo, Babatunde Tugbobo, Samantha Dreher, Geoffrey L. Rick, Shavar Mowatt, and Manfred Magloire; CSEA members Renee Liverpool, Dawn Francis, and Rayness Smith; and Levine from M/C staff, have worked to select and research Black innovators and put together the presentations on each.

The live event will feature messages from the DOT and DEC regional directors and highlight several innovators.

“We’re also going to have a moment of silence for a couple of very involved past committee members, one of whom was a PEF member,” Levine said. The live event will also feature the poem Lift Every Voice and Sing.

The significance of the month is clear to both Levine and Andrews-Guo.

“I think Black History Month celebrates coming together,” Levine said. “That’s something I’m really proud of with the committee – we are all coming together from different backgrounds, unions and agencies. We’re erasing all those lines and coming together to celebrate this really important event.”

For Andrews-Guo, it is about more than what you see on the outside.

“I’m from the Caribbean and for me Black History Month is more than celebrating African Americans,” she said. “It’s celebrating unity between different cultures. So we see more than just a physical appearance, you see the person themselves.”

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the committee hopes this year will continue to build on the successes of the past. Presenting a virtual program is new territory for the committee.

“We’ve done it physically in-house in the region in the past,” Andrews-Guo said. “This year it will be on MS Teams and through a YouTube channel.”

The remaining schedule for February is:

  • Feb 8 – Black Innovators in Engineering and Technology Virtual Video Presentation
  • Feb 15 – Black Innovators in Science Virtual Video Presentation
  • Feb 24 – Black Innovators – Transportation & Communicators, MS Teams Live Presentation

You can access the program content on YouTube here.