Friday, March 9, 2007
Writer: Shanna Relford
UTSI’s Black History Month Speaker Inspires with Life Story
Dr. Dorothy Huston inspired the audience with her life’s story of overcoming obstacles on her path to success during The University of Tennessee Space Institute’s Black History Month Celebration held recently. Before Dr. Huston spoke, this question was posed by Mrs. Brenda Brown, UTSI employee and one of the presenters at the event:
“What would the world be like if there were never any black people?”
As Mrs. Brown pointed out, we’d be missing a lot in our everyday lives. From biscuit cutters to refrigerators, our kitchens wouldn’t be nearly as handy, and a jelly sandwich just wouldn’t be the same without peanut butter, invented by famous black American George W. Carver. Certainly the world would be a messier place without the clothes dryer, ironing board, window cleaner, toilet, and mop, all invented by blacks. Other black inventions range from the lawn mower to the heating furnace and include too many more to mention.
After an introduction from Eugene London, President and CEO of Systems Integration/Modeling and Simulation, Inc, the event’s main speaker, Dr. Dorothy Huston, took the stage, and transported a fascinated audience to the “black belt of Alabama,” where the soil was rich and farming was prevalent and Dr. Huston grew up.
Born into poverty on a farm, Huston said she didn’t have her first indoor toilet until she went off to college at Alabama A&M. Her story is reminiscent of the words of an Alabama song, “We all picked the cotton, but we never got rich.”
She was the youngest of 13 children and all her brothers and sisters before her had always picked cotton. “We watched the school bus come by everyday, but we couldn’t get on it,” she remembered. She said that one day the three of them that were still left at home told their mama that they were tired of picking cotton. “Thank goodness for a mama who loved us,” Huston said. “She told us that when our father dropped us off that morning to stay right where he left us and to still be standing there when he came back to pick us up that afternoon,” she said. “That’s just what we did, and that was the last day we went to pick cotton,” Huston recalled. “Daddy knew he couldn’t do anything with all three of us.” So, from then on, she said, the three of them went to school.
Dr. Huston said that she didn’t let her situation be an excuse not to excel. After graduating college at Alabama A&M, Huston went on to Ohio State University to earn her Master’s degree and Ph.D.
She then went on to describe other times in her life when she was forced to overcome prejudice and adversity, such as when she was “essentially fired while on maternity leave,” though the company called it a ‘reduction in force.’ She said she took the opportunity to spend more time with her three children by taking in two more and running a licensed daycare. Later, she taught in Nashville City Schools, and in 1995 she moved to Huntsville, AL to help raise her sister’s children after their mother had lost a battle with cancer.
Huston said that she went to Huntsville only to help her family, and wasn’t looking for a job, but stressed that “tomorrow is the keeper of all your dreams.” She was offered a faculty position at Alabama A&M and was soon thereafter named to Vice President of Student Affairs and later moved to VP of Research and Development, where she began a $13 million project.
She has recently left A&M to start her own technology business, which she says she hasn’t regretted for a moment. She told her listeners that her company’s name, TMT, stands for “Today Molds Tomorrow.” “I chose not to be a common woman,” said Huston. “I chose to take the calculated risk and refused to live from hand to mouth.” “I knew that even though I didn’t know what the future held, I did know Who holds the future,” said Huston.
Addressing a group of girls from Franklin County High School who attended the event, Dr. Huston said, “Your situation, good or bad, can either be a deterrent or a motivator.” Borrowing from Robert Frost, Huston encouraged the FCHS students to “Go down the road less traveled and that will make all the difference.”
Patricia Burks-Jelks, UTSI’s director of Human Resources, Affirmative Action, and Services, presided over the 12th annual Black History celebration at UTSI. The day’s agenda also included a performance by eight-year-old Tamia Bonner, daughter of UTSI Supervisor Leo Bonner, who mimed to the hymn “In His Presence,” inspirational hymn “Center of My Joy” by Mrs. Gloria Boles from AEDC, a poem read by Sequoyah Eady from Franklin County High School. Also, the audience participated by joining in the singing of the Negro Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Dr. Joel Muehlhauser, UTSI Assistant Vice President and Dean for Research and Development, welcomed guests and made closing remarks. UT Associate Vice President and UTSI Chief Operating Officer Dr. Don Daniel also addressed the group at the end of the event and thanked everyone in attendance at this important community event.