‘A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture’
By Staff Sgt. Killo Gibson, 4th BCT, 1st AD Public Affairs:
Col. Barry “Chip” Daniels, commander, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, hosted Fort Bliss’ annual Black History observance Feb. 18 at the Centennial Banquet and Conference at East Fort Bliss.
This year’s observance focused on the nationally recognized theme, “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.”
“This annual celebration is designed to formally recognize the achievements and contributions African-Americans have made to our society and for recognizing the central role they have played in U.S. history that shaped the world we live in today,” said Daniels.
Joe M. Gomez, answered the audience’s silent question as to why he – a Hispanic – was the guest speaker for the observance.
“Many people ask me that question, and it’s easy. Both races have been in similar situations when it comes to racism, disadvantages and lack of opportunities,” said Gomez, director, Business Development and Community Affairs, for the Jordan Foster Construction Company.
Gomez gave an emotional speech to a crowd of more than 800 people. He spoke about his struggles with racism while trying to join a fraternity at Texas Western College (now known as UTEP) and how that 1966 basketball team changed the nation.
Don Haskins, head men’s basketball coach, Texas Western College, made a decision that would change college basketball forever; he chose to start five African-Americans, a moment made iconic in the Hollywood film Glory Road.
Gomez’s fraternity – the only that would accept Hispanics – and the basketball team, both faced discrimination; but the basketball team was dealing with racism on a national scale.
Although the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed institutional racial segregation, it was still common to find all-white college sports teams, particularly in the South.
The 1966 Texas Western University team went on to defeat an all-white University of Kentucky basketball team for the men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association national championship.
“This was a defining moment in college sports, which opened the doors for not only African-Americans, but all athletes,” Gomez said. “This team is credited as changing the face of college basketball.”
While Gomez tutored the team in various subjects, he sympathized with his new friends as they faced increasing discrimination.
“Although the team had just won the national championship they weren’t allowed to sleep in a hotel in Austin, Texas, and had to sleep at the coliseum on Army cots,” he said.
Carter G. Woodson may be credited for evolving awareness of the true place of African-Americans in history in 1915 by establishing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, but it’s the courage of the brave few who stand in the face of adversity that leads to change.
“This event continues to influence my life and the lives of countless others,” Gomez said.
Although we don’t live in a perfect world, everyone deserves to be treated equal.
“Clearly our goal is to promote understanding, diversity, cohesiveness, teamwork, harmony and pride amongst all groups,” said Daniels.
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