Black History Month: Walking with Giants by William P. Dunston III
Walking with Giants by William P. Dunston III
In honor of Black History Month, we will hear from Velocity team members who have volunteered to share their personal stories on topics that touch upon African American history, heritage, contributions, current events, and more. This is a great opportunity to listen and learn from our friends and colleagues — and support and embrace the Black community.
Join us in celebrating Black History Month by hearing from William P. Dunston III, Tier 1, Hospitality, who joined Velocity in 2014.
Hi William, tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. I am the oldest of two siblings, and I’ve been married for 28 years to my high school sweetheart, Felicia Roberts. I’m a proud father of two incredible children, Philip Lewis (29) and Chelsea Elisabeth (25), a grandfather of three, Ariel Shannon Renee (8), Preston Wesley (2), and Phoenix (due to arrive in June), and a godfather of four.
Family life and being involved in my community are very important to me. In addition to my position here at Velocity, I’m a small business owner, a youth coach for over 25 years, the sound engineer at my church, and a member of the multiple Houses of Prince Hall Masonry.
What is the importance of Black History Month, and what does it represent to you?
The importance of Black History Month to me is the same as it was for Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland. Dr. Woodson (father of Black history) founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements of Black Americans and those of African descent.
For me, this month represents a time to reflect, honor, and celebrate the triumphs of Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. I hope that all people can learn to recognize these achievements and contributions that have positively impacted their own lives and the lives of all of us.
How do you honor/ celebrate Black History Month? How can others honor/ celebrate?
I celebrate the achievements of Black Americans every day of my life. Personally, it’s important to me to set an example for my children, grandchildren, godchildren, nieces, nephews, and the individuals I’ve coached and mentored. I pride myself on being someone they can be proud of and someone they can look up to. I make every opportunity a teachable opportunity to not forget our past.
In your opinion, how has the Black Lives Matter movement changed Black History Month? Please share your thoughts.
I would have to say no, Black Lives Matter has not changed Black History Month. It’s another example, a snapshot in time, where Black Americans have again gathered together in protest for a common cause. What is different now than in pastimes is that with this particular movement in 2020, there was a video captured in Minnesota of George Floyd that the entire world was able to see, and people from all walks of life came together in solidarity to protest.
Who are some famous Black/ African American musicians, artists, activists, writers and/or actors? How have they impacted U.S. culture? How have they inspired you?
When thinking of famous Black/African Americans that have impacted the lives of my family, I think of two lesser-known individuals, Evelyn Mays and Rose Gatliff.
Evelyn Mays is one of the greatest heroes. She has impacted our culture by participating in the little-known groups of individuals who educated potential Black voters on how to pass the voting literacy test administered in the South. The tests were enacted as a voting requirement to exclude individuals with minimal literacy, particularly African Americans in the South, from voting. One of those educators was my grandmother, Evelyn Mays. She was one of the members of the five-person team that secretly traveled in and around Birmingham, Alabama, and taught other Blacks how to pass the test, therefore securing the right to vote.
I remember the night Senator Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States; her efforts hit home. I spoke with my grandmother on the phone that evening and heard her cry tears of joy when he was appointed. Her efforts dating back to Birmingham undoubtedly aided in the election of President Obama, and she was able to see it.
The second hero my family celebrates is Rose Gatliff, my wife’s fourth great-grandmother. Rose was a former slave in Kentucky who sued the state for her freedom and won the case. Her case is documented in the book entitled “Rose, a Woman of Colour: A Slave’s Struggle for Freedom in the Courts of Kentucky.” Her diligence in pursuing her family’s freedom set the foundation of other firsts by the Gatliff family. Rose’s great-grandson Everett became the Grand Master of Prince Hall Masonry in Ohio. Later, Dorothy Gatliff (Everett’s daughter) would become the first Black woman hired by the Toledo Police Department. I can proudly say that my family walks with giants. They helped pave the way and have positively influenced the lives of many individuals.
Have you experienced a cultural stereotype or challenge? Can you share your experience(s)?
I have experienced cultural stereotypes many times throughout my life. The issue with cultural stereotypes is that they can be very subtle and can be experienced frequently in everyday interactions.
If you’ve experienced racism, how has it impacted your life?
Similar to my experiences with cultural stereotypes, I have also experienced racism in my life. However, there is one incident that sticks out in my mind. During my time at Tennessee State University as a college student, there was a time I had to get racquetball equipment for my physical education class. The nearest sporting goods store was in Downtown Nashville. I arrived at the store and walked in, and everyone in the store seemed to stop and look my way. I asked about getting the racquetball equipment I needed and was told that “my kind” was not welcomed. That was the first experience I ever encountered with that type of racism my mother often talked about, and it has had a lifelong effect on me.
What advice would you give to someone who has experienced racism?
My advice to anyone who has experienced racism is to not keep it to yourself. Instead, find someone to talk to so you can process your feelings and the rollercoaster of emotions you are experiencing.
How can we continue Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of inclusion and equality in our own lives? How can one become a champion for equality?
The only way to continue Dr. King’s message is to challenge each incident of inequality that you may see. Inequality is not a race thing anymore, it is a people thing, and we have to stand united and face it together.
How would you educate people on Black/ African American culture?
In my opinion, the education of Black/ African American culture has to start at the individual’s home and in their communities. Today, we are seeing communities blocking educators from teaching the history of our country because it makes some uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury to pretend that slavery and other atrocities did not happen. History cannot be changed or erased.
How do you embrace your culture? What makes you proud to be Black/ African American?
I embrace my culture every day by unapologetically living in my truth, the truth of knowing who I am, where I come from, what I have experienced — and I will continue to move forward.
How can Velocity and other companies be more inclusive and support our Black/ African American team members?
Simply by celebrating the different cultures and opening up a dialog for the positive exchange of thoughts and ideas. Will we all agree? Of course not. However, having a safe place that promotes mutual respect is a good start, and this form is an excellent first step.
Thank you, William, for sharing your story with us. As you know, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) are central to Velocity’s purpose and core values — and we are committed to these across all levels and areas of the company. We’re incredibly proud of all of our team members. We are dedicated to ensuring that Velocity is a place of inclusiveness and an environment where all of our team members feel comfortable being themselves and supported.
Let’s continue celebrating the rich cultural heritage, triumphs, and adversities that are part of our country’s history. Here are a few resources to better acquaint yourself with organizations that support the Black community:
• Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) – promotes, researches, preserves, interprets and disseminates information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.
• National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – is an interracial American organization created to work for the abolition of segregation and discrimination in housing, education, employment, voting, and transportation; to oppose racism, and to ensure African Americans their constitutional rights.
• National Urban League – a historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization with 90 affiliates serving 300 communities, providing direct services that impact and improve the lives of more than two million people nationwide.