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RTP Chapter of Blacks in Government Holds Black History Month Luncheon

By Robin Arnette
March 2007

Irving Joyner
NCCU Professor Irving Joyner gave the keynote address at the 2007 EPA Legacy Luncheon. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Annette Rice
Annette Rice of NIEHS introduced the luncheon's guest speaker. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Veronica Godfrey and Irving Joyner
BIG RTP Chapter President Veronica Godfrey presented Joyner with a plaque of appreciation. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On February 15, the Research Triangle Park Chapter of Blacks in Government (BIG) held its sixth annual EPA Legacy Luncheon at the Radisson Hotel Research Triangle Park. This year's theme was "From Slavery to Freedom: The Story of Africans in the Americas." The guest speaker, Irving L. Joyner, J.D., professor of law at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) School of Law, discussed the strides that African-Americans have made, but also stressed that there's more to do.

Chapter president Veronica Godfrey, biologist and program officer in the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry at NIEHS, opened the program with a welcome address and led the participants in singing James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing." After the invocation by EPA employee Vonda Dowe, approximately 60 attendees enjoyed a buffet-style lunch.

Annette Rice, Ph.D., second vice president for Region IV of BIG and a research stem cell biologist working in the Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology at NIEHS, introduced Joyner. Several special guests also attended the luncheon. They included Joe L. Dudley, Sr., CEO of Dudley Products, Inc., Willie Bailey, vice president of Training at Dudley, Steve Middleton, Ph.D., professor of history at NCCU, and Norwood Dennis, area director of Civil Rights at EPA.

Joyner chronicled the plight of African-Americans on a national scale from the end of slavery to the 21st century, and also provided little-known facts about life for people of color living in North Carolina during that time. "During slavery North Carolina had the largest population of free blacks in the country, and during the years of 1865-1880, more blacks served in the North Carolina General Assembly than we do now," he said. When asked about the importance of celebrating black history, he said, "There's always a need to understand, appreciate and celebrate the history of our people. Because it is from that that we get inspiration and motivation to do better. We should have black history everyday rather than one month out of the year."

Joyner's talk was well-received and attendees gave him a standing ovation. Marian Johnson-Thompson, Ph.D., director of Education and Biomedical Research Development at NIEHS, enjoyed the talk. "Dr. Joyner gave a really nice historical overview of the hardships our fore parents overcame and how some of our youth have squandered their efforts," she commented. "It's our responsibility to try to get them back on track. It was a very good message."

Joan Packenham, Ph.D., Program Director of the Division of Intramural Research at NIEHS, echoed Johnson-Thompson's sentiments. "We need to empower the young people because we have not overcome" she said. "We have to let them know that we still have work to do."

Near the end of the luncheon, Godfrey presented Joyner and Kim Peterson, immediate past president of the RTP chapter of BIG, with plaques of appreciation. Randy Harrison, vice president of the RTP chapter and a chemist at EPA, provided closing remarks.

Joyner, a native of Brooklyn, New York, has been a Professor of Law at NCCU School of Law since 1982, and served as its Associate Dean from 1984 to 1992. He regularly teaches courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, civil rights, race and the law, professional responsibility and trial practice. Joyner received a B.S. from Long Island University and a J.D. from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey School of Law in Newark, New Jersey.

The RTP Chapter of BIG began in 1979 and is comprised of employees from NIEHS, EPA, National Health Statistics/CDC and the State of North Carolina. The chapter sponsors various programs throughout the year such as food and toiletry drives for the needy and oratorical contests for high school students. Although the chapter is heavily involved in public service, its main goals are to promote equity and opportunity for all Americans, particularly for people of color. Rice summed up the group's purpose by saying, "We're in the community, and we're still out there fighting against the discrimination of African-Americans."

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