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In observance of Black History Month, Dr. Jack E. Daniels, III, Madison College president, shared his insight with a group of Department of Military Affairs Soldiers, Airmen and employees in Witmer Hall at Joint Force Headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin on Feb. 9 as the Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity office’s guest speaker.

“In today’s operational environment and growing global economic society, cross-cultural awareness and maximizing the diversity of the force are essential imperatives to our operational readiness,” said Maj. Daniel Kahlhamer, Wisconsin National Guard’s State Equal Employment Manager.

Daniels discussed “The Crisis in Black Education,” the theme for this year’s Black History Month as designated by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. While many African-Americans have broken education barriers, Daniels said many more lack the proper resources to set them up for success.

Daniels has been on both sides of the fence. He endured discrimination at various points in his life from adolescence through adulthood. He overcame these events that helped shape and prepare him for what has now been over 30 years of experience in higher education. His trials allow him to bring a unique perspective to his current role at Madison College.

“Dr. Daniels’ personal life story is exemplary of the struggle in the black community,” Kahlhamer said. “Despite the struggle, he is a very accomplished African-American and military veteran serving as president of a local college.”

Daniels, a Chicago native, shared his positive experiences as a student attending an all African-American grade school that had a strong connection with the community in which he lived.

“The level of commitment, instruction, focus on excellence, parental involvement; those were key elements to those first eight years, those formal years of my education,” Daniels said.

He later attended an all-male Catholic high school where only 18 of the 900 students were African-American. Still, the level of commitment, focus on excellence and parental involvement became key factors to his success and the theme throughout his discussion on how to make the education system work for all students.

Daniels also spoke on his experiences traveling to the South in the late 1950s, being drafted during the Vietnam War, getting his higher education, and teaching at grade schools and colleges.

While teaching in both primary and post-secondary education, the main similarity was that students did not have exposure to or experience in the communities around them, Daniels said. Students that studied three miles away from downtown Chicago had never been there.

“I made a commitment to expose, to facilitate learning so that they had a chance, an opportunity,” Daniels said. “I made a point to take field trips at least once a quarter.”

Daniels took his students to the art museum, the symphony, or even just a local park so they could experience and understand the cultural richness in the area.

At the same time, the general population does not always have the exposure to what African-American students are experiencing and dealing with in their communities. Observances like Black History Month help society understand the contributions of different backgrounds and cultures.

“A primary purpose in conducting cultural observances is to change the participants’ inaccurate beliefs, perceptions and biases regarding the background of the observance — creating a mind-altering event,” Kahlhamer said.

The impact of cultural observances may not be immediately apparent, but opening up to a speaker’s message can help change how people of different cultures interact with one another. In an organization as diverse as the U.S. military, that ability is crucial to the organization’s overall effectiveness.

“When a participant in the future acts to help someone culturally different than themselves or accepts a solution to a problem from someone they wouldn’t have considered in the past, the desired affect will be realized,” Kahlhamer said.